I have these grainy-Polaroid-brilliant-colored memories of life at 1723 York Street in Des Moines. I know the idyllic childhood of my memories may be actually less glorious and so much more mundane and average. But if you have a good memory, it pays to hold onto to it, I think.
So when I tell my mom that I watch for that house to sell and that I have dreams about it and long for the barefoot summer evenings of catching fireflies and doing relays with neighbor kids there, when I tell her the watermelon in the backyard pieces of my heart make me want to go back there to remember the little-girl-me, I am always taken aback by her reaction.
She usually wrinkles her nose, shakes her head and says, “Oh, not me. I don’t like Des Moines.”
Shocks me I suppose because while I was having this fairly delightful, carefree (as least as carefree as I have ever been) childhood, my mom was being reminded of painful things she went through as a child. Even being married to the man she adored and having all the babies she ever wanted couldn’t make her forget.
She is writing her story in a book for me and oh, I love hearing her journey. But as a child of divorce before she was even two, there was much pain and shame. And her earliest memories and many of her childhood planned photos were in front of the Polk County Courthouse, where custody was often negotiated, in a time when men just simply were not the first choice.
My Grandma had pain.
Yet another trip to a mental hospital for my grandma when my mom and her sister were very young dealt a devastating blow to the 2 little girls ripped between homes and spaces. For so strong was the contentiousness over custody, my mom’s aunt delivered my mom and her sister to the Polk Count Juvenile Home to be left with cold strangers whose job it was to direct the children.
I recall her showing me the building when I was a little girl. And telling me a few things she remembered that seemed just awful. I won’t tell her stories here, for they are too sacred and terrible to share. But I remembered the cold desolation of it – that horrible place my mom never should have been. May it suffice when I say that those little girls, those sisters who huddled close, whose mommy was just suddenly gone were placed in an institution, not a “home.” There was no nurture, no talk and comfort. Just be good. Do not cry or else. And no one had the decency to call her dad to rescue her.
A couple of years ago she and I went on a quest to find a photo of the building for her book. My cousin Steve recently was able to find photos and old news articles. He sent a new piece to the puzzle today and there was an address. (see below)
The Des Moines Tribune, 1912
I google-mapped it and it was only 1.2 miles from that idyllic house of my heart and dreams. For me, my mom was providing a home, a safe place, a dog-in-the-yard and skipping to school in sunshine. But she was just blocks from her opposite.
There are things moms do for their children….