Raising A Family On Bibimbap and Corrective Shoes

Posted on August 12, 2010


In 1977, Then Husband and LBL moved to a neighborhood called Lyon Village, putting them within a couple blocks of Clarendon, the commercial area that bordered the neighborhood.  Clarendon was a pretty exciting place back then, if you enjoyed looking at the site of a vacant 5 and 10 cent store, or if you needed corrective shoes on a regular basis.  Clarendon was what was then affectionately called “in transition.” Their favorite place to eat was a Korean family restaurant, located next door to the Sears.  McDonalds meant nothing to LBL’s.  Their food of choice was bibimbap: rice mixed with meat, vegetables, egg and chili pepper.

In the early 80s, the Clarendon Metro opened.  This allowed Then Husband to travel easily to work in Washington, DC and then to spend the time there calculating exactly how much their home was appreciating because they were fortunate enough to live near a Metro stop.

When the Vietnamese community discovered the benefits of locating to places with cheap rent and the easy availability of corrective shoes, Clarendon underwent a resurgence.  Now they were able to buy fabrics, exotic food, and suitcases.  A lot of suitcases.  Unbeknownst to LBL and her family, the Vietnamese community and the vendor of corrective shoes, a tidal wave was approaching that would swallow all of them up and re-create their Sleepy Little Clarendon into something they could never have anticipated.

After a couple false starts (like people throwing themselves into the path of bulldozers to prevent the construction of a Home Depot where the Sears had been), little by little, Clarendon began to morph.  As Secretary of the Civic Association, LBL recorded countless passionate arguments for and against the change. Hard Times, the trendy chili restaurant moved in, and that was the real signal to LBL of what was to come..

“We just got a Hard Times,” she told Then Husband.

“You don’t like chili,” TH said. 

“It has nothing to do with chili.  This is the beginning of something.  This entire area is about to change.  Hard Times is just the beginning. 

“No more Vietnamese food?” TH asked. (The Korean restaurant had, alas, already closed.) “That would be terrible.” 

“I want cute clothes stores! No more Sears!”  Only Daughter demanded.

“I don’t have to wear corrective shoes anymore!” my son yelled, even though he had not worn them for years.  (Some traumas take a long time to heal.)

“I hate Clarendon!” Younger Son declared.  “What is Clarendon?!” 

Not only Younger Son, but seemingly the entire universe would eventually know what “Clarendon” was.  The sleepy little neighborhood shopping corridor has-been, began sprouting yuppie shops and restaurants with reckless abandon.  And the yuppies followed.  They came by the thousands from wherever they had been hiding, creating traffic jams, two hour long waits for restaurant seating, and Then Husband taking out even more time from work to calculate how much the family home was appreciating.

Then Husband is now someone else’s Now Husband and is living in Fredericksburg, VA.  The kids have grown and gone.  LBL lives in another neighborhood, but one very close to her former marital residence.   She drives through Clarendon virtually every day, sucked in by Valet Parking at Whole Foods and the lure of a Barnes and Noble so close by.  But she doesn’t recognize this area as anything that she is connected to in any way.  The old Clarendon is gone.  The new Clarendon is populated by people who have absolutely no sense of what the old neighborhood was like.  Buildings continue to come down.  Sometimes entire streets will come down at once, and as soon as the buildings are gone, LBL can’t remember what was there.  She always wonders how that is possible.

When LBL mentions Clarendon to Only Daughter, she turns up her nose and says, “I loved the old ratty Clarendon.  I don’t think I could never move back there now.”  She lived for five years in Brooklyn and is now in a section of London that is filled with funky and interesting shops and restaurants. There are no chain stores in her world.

The transformation marches on.  The trendy shopping area will be expanded, more buildings are coming down, more going up, more condos, more restaurants, more bars.  The density increases daily.  Clarendon will be part of the proposed “Silver Line,” a Metro extension out to Dulles Airport.  And, since the President has discovered Ray’s Hellburgers, it’s almost impossible to even get a hamburger without waiting in line.

Every once in a while, as she drives along Wilson Blvd, past the unrelenting trendiness of the whole thing, she glances to her right and remembers being in Public Shoe store (now, the last holdout) seated next to her young son.

“I don’t want special shoes,” he wailed.  “I want my sneakers back.” 

“I know hon,”  LBL said, “but sometimes things change. These are really cool shoes, and you won’t miss the sneakers one bit.” 

He looked at LBL dubiously, then back at the corrective shoes on his tiny feet.  The shoes were made to look like manly workboots, but instead, looked out of place in the sea of sneakers that all the kids were wearing.

“After I’m finished with these, can I wear my sneakers again?”

“Sure,” LBL fibbed, knowing that at whatever point in time he could once again wear “regular” shoes, the old childish sneakers would seem dated, part of another world.  Those little sneakers are, in fact, in a box in LBL’s attic, along with memories of a neighborhood that, with all its haphazard quirkiness, nourished my young family perfectly.