Government Housing in the early 60's
1957 to 1963 in the "Projects"
I wish I could remember 1957, but I was just too young. Like my future classmates, I was too busy messing diapers, crying, and taking care of my own, small world. The earliest memory I can recall is holding up three fingers to announce my age, but I cannot remember to whom I made that announcement. I probably repeated the gesture more than just a few times, and, since I could not count when I was three, I might even have had the number wrong. One thing’s for sure; it happened in the Projects. The Projects, for those who do not know, refers to low-priced, government housing for low-income people, such as a single woman with four children, like my mom.
In the Projects, I remember we had a babysitter, and, for some reason, I believe she was 29 years old, which made her about the same age as my mother. It is a funny contrast to see such varied lives end up at the same place in time. I remember names like Sophie, Rita and Apodaca, but all those people would be lost to our lives once we moved to East Denver in 1963. As children, we wandered around the Projects with little fear for our safety. It was a close-knit community with many eyes peeking out windows. There was a playground, plenty of other kids to play with, and an entire world existing within the confines of those units.
In my mind, there are many sketchy, unimportant memories of that period that are not held together in any unified string, and I hate how they are fading away with age. I do, however, still remember being happy back then. Most importantly, I remember eating on a regular basis, feeling warm, dry, and safe as I slept, and always having clothes to wear. Mom would probably love this, but one memory that hasn’t faded is that of standing in front of our residence at 1325 Lowell as she arrived home from work and thinking to myself how lucky I was to have such a pretty mom. Yeah, it was housing for the poor, and we sure fit the category, but I do not remember ever feeling poor or different in any way from anyone else. Heck, I’m not eve sure I knew we were poor. Maybe they hid it from me, or maybe I just want to believe in “The Good Old Days”, but, of the memories that remain from that time, all fit in the category of “happy,” and with other friendly, happy people. Definitely “Good Old Days.”
Other spotty memories include Arlan’s Department Store near 17th and Sheridan, where the Lake Shore Drive-In Movie Theatre also stood. I remember playing on playgrounds, sledding in the snow, and playing dodge ball in the tennis courts that had no nets. When I was five, I used to walk myself to kindergarten up to Colfax Avenue and over to the light that let me cross the street to Cheltenham Elementary. As the red and yellow city buses passed by leaving diesel fumes in their wake, I was filled with a naive joy for life so common in the young as I pushed the button for the light at the crosswalk. To this day, just the right scent of diesel wafting past my nose still makes me think of a time when my only cares in the world were to grow up handsome and living a long, long life.
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