As I have related before, my parents rushed me to Johns Hopkins Hospital in the middle of a snowstorm. Finding a place to stay wasn’t a priority at first – they got me to the hospital very late, and the doctors examined me at 10:30 PM. Shortly after that Dr. Richard Rowe told them that I had hours to live and that surgery needed to be done as soon as possible. I was whisked off to surgery, and the folks weren’t leaving; our car remained parked in a parking lot where the Wilmer Eye Institute is today.
I came through the surgery, and the folks were able to find a boarding house nearby. An older man and his wife owned the place; perhaps at one time they had had a large family but the children had grown up and moved out. No matter how it happened, they were now two people living by themselves in a fairly large house close to the hospital. The place was recommended by the Hopkins staff.
Younger readers may not be familiar with the concept of a boarding house. This was 1967, after all. Probably the best description of a Boarding House is of a fairly large single owner home where the owner rents out the extra rooms. Rent could be paid by the day, week, or month. Meal policy was up to the owner; food may be included in the rental price and would be served at the usual meal times with something kept warm for those who came in later. Or a meal could cost an additional fee, with no menu choice: you ate whatever the owner was cooking that day. Since this Boarding House was located close to the hospital, the owners were used to hosting long term residents who probably had a loved one in the hospital.
There was one phone, located on a table in the hall. Usually the wife of the homeowner answered the phone. There would be a long pause as she took the information from the caller.
“Funky Heart family! Telephone call from…,” She would shout. You did not want to receive a call from the hospital, especially at a strange hour. That was usually a sign of trouble. “… South Carolina!” Everyone would breathe a sigh of relief and one of my parents would bound down the steps to grab the phone. When your name was called you moved, because the clock was running. Three minutes from the time the telephone was answered, the operator would interrupt and ask if you wished to speak for another three minutes. She would remind you that if you said yes, an additional $1.35 would be charged to your home phone. If the phone rang and no name was shouted out, the phone call was intended for the owners.
The individual rooms did not have refrigerators, but there was a useful alternate: like most older homes, the windowsills were a little bit larger than usual. In the fall and winter you could leave perishable items on the windowsill to keep them cool. Daddy bought several glass bottles of Pepsi (the only way to get liquid products in those days) and left them on the windowsill. There was still an unopened bottle on the windowsill the day they packed up and brought me home. Not wanting to leave anything, he opened the window, grabbed it, and took it with him.
We still have that unopened bottle…. 42 years later.