Let’s continue this journey! After a bumpy start with me, Memphis seemed to hit the spot for my parents. Not only did my dad make a decent income, but we were almost exactly in between both sets of relatives: a mid-point between Iowa & Florida. Grandparents could visit us easily & we could visit them, but more important for me was growing up & going to school in Memphis. Those formative years (19 of almost 50) are the longest I’ve spent in a single place so far. And surprisingly, almost all in the same apartment…
Apologies for the above image, but this is the best I could find without Street View. Set behind both rows of businesses at the busy intersection of Mill Branch & Shelby Drive in Whitehaven, this apartment complex had it all: lots of green space, little traffic, two swimming pools, a tennis court, a bunch of kids my age, laundry facilities & a club house for get-togethers. 4615 E. Turtle Creek Drive #1 (approximately at the red dot above) was ours for $159/month in 1975. Can’t believe this brochure survived in my mom’s belongings, but I’d be sold too with this kind of promo material (PDF, 9 Mb):
My mom obsessed about first-day-of-school photos, so I have lots of pics of our building’s main entrance. Different layouts existed, but ours was a 2-bedroom unit that had a front entryway for four neighboring apartments: two downstairs, two upstairs. This big yellow door (without a lock, anyone could walk in!) led to a carpeted central staircase & four mailboxes. Windows on the ground floor were to the living room & my bedroom:
So many great memories! We bought brand-new furniture on consignment —’twas the 70s— & my mom kept every piece for something like 20 years. She got her money’s worth. In many ways, I feel that growing up in an apartment prepped me for living abroad; I’ve never felt any place I lived afterwards was too small. Sure, at times I wished for a backyard of my own or for more space when people came over. But my mom let me run around the entire apartment complex at all hours of the day & night —’twas the 70s. Never felt limited by the apartment or unsafe at any time.
The back entrance had a sliding door which led to a small patio. Exterior stairs went to the upper apartment’s balcony, & a LONG carport allowed us one assigned parking spot. Although unattractive, the carport became a great place to play games with friends (we invented an overly complicated version of tag), sitting on the steps made for fun talks or board game sessions, & we had a little patch of grass to run around in. Good times. Photos below are from 1975-78… our cat Chippers makes another cameo:
Mom made a great effort at making the place feel like home. Nothing fancy but I’ll never forget that orange shag carpet. And the giant Christmas tree! Fake, of course, but such a thrill to decorate every year. My bedroom went through a couple of design changes: jungle safari (sort of Garanimals) to Empire Strikes Back. The open, green kitchen became one of my favorite places. Thinking about it now… the apartment complex invested well in excellent quality cabinets, Kenmore appliances, & made a comfy space to cook & hangout. We brought the piano down from my grandparents’ house in Iowa with the help of our next door neighbor. What a trip that was. My mom was also resourceful; she recovered old furniture, cleaned & painted it & made it work. Kudos to her. Pics below are from 1975-81:
A couple more photos of places rarely documented: my parents’ bedroom (that JFK bust on the wall!) & the bathroom (green, just like the kitchen). Gotta be thorough.
My dad abandoned us after Christmas 1984 (more about that drama here), but my mom & I stayed put in Memphis. High school approached, I learned to iron, the complex replaced back staircases for all buildings, while my mom had less time & less interest in keeping things organized. To be expected. She went back to work full-time & did a fantastic job of keeping things together. I got a new desk for the bedroom since I had to study so much… lots of AP classes + college applications. Wish I still had the Commodore 64! Pics below are from 1986-87:
Other than the occasional summer in Iowa with relatives, I lived apart from my mom on only one occasion. In 1987, I attended Governor’s School for the sciences at the University of Tennessee–Knoxville: an entire month living at the other end of the state on a college campus & my first solo venture into the world. All students lived in shared rooms in Humes Hall (above). My roommate was local so brought his tv… in the end, that didn’t really matter. I spent practically zero time in my dorm room, as you can see by the incredible mess everywhere. Embarrassing but true. I was too busy learning, exploring, hanging out & listening to Jody Watley on that oversized Walkman:
During my high school years, Turtle Creek apartments ceased to exist. I believe they went bankrupt & another company bought the entire complex. Suddenly we lived in Mill Creek apartments, & the internal street names changed in kind… that’s why the map above lists “Mill” everywhere instead of “Turtle”. Rents increased, maintenance declined & robberies grew more frequent as the neighborhood went downhill. Let’s not dwell on that though.
I’ll always have fantastic memories of morning & evening swims at the pool, playing with friends, the girl in the apartment next door that basically became my sister, sleepovers, staying with neighbors when my parents wanted an evening off, my first boyfriend (that Mom never found out about!) & even that cranky, elderly woman across the street who dressed like Cruella de Vil. Crazy times. College would soon whisk me away…
Places lived series: Florida/Iowa/Alabama 1970-75 ● Memphis 1975-88 ● On campus 1988-94 ● Seattle 1994-98 ● Cádiz 1998-99 ● Memphis/Seattle 1999-2000 ● Buenos Aires 2000-08 ● Sydney 2008-09 ● Buenos Aires 2009-13 ● Esquel 2013-14 ● Seattle yet again 2015-16 ● Sevilla 2016-present ● El Pedroso 2021-present