So many experiences these days remind me that time is passing. I’m frequently reminded that I’m growing older, but not in a way that bothers me. It’s more like … I don’t know … a gradual acceptance.
I remember right after Mark and I were married, we lived in the upper level of a duplex his parents owned on Reaney Street on the East Side of St. Paul. It was located in the very inner edge of the city, where our grandparents had built their lives so many years ago. Mark’s sister, her husband, and their two kids at the time lived in the larger, lower level. It had been Mark’s grandparents’ home years ago, before it was divided into multiple residences. The Reaney house had beautiful, dark, ornate woodwork, and solid six-panel doors. Our upper level bathroom had an old-fashioned claw foot bathtub. The basement was dark and dank. Only a portion of the floor had been cemented. The rest was dirt. The place had history, and possibly a few ghosts!
I didn’t appreciate any of it at the time. To me, it was all old and dusty. It belonged to someone else and I didn’t feel at home there. I wanted to live in a new place. I wanted to be in a young neighborhood, in a house with bigger rooms, and a yard with more space. I wanted my house to be more than an arm’s reach away from the ones next door. I wanted to invent my own history, not fit myself into the spaces someone else had created. Most of all, I wanted to separate myself from the changes of an aging neighborhood. All I could see back then was the decline and I wanted to get away.
Mark and I were very fortunate to be able to build our own home in a brand new neighborhood within our first year of marriage. We settled in a suburb not all that far from the old place in St. Paul, and still close to our parents and families. Our house was simple, and by no means a mansion. But it was ours. Over the years, we made changes and improvements. We made it truly ours. And looking back over the ups and downs of life, I know we’ve been blessed.
But … the desire to separate myself from the East Side has mellowed. I grew up on the far edge of that area and a part of me will always consider it home. Not that I want to pack up my things and move back there. The sad reality is that many of those neighborhoods are in serious decline. A lot of the homes have become rentals, with absentee landlords. There is a lot of crime. But the history of that place still shines through. I still look at the old homes and wish I could live inside a place so beautifully designed as many of those houses were.
We’re planning to put new carpet in the three bedrooms in our upper level. One of Mark’s sisters and one of his brothers have recently carpeted spaces in their homes. Both made their purchases at Deluxe Carpet, which happens to be on the east side of St. Paul, just a few blocks from the old duplex where we lived during our first months of married life. In fact, we purchased our original carpet from Deluxe when we built our house. When we learned from Mark’s siblings that the owner at Deluxe guaranteed he could beat any other retailer’s prices, it only made sense to go back there.
Deluxe Carpet is located in a pretty ugly section of St. Paul, in my opinion. But looking out the wide front window of the store, you can see a few old houses. One of them was restored in the not so distant past. It has the wide, open front porch that used to be a standard on almost all of the East Side’s homes. I’ve always wished for a porch like my grandparents had. There’s a building across the street from Deluxe that used to be a meat market. The brick side of the building stills displays large, painted, peeling letters advertising the now defunct business.
Inside the store, it was quiet. Mark and I were the only customers there on Thursday evening. Phil, the owner, gave us his immediate and full attention. I’d forgotten what it was like to have a store representative come to us, one who was passionate about his business and who knew the answers to every question. Phil’s enthusiasm to help us find the exact, perfect carpet was impressive. He asked questions. He talked a mile a minute. He led us to various rolls of carpet and extolled each of their qualities.
I could almost see the light bulb go on over his head when he raised a finger and said, “I want to show you something. It’s new and different, but I just want to see what you think. You might hate it, but you might love it.”
“It” was a unique style of carpet, of which Phil had been able to purchase a roll at an unbelievable price. There was plenty of it to carpet all three of our bedrooms and he said it was all the up-and-coming rage on the east and west coasts. We learned that here in the midwest, our trends tend to follow just behind the coasts. If we decided to purchase this trendy carpet, we’d get in on the front end of the trend for a price much lower than it will be in the coming months.
Phil led us to a back storage area where more rolls of carpets were stacked on high shelves. He needed to rearrange some things in order to get to the one he wanted us to see. While he drove a little forklift around, rearranging, Mark and I stood and looked around the old building. I pointed out a painted design on one of the walls above a set of doors.
“Lookit that,” I said to Mark, pointing. “I wonder what this place used to be.”
We looked along the upper portion of the walls and saw more evidence that something once existed before this was a flooring store.
Mark pointed to the right of the painted design I’d first pointed out. Above supplies and more carpet rolls, we could just see a wooden arch with more design surrounding it. “I’ll bet this was a theater at one time,” he said.
When Phil had extracted the carpet roll, Mark asked him about the history of the building.
“Oh, yeah,” Phil confirmed. “This place was built in the early 1900s. They used to do vaudeville here.” He pointed out the doors below the design I’d first noticed and explained that they led to “back stage.” He went on to tell us all kinds of history about the place and I was momentarily transported back to the heyday of the East Side.
We ended up spending a lot more time with Phil, observing samples of my carpet choices in different lights, and eventually with Mark and Phil swapping stories of people they had in common, and the way it used to be in the neighborhood back in the day. I’m guessing it was near closing time (8 pm) when we finally said goodbye to Phil. I’ve since decided against the trendy carpet that he was so anxious to show me. One of the other choices won out, and we are definitely buying from Phil!