Friday, December 7, 2007

Winston Part Six

When I first came to Winston, I was looking for a job, and Moomin Light and I, a few months away from our wedding, were looking for a place to live. I had quit college, having gotten lost in art school (East Carolina University, 1979-1980), and I was going to work while she finished undergrad work at the NC School of the Arts (for music - the flute). I got a job with Wachovia, in their student loan division, and my cube was on the fourth floor of the Phillips Building, which still looks just as ugly as it did in 1981, when I started. I was making $900 a month before taxes.

I was once given a tour of the Wachovia mainframe computer. It took up the entire 6th floor of the Phillips Building (where the walkway connects it with the blue tower that was the Wachovia headquarters then) and human beings in white lab coats were some of its moving parts, changing out data packs and disk drives based on requests coming up on the terminal of the main operator.

Our first home was a tiny four room flat in the Amber Apartments, rented then, as now, by Home Real Estate, which hasn't changed their logo or signs in 25 years. No, they have made one little change; they didn't have a website back then. We were in number 11, the last door to the right, on the end of the second floor. This gave us extra windows (we didn't know then how important they are for us). Rent was $160, about a quarter of my take-home pay every month, and we couldn't really afford to keep the base-board electric heat very high. Fortunately the loud Greek family above us kept their apartment at about 80 degrees all winter, so noise wasn't the only thing coming through the thin ceiling. The trains that roared through across the street woke us up the first few nights, then we stopped hearing them. We kept our old Toyota Corolla (Floyd, short for Die Fledermaus, because he was as drab and gray as a bat) parked up the hill on the street, so we could pop start him when the battery was dead. His exhaust system was gradually reconstructed with tomato sauce cans and coat hangers, and the battery was held in with a rope.

Then we moved to this little house out on one of the streets off Country Club Road. We had a back yard, a small vegetable plot, where I first discovered I could not grow tomatoes, still true twenty five years later to my sorrow. We had three cavernous rooms which we struggled to keep heated to the upper 50s / lower 60s, going further and further into automatic over-draft debt every winter month, until the warmer weather allowed us to catch up just in time to start it all over again the following November. We lived here until it was time to move to Chapel Hill, when we traded places and Moomin Light went to work as a statistician at Blue Cross Blue Shield, and I went back to school. Several years before she had switched flute at NCSA for math at Wake Forest, where she graduated with distinction.

I miss Winston-Salem. I drove past these old places to get the photos, and I then drove from the little house along Kinnamon towards Stratford Road. We used to walk several miles on this route on warm summer nights, getting two ice-cream cones at Baskin and Robbins in Thruway Shopping Center. We didn't have much money, but we had lots of time, and we built the start of a good marriage there. My college major at UNC (Philosophy) was not particularly useful in my job hunt after graduation, but the computer experience I had at Wachovia, after being promoted into the DP department, got me a job and a career since. We both became Christians and then Catholics in Winston-Salem. Much of our current lives have strong roots in the three years we lived there, and I will always love it.


Anonymous said...

When your sister-in-law and I arrived for a weekend visit, you were under Floyd-the-car installing that soup can. I've never forgotten it becuase I had no idea someone so artistically talented could create such an engineering feat! My father (the engineer) can appreciate a painting, but could never create one. At the age of 15 or so I had no idea the reverse could actually occur. Ah youth. I remember Floyd fondly and associate Billy Joel with him. I also remember thinking that your apartment was large, the orange pancakes were incredible, and your life was full.

Steve Emery said...

Dear Sis, It was delightful to read your post. I had forgotten that you and my sister-in-law came to visit then, and it was like archeology putting it all back together in my head. But, since more than one tin can eventually composed much of Floyd's muffler and tail pipe (three in all, by the end - one was a big fruit juice can), I'm not sure which installation you witnessed.

But you weren't my sister yet then, nor in line to be an aunt (both the sister connection, and any intention on our part to have kids, were still in the future). Actually, I don't know when it happened... Maybe at Catherine's, where I ate so many of those deadly wonderful Philly Steak sandwiches with thick fries. Or was it before that?

And now that I think of it, there are painters and engineers on both sides of my family - and my dear wife's father, and one of my grandfathers, were both. So it always seemed normal to me to do anything I wanted with my hands. It's my feet I can't get to cooperate - can't dance at all.

And I also now recall that we thought our apartment was pretty large, too - especially when it was time to clean it. It couldn't have been more than about 800 square feet. Of course there are five of us now in about 2000 - so I guess the ratio is still the same... Weird.