Louisville Magazine

MAR 2019

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

Issue link: https://loumag.epubxp.com/i/1088363

Contents of this Issue


Page 96 of 133

94 LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 3.19 daycare served for lunch." Working poor or not, my parents earned too much to qualify for public assistance or for us to receive free school lunch. But with three children to clothe and feed, there wasn't money for such "luxuries" as owning a home or summer vacations. ey didn't own a telephone until I had graduated from high school in 1963. So, doggone right, when my mom and aunt came to town, I couldn't wait to show off my historic, all-brick, two-story, Feder- al-style townhouse, with its original pocket doors, three fireplaces, 12-foot-tall ceilings and two first-floor front windows nearly as tall as the ceilings. Catherine Guest, my realtor, was a pi- oneering African-American entrepreneur. She and Joe Hammond, an influential businessman and namesake of the popular nightclub Joe's Palm Room, were partners in the real estate business. I considered buying a house in the Zorn Avenue area where I was renting a condo, and Cather- ine showed me houses in Shively and the Shawnee and Chickasaw neighborhoods; they were traditional two-stories and ranches. But none captured my heart like 2306 W. Chestnut St. I fell in love at first sight. e townhouse sat far back from the street on a deep, narrow lot that had three buildings: the house itself, a cement garage and a cement storage shed. It even had a koi pond I never stocked and several nut- and fruit-bearing trees. Built in 1880, my Chestnut Street house wasn't technically a brownstone, but its tall exterior doors and narrow front windows reminded me of the classic brownstones I'd grown up admiring in Harlem and Brooklyn. A New York brownstone would have been unaffordable on a reporter's sal- ary, especially one that's 100 years old and requires extra-special care. But in 1985 Louisville, I could afford the $39,000 asking price for the three-bedroom, with updates that included a guest bath with laundry and a closet off the master that was itself as large as a bedroom. My closet even had a window. One of the first things I did in my new house was to transform one of the upstairs bedrooms into a den. I had floor-to-ceiling bookshelves installed on either side of the fireplace. e carpen- ter made a small ladder I could climb to reach the books up high. e cozy den was where I hung out before bed, and on chilly winter nights I would fall asleep watching TV or reading. Shortly after I moved in, Arnold Gib- bons, my former professor at Hunter Col- lege in New York, came to visit. He and his wife owned a brownstone I adored in Brooklyn. I never dared to ask how much they paid for it; that would have been gauche. But when I shared with Arnold that I had made a $2,000 down payment for my Chestnut Street house, he was incredulous. "By god," he said in his lilting Guyanese accent, "one can buy a house in Louisville with a f***king credit card!" My house impressed Mom and Aunt Ebby, despite the steep steps to the second story. Looking back at old photos, it occurs to me that the furniture I brought with me from New York looked dollhouse-sized in those high-ceilinged rooms. In one photo, my six-foot-tall ar- tificial Christmas tree looks like an unfed potted plant. I showed Mom and Aunt Ebby around the newsroom, where the air was stinky and thick because so many editors and reporters, including me, smoked at our desks. e C-J and Louisville Times were at full strength then, so practically every desk chair had a behind in it. From my car without air conditioning, I showed them City Hall, the Belle of Louisville, some parts of the West End and Bardstown Road. e bohemian vibe and general eclectic funkiness of Bardstown Road's small shops and restaurants reminded me of New York's Greenwich Village before it was de-funked and gentrified. It was hell-hot in Louisville, and Mom and Aunt Ebby were eager to get back to my house, where the central air was humming. Aunt Ebby ventured out into my backyard one day and planted some flower seeds. I'm not a flower person, so I didn't know then and don't know now what variety those yellow flowers were. But they bloomed every year. It was a reminder of Aunt Ebby, but also of an African proverb about planting trees that one may not live long enough to sit under. I smile even now recollecting Mom and Aunt Ebby coming down the stairs each morning of their weeklong stay, toting shop- ping bags filled with their medicine, wigs and other incidentals they anticipated they might need during the course of the day. ey weren't about to climb those stairs again until time for bed. Plus they had me, the youngster, to climb up and down the steps to fetch whatever they might need. It was nice having family in town. ough Mom and I spoke just about every day, she would inevitably rush me off the phone because she didn't want me to be saddled with sky-high long-distance bills. I got back to New York as often as I could afford, but after living in Louisville for two years, I really missed our meandering conversations. And her fried chicken and potato salad. I was not at all embarrassed about missing my mommy. BayƩ's Aunt Evelyn (left) and mother, Betty Jane Winston, with a school friend.

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