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I drove home today from Bethesda after attending a writing workshop and, rather than taking my usual circuitous way back to Virginia, I opted to shoot straight down Wisconsin Avenue, one of the main arteries of Northwest Washington, DC.
Wisconsin Avenue starts in Maryland at the top of Bethesda, and ends at the Potomac River in Georgetown. When my family came to America more than a half-century ago, our first home was a stone throw from this avenue. My father rode the No. 33 bus to work every morning from our house to Independence Avenue downtown, a forty-minute ride each way.
My family owned four different homes on the Maryland side of the District line, each place slightly bigger than its predecessor as my dad’s earnings increased. We started with a yellow two-bedroom clapboard on Prospect Street, moved to a brick Colonial on High Street a few blocks away, then to a more spacious house on Baltimore Avenue. When my mother inherited some money, my parents bought what was considered a palatial four bedroom home on Earlston Drive. There was a garage there that my father immediately converted into an illegal rental unit.
Today I drove to where these homes once had been. They’re all gone. The one on Prospect was torn down in the 70s to make room for a luxury apartment building. The house on High street was razed when the county widened the road. The place on Baltimore Avenue burned down, I heard, in 2005, and the home on Earlston Drive was torn down to make room for a McMansion which, today, is sadly dilapidated.
As I drove down Wisconsin, I remembered several homes that had been rooming houses for unmarried gentlemen and ladies. These affordable rentals are once again single family dwellings. The street itself is exactly the same, which surprised me, but the woods lining it were gone, victims of the times. The small mom-and-pop stores have disappeared and been replaced by an unending chain of luxury boutiques and franchises.
I don’t feel any particular sadness or regret, though it’s hard to compare the lot of all these domiciles with what happened to the apartment building at 3, rue de la Terrasse, where I was raised in Paris.
The last time I saw it, it was exactly the same. The big portes cochères had no doubt been revarnished several times, and there was now an intercom for people coming to visit. Other than that, the inner courtyard had not changed, and when I went to find the cobblestone where I had scratched my name when I was five years old, it was exactly where I’d left it. The windows were repainted, and the door to the coal cellar still looked as forbidding as when I was a child. The building’s elevator, which had not been operating since World War II, well, it still didn’t work.

About epiphanettes

Writer, songcrafter, possibly the best French pedal steel guitarist in Virginia.
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