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My nephew moved into his first apartment this weekend. This fall he is a junior at Oklahoma State majoring in Mechanical Engineering. As I read my sister’s e mail this morning — the details of moving him in, putting together bed frames and furniture, cleaning, and setting up house — I couldn’t help but think about my first apartment. I’ve lived many places since then, had many new beginnings, but there is nothing that compares to the first.
I lived in a dorm my freshman year and in my Sorority house the following. My very first apartment was actually a duplex that two sorority sisters and I rented the summer between junior and senior years. That spring three of us were hired by the Oklahoma City Head-Start program to work with under-privileged pre-kindergartners. We found the house through the want-ads and against my parents’ advice, moved into it for the summer. The location was less than desirable but somewhat close to the school where we would be teaching. It had a decent front porch, a good-size living room and a traditional galley kitchen and two bedrooms at the rear. The one tiny bathroom had barely enough space for a tub, toilet, and pedestal sink. It left little room to navigate. With three young women in the era of ‘orange juice can’ hair rollers, bouffant hair-do’s and lots of make-up, the bathroom became our greatest challenge.
We begged and borrowed old mismatched pieces of furniture from friends and family. They consisted of a tattered plaid upholstered sofa that stuck you with prickles if you weren’t careful sitting down, a velveteen rocker and a big ugly recliner that refused to recline but would suddenly catapult you into the middle of the living-room.
None of us knew a thing about cooking but we had a kitchen and were determined to be grown-ups who would prepare meals. I went home one week-end and raided my mother’s kitchen – an old black cast iron skillet, some odds and ends eating utensils, a scrubbing brush (that I later found out was my dad’s shoe polish brush) and a few other items she would never miss. Each of us ‘borrowed’ a couple of plates and bowls, glasses and cooking utensils from home. Sitting in the middle of our boxes, we separated our cache of stolen goods and then proudly filled our cupboards and drawers with our mismatched dishes and cookware.
I noticed how black and ugly my mother’s old skillet was, grabbed a Brillo pad and set to work scrubbing like heck to get it clean. I washed and rinsed and scrubbed some more, removing what seemed like years of caked-on blackened grease. The hot soapy water ran black and I rinsed it numerous times. Later that summer when I returned my borrowed items, my mother looked at the skillet in horror. “What have you done?” she asked, and my dad shook his head and hid a grin. That’s when I learned about curing cast iron cookware. I had ruined our best skillet; from then on everything “stuck”.
We were only there for three months, but we did a lot of growing up that summer. What I remember most are laughter and tears, girl-fights, boyfriends, and early morning drives to work, and for the first time feeling like a responsible adult.
I had something of my own to care for. I had a glimpse of my future as a grown-up, maybe a wife and mother or a career woman. At twenty, our futures stretched for years ahead of us. We were on a path now, no longer sitting still, being served by house-boys, pampered by mothers, protected by fathers, and supported financially.
In 1966 that may have looked very different than it does to today’s young adults, but I have a hunch the feelings and emotions are the same. Pride mixed with fear and trepidation, cockiness tinged with doubt, eagerness and anticipation softened by the desire to return to the soft warm nest from which we had just flown.