Places hold such powerful memories. It used to bother me to go back there. But now I relish the experience, having made peace with the past. 510 brings alive memories of family joys, struggles, betrayals and bonding.
My younger brother moved back to 510 and has an apartment and guest room on the third floor, two blocks from the center of Dinkytown. Dinkytown is the entrance to the main campus of the University of Minnesota. It is where I lived off and on from age 9-20, the day I got married. Most of the house is rented to University students as it was in my childhood.
When I walk in the front door I feel the little girl I once was run out in the hall and proudly answer the phone. She lifts the heavy receiver and the voice on the black dial phone asks, “May I speak to Ali?” another roomer, or perhaps it is my Aunt asking, “Is you mother home?” Holding phone out from my mouth I yell at the top of my lungs, “Mother,” or perhaps, ” Ali, telephone”. Then I hold onto the receiver until they clamored shoes clicking on the metal edges down the steps and retrieved it from my sweaty fingers.
As I got older I resented the lack of privacy on the telephone, often hauling the cord out of the hall into my room to talk to my girlfriend.
My brother remembers this story from my early teen years:
I was the only girl with three brothers. My little brother and I shared a room, but he said, “As soon as you got tits you made me leave. I had to sleep in mother’s room. I just had my chest a drawers in the corner of your room.”
“Oh I didn’t remember that, ” I said, “but I do remember the trap.”
“Oh yah, but you gave it away, jumping and yelling, ‘the light, the light.”
This is how I remember it. My half-brother Brian who looked like Marlon Brando in “On the Waterfront” and never paid any attention to me, confronted me one day. He was always a little on edge and I was in awe of him. His room on the third floor was filled with Scientific American magazines and Mechanics illustrated, he was always building something. One day in my early teens he demanded in a gruff voice right in front of mother, “Don’t you close your shades?”
“I always close my shades,” I said blushing indignantly.
“Someone’s hang out, outside your window, come look.”
I really didn’t believe him. Why would someone do that? We all walked around the tower to where Brian had placed a pile of boards next to the window to my bedroom. Next to the pile of boards was a pile of cigarette butts. Someone had been sitting there on the boards smoking right outside my window.
“I ‘m gonna catch the son-of-a-bitch,” Brian said. He carefully set up a trap with a plywood board and spring and a wired it to a buzzer in his room, and in my brother Dennis’s room and a light in my room. Then he covered it and replaced the cigarette butts.
Then one night it happened. The light came on. I jumped and screamed, “The light, the light.”
Brian got his pistol and came running out yelling, “Stop you son-of-bitch.” My other brother ran after him too, but whomever it was got away.
Of course, like everything else that happened it was my fault because I yelled.
But whomever it was never came back and my brothers didn’t go to jail. I felt safe realizing they cared about me.