When I was six years old, my family moved into a flat on California Street in San Francisco in a building that my dad and his brother had renovated. We lived upstairs in the 3 bedroom flat with a big back porch and a great yard that had one tree with a tree house. In time, my dad built gates into the 3 neighboring backyards where our friends lived and our playing space expanded exponentially.
Downstairs from the flat at street level was my dad's upholstery shop. Behind the shop and up a short flight of stairs was a small apartment where my uncle lived for a time. After that it was a space for visiting relatives or temporary housing for my dad's workers. Also behind the shop and below the apartment was a basement.
When my parents divorced, my dad moved into the apartment, and he rented the flat to a woman who had one daughter. During the last year of my dad's life, my uncle moved into the shop creating a little living space at the back near the apartment. He piled as much of his belongings as he could on top of my father's already abundant collection at the front of the shop, all around the living space he had shaped, and in the basement. He took care of my dad during his last months, and once he had sufficiently grieved my dad's passing, he moved into the apartment where he lived 18 more years until his death this past January. He didn't remove any of my dad's things but settled his life on top of that of my father's. The upstairs tenant remained in the flat for 42 years.
Now my siblings and I are diving into the legacy in the building at 6423-25 California Street. The layers are deep and pitted with emotion. Last weekend, Cindy and I met my sister Ginger, my son Raleigh, his wife Jenny, and their son Kyle for our second dive into the bowels of the shop and apartment. Well actually, it is the 3rd dive as the fire marshall demanded some cleanup a year ago, and a family contingent spent two days sorting and hauling away much of the flammable material. But there are still mountains of stuff left.
We have a couple more trips planned into this crazy haven of history and accumulation. Each time, relatives of the family who first moved into 6423-25 will dive in to see what they can find. Not only is it an hilarious experience of "one person's junk is another person's treasure," these visits are a catch-all for satisfying memories.