Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Rooming Houses

A friend of mine told me that a developer is putting up mini-condos (micro-condos?) in her Portland neighborhood. Her concern wasn't the small size, but the fact that the condos wouldn't have kitchens. The idea being, apparently, that people are content to take all their meals at restaurants, or eat grocery store to-go meals out of clam shell containers.

So here's my idea. It seems as if it's time for the return of rooming houses. I have a soft spot for rooming houses; my grandparents met in the Milwaukee rooming house her family ran in the 1920's. Babbo, who was born in Italy, and lived in Black Diamond, Washington as a child, had come to Wisconsin to attend the Milwaukee School of Engineering. He shows up in the 1930 census as a lodger from Switzerland--whether that looked better to the family, to him, or to the census taker we'll never know. The fact that they ended up divorcing 40 years later doesn't bruise that particular soft spot--I'm quite grateful that they met and married. Not to mention that they had my mother.

And then there are all those great books that take place in rooming houses. A recent favorite: The Slaves of Solitude, by Patrick Hamilton. Admittedly, this book might make you think twice about moving into a rooming house. I'd at least avoid British rooming houses during World War II. But they are fun to read about. All those personalities!

If I were a young single person with a busy career, I think I'd welcome the idea of being taken care of. The traditional rooming house model might require some tweaking. Most adults wouldn't welcome the idea of washing up in the bathroom down the hall. But wouldn't it be nice, if before heading off to work, or after a long hard day, you could sit down in a dining room and eat dinner?

I've long thought that a problem with (as well as a feature of) eating in restaurants is that everyone in a party is eating different food. It seems to underline the idea of the individual. I can't help thinking that eating together is more, well, together, when you're eating the same food. Crotchety? You bet. Don't start me on round vs. rectangular tables.

In the rooming house I imagine, breakfasts are served in a pleasant sitting room. Nothing too fancy, coffee and tea, yogurt and fruit, toast and soft boiled eggs. Maybe some oatmeal. On the weekends French Toast with plenty of maple syrup. The boarders would come together again in the evening for dinner. The food served would be more home cooking than restaurant cooking. In the winter there would be plenty of hearty stews and roasted vegetables. Summers would bring lighter meals, highlighting the produce from the garden out back. There would definitely be pie on Sundays. A cookie jar would be kept stocked through the week, for afternoon or bedtime teatime. And layer cakes would stand on the sideboard all weekend long.

Help yourself.


Charles Shere said...

Exactly how we've been eating lately in gîtes, refuges, and country hotels. Demi- pension. Great conversation, and rarely about the food.

lshere said...

I've always wondered (at least in the last 20 or 30 years) why rooming houses disappeared-maybe just too much work for the people who ran them?

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