The House I Grew Up In–Writing 101

Oh, the house we lived in when I was twelve. I’m not sure I can stop with just the house. I loved where we lived. It was in Aston, Pennsylvania. I never could quite keep it straight whether we lived in the Old or New Ridge (Green Ridge). There were houses being built on our street (Crystal Road), but not very rapidly. Houses were built as property was sold, so it was probably the “New Ridge.”

We lived one block down and across the street from the firehouse at the top of the street. Our house was a square bungalow. It was a one-story house with a cellar and an attic. The house was what was termed a “stick-built” house. The base was cement. The exterior was an ugly faded gray-green. I can’t remember if we had carpet or not. What I remember about the living room is the flamingo pink walls that were there before my mom married my step-dad.

My mom loved knick-knacks, glass, and all things ornamental. The end tables, coffee table, and what-not shelf with the sliding glass doors were blond wood, I’m guessing almond. The front door faced Crystal Road. It was banked on one side by two side-by-side windows draped with white curtains motifed in green leaves and spring flowers. Our sofa (or couch) was brown and plain. To the left of the door and facing the street was a small room. It had been used as a “catch-all” room until Mom and Dad brought me back from Illinois. Then it became my bedroom. I was nine then. When my little brother outgrew his crib Daddy decided to have the attic made into two bedrooms–one for me and one for my little brother. The stairs he had built were pine. He contracted that work but put up the plywood walls himself. Mom had triangle shaped glass shelves in the corners to hold her vases and knick-knacks. The low-slung cabinet with the sliding glass doors held the engraved brandy snifter with the artificial flowers. Our neighbor across the street had given it to them on their wedding day. It said, “Herman and Letha Lipsius, August 5, 1958.”

When my little brother was about a year old my parents hired a professional photographer to come in. The pictures of our little family were put on a Viewmaster type slide reel. The package they ordered contained the slide reels (I forget how many), the viewer, some 5×7 photos and a large 9×12 portrait of my little brother and myself. It was hung on the wall opposite my parents’ bedroom which was on the right side off of the living room. A large television sat on the floor in the corner. Its exterior was walnut brown with gold colored trim. The knobs were the same gold color in the middle with a brown stripe around the outside. Back then, all televisions were viewed in black and white.

The front porch was cement with two metal chairs, each with a flowered cushion, which my dog, Frisky, chewed up when he got loose one day. Our yard was fenced and sloped. Dad had a sidewalk put in the first year I lived there, and he taught me how to ride a bike. We had a cinderblock garage with a door on the front. Johnny (the boy who lived across the street) and I used to play 7-Up on its side. He usually won. We also ran sprint races in the yard, jumping over Mom’s flowers. Sometimes I would trip over the fence bracket she had around them, bending it and crushing the flowers. Then I was in trouble. The porch was painted green and bordered on each side with bushes that I enjoyed jumping over from the porch.

My mom loved flowers. We had two pink Rose of Sharon bushes, irises, hyacinths, and daffodils. The flowers were planted along the fence. There were African violets in the house. There was a peach tree in the yard between the house and garage, and a crab apple tree outside of my parents’ bedroom window. The Griffiths, who lived next to us bordering Concord Road, had a lovely lilac tree, which donated many bouquets to my mom. Mrs. Griffith gave me permission.

The bathroom was between the living room and kitchen on the right. Dad had a white cabinet in the kitchen that had two doors on the bottom, two drawers above that, a shelf, and two drawers above that. What I liked about the cabinet was the sifter that was built in, right in the center of the cabinet. You could set a bowl under it, pour in the flower, and it would sift right into the bowl. They don’t make cabinets like those any more, at least not that I’ve seen.

The walls of the kitchen were white. The stove was black. The double sink was white and there was a counter where the dish drainer sat. The cabinets for the dishes were above the sink area and off to the right toward the back door. They also were white, as was our small rectangular table. The back door faced Roland Road (the spelling has been changed to Ronald, I think).

Around to the back side of the house were two big green doors that had to be pulled open and laid back. They were the entrance to the cellar where stood the washing machine. We had no dryer so clothes were hung on the clothesline, regardless of season. We had baseboard heat and the wooden drying racks inside the house could be pulled out to hang wet clothes on rainy or snowy days. I loved our house. We had many happy times there. I miss the old neighborhood and our neighbors.

Serially Lost Part I–Writing 101

Rock Falls, Illinois is a small town with not much to recommend it. It is situated across the river from Sterling. My memories are a little fuzzy since I haven’t lived there since my first day of school many years ago. I was a timid kid, afraid of my own shadow it seemed.

“Don’t play with that stick! You’ll get poked in the eye and we can’t afford the doctor.”

“Don’t play in the rain; you’ll catch cold and we can’t afford the doctor.”

My mom was always yelling at me not to do this or that because I might get hurt or sick. We were around horses a lot because my father frequently worked as a hired hand for farmers, but he couldn’t seem to keep a job. I was never allowed to go near the horses. I was told they were dangerous. But they are so big, and wild, and magnificent. I wanted to ride so badly, but I was denied the privilege.

My parents split up right about the time I was starting first grade. Frankly, I was glad because they had lots of knock-down, drag-out fights that scared me useless. When my mother couldn’t find a place for us to live that she could afford, I went to live with her divorce lawyer and their family. They had four boys and no girls, and I was spoiled rotten. If I didn’t like something, I didn’t have to eat it. Their youngest son and myself were nearly the same age and our names rhymed: Aleta Kay and Larry Jay. All of the boys treated me like a little sister but I wasn’t used to have brothers and didn’t know how to take their antics. One time I had a frog put down my shirt. Another time I got carried over a shoulder like a sack of potatoes. Still another time I got dunked when were ducking for apples. They meant it in harmless fun. I wish I had understood that then, but mostly I was afraid of them.

There were horses on the property but only the big boys were allowed to ride them. We young kids were told that they were too high-spirited for us. It was true. But I had a lot of fun there. It was a pretty place with wild violets growing along the hillsides and the main road was red brick. There was a small farm across the road, or up the road a little ways and Larry and I would go play with those kids. I don’t remember their names but they had red hair and freckles. I thought they were cute. I don’t think I had ever seen red hair and freckles before then.

When my mom came back to get me, she was remarried to a man eighteen years older than she. He had never had kids and was so excited to finally have a daughter. He wasn’t just my step-dad; he was my DAD. I asked to be adopted so we could have the same last name. He would have spoiled me too, but my mom wasn’t about to let that happen.

I was glad to be back with my mom but she sure had a temper. My brother was born when I was nine years old. I don’t remember feeling jealous, but looking back, it was about that same time that I started to convince myself that my mother hated me. It seemed she was always yelling at me and comparing me to the teenage girl across the street–Beverly. She was the perfect daughter, always helping her mother, always cutting the grass without complaining. I resented Beverly and my mom. It seemed my mother’s favorite thing to say to me was, “Why can’t you do anything right? If you can’t do anything right, leave it alone and let somebody else do it.” Or she’d say, “All you want to do is play, so go on. Get out of here. Go play. You don’t do anything right anyway.” Yet, if I started to walk out the door she’d say, “Where do you think you’re going? Get back in here and get this chore done.”

It wasn’t until I got married and had kids of my own that I began to understand my mother. She hadn’t meant to belittle and criticize. It just came out that way. She was frustrated with me because I only half tried to do my chores. I had already convinced myself that I couldn’t please her anyway so I didn’t do my best.

I lost my mom in 1994, after a massive heart attack and three subsequent strokes, all within a month. I’m glad I was able to make peace with her before she died. There were good times too, when I was growing up. She’d play Old Maid or Go Fish with me. We did jigsaw puzzles together. She taught me how to play 500 Rummy. She taught me how to cook. And God taught me how to look at the good and leave the negative in the past where it belongs.