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  • Writer's pictureJessica Bursi

Memphis Mid-Century Marvel, Part One

Updated: Oct 5, 2020

I recently took a trip to Memphis, TN to help my dear uncle out with the revitalization of his home, our family home. Family means nearly the world to me (for any astrology fans, my sun is the 4th house meaning something like an everlasting connection to family - for better or worse, til death do us part :).

The story of our home is the story of our family.

My grandfather, Angelo (Papoo to us), was the youngest of 4 children born to potato farming Italian immigrants in the Frayser neighborhood of Memphis, TN. He worked hard and became a trusted businessman in the community.

My grandmother, Frances (MooMoo to us), was also raised in Frayser with her beloved & also Italian Mama, Daddy, and sister. Her daddy, also named Angelo, ran a grocery store called Angelo's Food Basket right next to the family home. Before MooMoo and Papoo got married in 1952, Angelo and Angelo had gone into business together, running the store for many years after. I guess having the same name came in handy here!

Papoo ran a variety of additional business including liquor stores and building homes in the neighborhood. In 1960, he designed and built one of the most beautiful homes in Frayser, a 4,000 square foot Mid-Century marvel that would come to be our family home.

The single-level house was built with 4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, a large kitchen with its own dining area, a study, an office, a laundry room, a heated 2-car garage, an outdoor swimming pool with a deep end of 9-feet, and the pieces de resistance: a beautiful den and a front living room big enough to house spacious visiting area and a table for 8.

Well-considered details only made the house more special:

  • Cherrywood paneling in the den & living room ceilings

  • Smooth granite floors throughout (the sound & feel of my barefeet running pitter patter on the cold granite will live with me until the day I die)

  • Double-oven and separate range in the well apportioned kitchen (move over, Nancy Meyers!)

  • Inside alcove with a sacred shrine sandpit with Jesus statue

  • Built-in bar facing the den, party time anyone?

  • House-wide speaker system for the intercom and built-in record player, I said... party time anyone?!

  • My favorite extra detail - marble windowsills in the bathroom (SERIOUSLY! WHO PUTS MARBLE WINDOWSILLS IN THE BATHROOM?!?!).

MooMoo and Papoo and the family home raised 4 boys - my dad Angelo (of course!), Uncle Danny, Uncle Steven, and Uncle Raymond and was a celebration space for the wider family of brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, Angelo's Foodbasket employees, neighbors, you-like-to-celebrate-too-come-on-over, etc.

And then along came a new generation as the children grew up and had their own babies. I was part of that next generation - in 1981, I was the first girl born in this branch of the Bursi family for over 50 years. While I was born in Memphis, we moved around for the next 10 years, but a constant in my life has always been periodic trips to the Mid-Century homestead. When I visited, I could count on being smothered with love, grits, & bacon, and turning into a prune in the pool.

These trips were not always rosy as life rarely is. The home and the family in it could be angry, loud, and there wasn't much tolerance for distress (my therapy talk is coming through and it has helped me a lot; if you're not in therapy and you think you'd benefit, for the love of Jesus in the Sandpit, please get thee to a therapist).

My own trips to the family home felt brutal when I was a teenager - stuck at the home with people who I didn't think really "got me," no drivers license or ability to leave the house, and a lot of adults who liked to drink.

But that was the dark side and compared to many other folks, I know this wasn't so bad.

See the other side of it was that this home and the family in it were filled with 100% NARCOTIC GRADE UNCONDITIONAL LOVE. This is a love is what I wish everyone on this planet could experience. I breathe it in and shine it out to you all.

So for me, the house was a place of love and growth, then annoyance, and then love and growth again as I grew older and could take my own trips there. Over the past 20 years, these trips became less frequent. Papoo had passed away in 1998 and MooMoo was with us until 2016.

Our elders gone and with branches of our family spread all over the country, our family dynamics have shifted. It's the cycle of a family.

But if you are lucky, where there is home, there is love.

And where there is love, there is home.

Stay tuned for Part II about my Quarantine Edition trip to Memphis.

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