There's no Google Maps Street View for Freda Drive. Luckily Mom and Dad swung by the house on one of their Virginia trips:
It's the only split-level I've ever lived in. Kitchen, foyer, living room, and dining room were the middle level; the basement had the family room, TV and (soon) our first VCR, one bathroom, a guest bedroom, laundry, and treacherous concrete steps to our basement; upstairs were three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and an office/game room with a PC and another TV, hooked up to our Atari 2600.
My bedroom, with one window and my 1985 Star Trek III: the Search for Spock wall calendar, was on the north side. I had a small desk under the window and my own radio. What I listened to then still affects what I listen to now.
When I moved there, a month into fifth grade, I entered my fifth grade school. It'd be my last one: Louise Archer Elementary, named for the school's first principal — she ran it and taught there (cooked for students, too) when it was the Vienna Colored School, in the 1940s. Louise Archer Elementary was probably the grade school I best connected to; I had a chance to, with Dad on shore duty that lasted a while, and I think I wanted to.
I had a lingering weak constitution: really feeling the acid in OJ if I drank it too early in the day, still car-sick more than I wanted, and not liking humidity. I'd reacted worse to it in Virginia Beach, but it still was easy to be miserable. I now can handle humidity; I no longer get annoyed by it. But I held onto that annoyance for a while, even as I strengthened and got better at breathing.
I became a more nervous kid. Stress. I know, elementary school stress, but any level of stress can mess with you. This was probably the era I came closest to being a hypochondriac, going to the school nurse's station to see What Was Wrong With Me when, mostly, nothing was physically wrong. Physically.
I was anxious over, among other stuff, nuclear issues. I'd listen to Sting's song "Russians" and have disturbing dreams about running from a rolling mist that clearly stood in for a nuclear blast. This was the only period in my life I regularly had dreams that were close to being nightmares. I'm glad my dreams since then are, mostly, dreams.
(Real-life sights made me nervous, too. One day, playing in a friend's front yard on Verdict Dr., I looked up and was surprised by what looked like a high-flying bomber, being escorted northward in tight formation by fighter jets. Why? And to where? I still wonder.)
A more day-to-day issue: I didn't yet have much sense of direction. I still mainly thought in terms of this is there in relation to that. I changed this while there. Here's a tip: get interested in maps. I studied the ADC Map for Northern Virginia and even started to collect maps, hoarding National Geographic fold-outs. Maps started to make more sense. So did the land.
Including the reclaimed swamp that is the Washington, D.C. monumental core — a place made much nicer than a swamp by the time I'd moved there. I visited. A lot. My family'd been to D.C. before, in 1983 then summer '84 when we were house-hunting (I watched the L.A. Olympics from our Crystal City, VA hotel), and I'd appreciated it then; living near it made it more enticing. On the Fourth of July 1985, we watched the fireworks display from the hill the Washington Monument is on. That's also the hill where that huge fireworks display was launched from. The sky was exploding, in an amazing way. Before that, we visited the White House Christmas Tree display. And museums, museums, museums, open and popular and free — including the National Air & Space Museum, still likely my favorite museum ever. My 12th birthday weekend, November '85, included a trip there. (Summer '92, I volunteered there!) In 1986, the D.C. Metro finally reached to Vienna. MORE INCENTIVE.
Years before, I'd lived on the side of a California hill, but here the ground rolled; hello, Virginia Piedmont. Though I'd certainly biked before, here I became a more serious bicyclist. It was, in some places, an effort, but I had a stroke of luck: Freda Dr. was near the W&OD Bike Trail. An access path was half a mile from our house, and a smaller access path past some neighbors' homes was a fifth of a mile away. Finally, it was easier to reach a place to bike! On my bike! (My parents bought me a new one while there.) And the world opened. Or started to. (Patrick Henry Library, the nearest branch, was a block from the trail. I was there a lot, getting Oz novels and Janet and Isaac Asimov's Norby books.)
Northern Virginia, where I lived from fifth through twelfth grade, is where I figured out a lot about myself. As I've put it, "I figured out my front end from my ass end." My focus got better. My reading speed and comprehension improved: in fifth grade I and a few classmates would spend a period a day discussing books with sixth graders. I was introduced to Ray Bradbury ("The Veldt") and started reading Douglas Adams, though I needed two tries to get into the first Hitchhiker's Guide novel. I wrapped up my time of being a mediocre but decently energetic soccer player. I stepped up speech therapy (I still had such trouble pronouncing my R's that I toyed with pretending I was from England). I sang in chorus, and in sixth grade sang in a hundreds-strong student chorus over in the City of Fairfax. I might still have the audio cassette of that show.
And I had my first crush. Her name was (presumably still is) Nicka. We met in fifth grade; we were friends by sixth grade and acquaintances, post-my crush, through high school. Like most crushes, it went nowhere, plus I was 12 and understandably clueless. But that feeling — a good kind of nervousness, and an appreciation of someone nice who was also very pretty — ah, I still smile at it.
I started photographing while there. My folks gifted me a Kodak Disc Camera at Christmas 1984 (the same Christmas, I got my first comic book, an issue of DC's Star Trek) and, oh, did I start photographing. Blurrily photographing, because it was a beyond-basic camera, but a lot of photographing.
Vienna is where I became a regular reader of much of the newspaper; before, I'd mainly read just the comics and occasionally the Mini Pages. We subscribed to the Washington Post and The Fairfax Journal, which no longer publishes. Trust me, I was still reading comics, and the Post had three pages of them. Riches! But I started to see, and understand, the richness of the rest of the paper. I also started to save clippings. I've saved some for decades. (I do weed them occasionally. I don't want to cross over into hoarding.)
Moments from that house: having a cold one December, resting on the sofa near the Christmas tree in the living room, and knowing I was on the mend when I got up, walked to the tree, and could smell the pine smell for the first time since getting sick. Another, non-sick time, sledding on the steep incline behind the house. Huddling near the kerosene heater we used in the kitchen, and once having to get the phone cord off of the heater after we'd (I'd? I forget) accidentally laid the cord on top of it. (No one got burned! But that cord stayed warped for years.) A dinner where Dad told a shaggy dog story, the kind that's told well enough that you don't realize it's a shaggy dog story until the last line. A summer time, getting stung in the backyard by a few bees at once (they'd been in the grass and I'd disturbed them) and running like I'd awakened a whole hive; maybe I overreacted but hey, I didn't get stung again that day. Seeing a wider variety of computers, like a friend's Commodore 64, and seeing what they could do. That same friend introducing me to Starblazers/Starship Yamato, which I immediately loved. My brother getting special permission from the folks to rent The Breakfast Club from the Vienna Erol's Video, since it was rated R and he was 14. Dad coaching me through an F-14 flight simulator, to land on the simulated aircraft carrier as realistically as possible. (Often I'd deliberately crash the plane so the game would show the crash on instant replay.) All of us Walshes helping my brother deliver the Sunday Washington Post a few Sunday mornings, because that was a beast of an edition.
Vienna is still a good place — it ranks high in "best towns to live in" surveys. It no longer has a movie theater like it did in the 80s (where I saw The Goonies, Spies Like Us and Return to Oz), but it now has Jammin' Java, a coffee shop/200-seat music venue which I really hope to visit one of these days. I've heard good things about the place, including from people who've performed there. And by suburban standards (though probably not by my living-in-cities standards), Vienna is reasonably convenient to lots of places; very central.
It was central for me.