I was born at Offutt Air Force Base outside Omaha, Nebraska, on 20 July 1973, the first child of David and Elizabeth Carlstrom. My father was stationed at the base after returning from Japan. My mom had moved to Nebraska from Boston after their wedding in her hometown of Ruan, County Clare, Ireland, on 13 November 1973. My first house was at 1511 Willow Avenue in nearby Bellevue. My parents had built the house after getting married a couple of years earlier but I only lived in in six weeks before my first move. Before we left Nebraska, I was baptized at Chapel #2 at Offutt AFB on August 8th at Chapel #2 on Offutt AFB. My godparents were my Uncle Fred and Aunt Kathleen.
After leaving Nebraska, we relocated to Norfolk, Virginia, where my father attended the Joint Forces Staff College. I am guessing due to the limited duration of our stay of about six months that we lived in some sort of military temporary living quarters as we would do on occasion with later relocations. I do not think I have ever been back to where we stayed, at least not since I started remembering such things.
We spent my first Christmas in Boston, New York. I opened presents at my Aunt Martha and Uncle Edward Cary's house with my Cary cousins and my grandmother.
The first house I remember living in was at 2137 North Courthouse Road in Arlington, Virginia. I lived there from about six months of age to just shy of my fifth birthday. It was a two bedroom, one bath house with a full but unfinished basement.
We moved to Arlington for my dad to work as a Program Manager for DAPRA where he managed artifical intelligence programs at places like MIT, Stanford, and CMU. His role was mentioned in Arthur L. Norberg's article in Changing Computing: The Computing Community and DARPA, based on his oral histories with Patrick Winston, Stephen Crocker, and Raj Reddy, as well as the book Transforming Computer Technology: Information Processing for the Pentagon, 1962-1986. He also was acknowledged in the book Readings in Computer Vision: Issues, Problems, Principles, and Paradigms by Martin A. Fischler and Oscar Firschein. The DARPA Technical Accomplishments notes "the personal involvement of David Carlstrom all provided a significawt impetus to start the IU [Image Understanding] program." This was also discussed in Nils Nilsson's book The Quest for Artifical Intelligence connects that IU program to the later Strategic Computing Program work on "autonomous land vehicles", or as we call them today, self-driving cars. The authors of Readings in Computer Vision thanked the IU program managers for "playing a critcal role in the development of computer vision as a scientific discipline".
I had 7 teeth at 7 months, some of which you can see in the picture below. My first word was "hot", apparently because my mom was frequently warning me about the stove.
I saw my first snow in this house. I looked out the windows of my parent's bedroom over the front door and it was just covering the roof of the porch. If this was from late 1974, it would be my first memory.
My mom always told me I was dragged around by the hair older cousin Patricia H, but Claire H told me at Sabina H's wedding that it was me who dragged her around.
My earliest distinct memory came around 23 months. I was riding my plastic tricycle on the walkway between the top of the steps from the street to the front porch. I was repeatedly backing up and then riding forward along the walkway. My mom had been watching me but then went inside to answer the phone. I continued my back and forth riding while she was inside. I distinctly remember trying to go back as far as possible to maximize the forward distance I would travel before having to stop. Unfortunately, I went back too far. The rear wheels of the tricycle slipped back over the edge of the step and I started moving backwards. The tricycle and I went tumbling down the flight of concrete stairs toward the street. When I stopped I was screaming. My mom came rushing out and found me bleeding from the head. She wanted to take me to the doctor but we only had one working car at the time and my dad had it at work. Fortunately, our neighbor Roy was home on a lunch break from the phone company. My mom wrapped my head in a towel or blanket to act as a bandage and Roy drove us to the Army hospital at Fort Myer. I forget what happened after the start of the ride in the phone truck, but I used to have dreams about being operated on in the hospital after this, always from an out of body perspective. I ended up with 7 or 8 stitches across the middle of my forehead. For months, perhaps even a year, afterwards my mom rubbed vitamin E nightly on my head to try and minimize scarring, but to this day I still have a prominent scar to go with my earliest memory.
My family took me to ride the Washington Metro on opening day March 27, 1976 in Washington, DC. The Rosslyn station was close to our house, I remember later trips to the Pentagon as well as to National Airport. I also remember taking the Capitol subway once upon a time.
I also had a trip to New Jersey the next summer to visit my Uncle Fred, most notable for the fact that it was my first visit through Delaware to New Jersey.
One time my mom took me to Toys "R" Us to pick out a toy. I recall it being for my birthday, which I would guess would have been for my third birthday, but that does not jive with my LEGO story below. In any case, I picked out a blue double-decker car carrier truck that included two cars, one red and one yellow. The "Buddy L" cars turned up in separate batchs of toys my mom sent to my kids and have been reunited but the blue truck itself is still missing.
When I got my first LEGO set around my third birthday, #115, I remember holding it in my lap all the way home. It was one of the nice boxes with a flip top lid that opened to tantalizingly reveal the pieces in side. I also had #114 and I remember making a water wheel with it with my father and playing with it in the kitchen sink. These were the days before today's mini-figs, and the carpet was roamed by the freakishly large giants from #196 as well as the stiff faceless people of #445. At least the vehicles were four studs wide, not like the monster six wide cars that roam the LEGO City streets of today.
For more on my ongoing LEGO habit, please my LEGO page.
Although my LEGO held up pretty well, some other sandbox toys did not fair so well over the years. I remember my father repairing a bunch of them with epoxy, reattaching broken of wings and other parts. One time he replaced a set of wheels of one vehicle with some from another from a even worse off set. Someone recently spotted this repair in my own kids sandbox, wondering why the wheels were mismatched!
I recall several trips over to a small store next to Rockcreek Park to get a RCA television, probably from the XL-100 line. My mom used to put on Sesame Street for me. However, she must have watched other things with me around because she says I always used to smile at some Christie Brinkley commericals. My father used to watch The Rockford Files which I loved for the opening credits as well as the car chases. I used to play along with the red and yellow cars I mentioned above. I have always seemed to like James Garner's work later in life as well, I guess it started at an early age.
Dawson Terrace park was a two blocks from our house and I used to go there with my mom sometimes to play on the playground. Although I have fond memories of the playground, for some reason I used to have nightmares that there were talking alligators that lived under one of the slides. It never worried me when I was in the park, and they never did anything but talk in my dreams, sort of acting like the troll guarding the bridge in the story Three Billy Goats Gruff.
Another recurring nightmare I used to have was bears coming over to our Dodge Aspen station wagon at a rest stop along a parkway. I recall getting the 1976 Dodge when I was three years old and it was the first car I drove when I got my learner's permit when I was 16. I remember taking the Dodge in for to the dealer for service near our friends the Pepins' house. Maybe the nightmares were associated with all the waiting around for the car to get fixed.
A brown Dodge Aspen station wagon (left) very similar to ours.
While I had nightmares involving this car, they were nothing like this scene from Toxic Avenger II.
One strange fixture of this house was the older Opel Kadett stationwagon in the back yard. I say fixture because it did not move the entire time we lived there. I was fun to have my own car to play pretend with. My father did get it running again when we lived in Arkansas and it moved with us to Maryland and New York before my mother finally got him to get rid of it at our Woodside road house.
It's not easy bein' green...
Brian with Opel before it moved to the backyard, 1974
As I mentioned earlier, we lived in Arlington because of my father's job at DARPA. Looking back perhaps the strangest thing about this assignment is that he did not wear his air force uniform very often, so it was strange when he did. While working at DARPA he was technically stationed at the Pentagon, and occasionally he would have to wear his uniform when reporting there. At the time DARPA was still in an office building at 1400 Wilson Boulevard in Arlington. The entrance had a big bank vault style door which seemed pretty cool to me even then. I used to using the typewritter in his house to type the alphabet. It was not until I was in California that I learned that this was actually an ARPANET teletype terminal in his office.
A couple of times my mom was in the hospital, I spend some quality time with my dad. I was not stressed out about my mom going to the see the doctors, probably because of all the goodies that were successfully used to distract me. One in particular I liked was a children's book about a new fangled diesel train that thought he was faster than all the other trains, so the other trains trick him into chasing his own train futilely around a hill. It was delightful to find it recently with some other books my mom sent to my kids. I also got a small periscope that played with around the hospital as well. Finally, my father took me to a theater to see my first movie It featued an animated dragon mixed with live actions characters. For most of my childhood I thought this was a Puff the Magic Dragon movie, but apparently those were made for television, so going by the date and style, it probably was Pete's Dragon.
One year for Christmas, probably when I was 4, I received a Tycopro #8335 Liberty 500 Lighted slot racing set, not recommended for children under 8 years of age. While I was quite excited, I have a feeling it was for my father as much as it was for me. I cannot say I blame him. I once told my one year old son Michael to "grow faster" so he I could by him his first Fisher-Price remote control car.
My parents remodeled the kitchen in this house, opening up a wall to connect the kitchen to the dining room. Before this change you would have had to carry food through the living room to the dining room. I recall my mom doing a lot of work on the dining room side of the wall dealing with drywall or plaster and painting.
One time while doing some work in the bathroom, which was upstairs, the floor was actually opened to the kitchen below. I do not recall if this was because of a water leak or was part of the kitchen remodel, but I do recall waving down to my mom through the hole from upstairs.
The biggest project was my parents did in Arlington was to dig a driveway to provide off street parking for our two and then three car family as well as to provide access to the backyard, which is how the Opel Kadett was moved there long before the driveway was even completed. My parents dug the driveway out themselves with shovels. As you can see in the picture below, they used an old baby pram to hold a garbage can to hall the dirt away. Much of the dirt was quietly disposed of in the neighbor such as down the embankment at the end of the street that overlooked Spout Run Parkway.
One issue with this change was that there was a door from the living room that used to go down some concrete steps to the side yard. My father actually moved the steps from the former location to a new spot where they could then be used to go from the front of the house down to the driveway. However, this did leave a door to nowhere in the living room. It looks a little strage from the side, since it is actually directly above a new door my dad added to access the basement from the driveway.
The finishing touch on the driveway was make a red paving stone path on the left edge bounded by railroad ties and then paving the rest of the driveway. We also did some plantings on the banks but they did not take. In fact, we tried a couple additional rounds of plantings before they actually took and by that point we had moved from Arkansas and back to Maryland.
Current Google Street View of the house showing the driveway.
I knew a number of neighbors on our little stretch of North Court House Road. I already mentioned Roy who lived to the left of us and drove my mom and I to the hospitial when I split my head open on the stairs in front of the house. We would see him on and off through the years and eventualy the house passed to his nephew.
To the right of us lived two older ladies and their cats. One time I was playing in my front yard and a cat was to the right of the chimmney. It was not friendly and ended up scratching my arm pretty badly. I never really liked cats and its probably partially due to this early encounter.
Some older boys live in the next house down from the old ladies. One of them used to make small boats out of wood and flat them in Spout Run. He gave a couple of my own that I had for years.
Mrs. Columb(sp?) was an elderly lady who lived in the house in the fork of Courthouse Road and 21st Road. She did not get out of the house much, so my mom and I used to walk down to visit her on a regular basis. My mom also used to buy Kool cigarettes for her at the commissary, which I'm sure was frowned upon then and was forbidden soon after around 1982, but it avoided the state sales tax for someone who was scraping by on a fixed income. Mrs. Columb used to smoke in front of me, which was not such a big deal back then. I occasionally enjoy the smell of tobacco smoke even though neither myself or anyone in my family smoked. I have also better at putting with smoking friends than most of non-smoking friends. I always think it has something to do with those fond memories of hanging out in Mrs. Columb's living room while she was smoking. I do not recall visiting with Mrs. Columb again after we moved back to Maryland so I think she passed away in the intervening two and a half years.
One last neighbor was Robert Gray who owned then owned a large house across the street. In fact, he owned many houses across the street, he was trying to buy up the area to tear down the houses to build condos. He entered into several agreements where bought houses but allowed the previous owners to remain until their death. Despite some hold outs over the years, he eventually managed to get the houses across the street on North Courthouse Road as well as on 21st Street North and 21st Court North. All except one that is. One person held out on 21st Road North despite the fact that Interstate 66 was being put in behind his house. Gray eventually tore down everything he owned and put up the condos, but this was many years later, even after we had lived in Maryland.
Gray was tied into Republican politics back in the day. One night my dad came home to find that little North Courthouse Road was blocked off by police. Apparently Gray was hosting Ronald Reagan who was running in the 1976 Republican primaries against Gerald Ford. My dad told me it was after Reagan lost a primary. If it was the Virginia Republican caucuses, that would place the date as May 15th. Eventually my dad made it home that night and eventually Ronald Reagan made it to be president, but not that year.
The I-66 construction had a major impact on the neighborhood while I lived there. The interstate was like a moat separating our residental community from the rest of the city Arlington. This was not entirely a bad thing but there were traffic disruptions and route changes due to construction. For example, it used to be possible to drive down North Quinn Street from our side of Lee Highway across by the Colony House Furnuture store, but Quinn is interrupted by the interstate. We did not get any benefit from I-66 while we lived in Virginia because it did not open until 1982 when we lived in Maryland. Even then we did not use it much because of HOV restrictions. The route from our house in Maryland had us get on I-66 only to immediately exit onto Lee Highway.
Giant Food was the local grocery store that I went to with my mom. It is on the corner of Lee Highway and Spout Run. Across the street the phone company had a building where I imagined my neighbor Roy worked. The Giant had a cool old-style roller system for food to be rolled out in bins for loading directly into cars so there would not be a need for carts in the parking lot.
One time while at the Giant I told my mom I wanted some bubble gum. She refused. I threw a tantrum. She still refused. So when she was not looking, I took the gum in the checkout lane and put it in my pocket. After we left the store I shower her defiantly how I had gotten the gum myself. Boy did I get in trouble then!
I did attend Saint Agnes Church with my mom, including church school when I was older, where hopefully they would cover the basics of "you shall not steal". Unfortunately, it did not teach me not to color on the walls. When I created a colorful display on the wall at home next to the door to nowhere, I was quite proud of myself, noting how it resembled a number "4". My mom was not impressed.
We used to walk by the Arlington First Church of the Nazarene on the way from our house to the park at Dawson Terrace. I asked my mom why we just did not go to this church since it was so much more conveniently located and I did not really understand the answer.
I did not attend a formal preschool, but a friend of my mom's from Saint Agnes Church, Mrs. W, ran a small preschool that included her son Andy and a few other assorted kids including her older son Kenneth. My parents stayed in touch with the Ws over the years and Mrs. W used to remind me of my fondness for chasing one of the girls in the group.
I also attended a kids summer day camp program in the summer of 1978 at the aforementioned Dawson Terrace Community Center. I had lots of fun finger painting one day making a very big green splotch and with very messy hands. I also made a recipe book which has survived to this day. When we had to contribute a receipt to Daniel's preschool cookbook last year, I picked my favorite haystack recipe from this my old cookbook. We did not get a chance to make the haystacks in Arlington however, because we were soon to move to Arkansas, where my mom did make them at least a couple of times.
Just around the time we moved, my mom and I took another trip to Ireland. We arrived Shannon on June 7th, 1978 and were back via New York on June 27th, 1978. I actually have memories of this trip, being almost 5 years old, unlike the previous trip when I was under two.
I mentioned before that we had been a three car family, although we never actually had three cars running at the same time. Before we bought the Aspen stationwagon at the end of 1976, our main car had been white 2-door Chevy Nova. When it came time to move, my parents sold the old Nova and I was very upset about it at the time. By the way, the story that the Nova sold poorly in Spanish speaking places because the name could translate as "no go" is an untrue urban legend.
I barely recall having a car seat but when I was going through some old papers I found some product information for a "Sleepy Rider" model Car Baby Travel Seat. The black, heaviliy padded arm and head rests shown were immediately familiar to me. It cannot have been fun to load me into that contraption in the back of the 2-door Nova.
For whatever reason I was not as unhappy about leaving the house as I had been about selling the Nova. Perhaps it was because unlike the car, which was drive off by a strange, I did not see someone else move into the house. Moving day was an exciting event with a large tractor trailer being loaded with all of our stuff. They even offered to take the Opel in the truck, but my dad though that would violate the Air Force relocation policy, so we set up the Aspen set up to tow the Opel. My last memory of the inside of the house was being alone in my empty room. I saw the electric outlet on the wall to the right of the door which previously had been covered up. While inspecting this discovery, I gave myself quite the electric shock. It was quite the parting life lesson from my Arlington house.
On the way out of town my parents stopped at a Toys "R" Us to buy me a toy to play with in the car on the road to Arkansas. I got a stagecoach holdup set that had little bandits and lots of little guns. I took it out at one reststop and played with it in the grass causing much frustration as my mom tried to make sure I still had all the little pieces. Looking back I always thought it was Playmobil set to the point that I even spent time trying to find a description or picture online in the old Playmobil product catalogs. Eventually it arrived at my house in a box of old toys from my mom and it turned out to be something else entirely. Similar to Playmobil, there were a lot of of interchangable parts for the figures such as hats and bandannas, but the figures were flexible, not rigid like Playmobil.
As October 2009, my parents still own this house as a rental property although they have have been fixing it up the last year to finally prepare to sell it after about 35 years. I returned many, many times over the years for various work on the house. I have driven by a couple times without my parents with I have been in the area with my wife visiting her aunt and uncle who live almost directly across the Potomac river in Georgetown.
For more pictures from this time period, please see the following albums: