There was a time, fifty years ago now, that my family lived in upstate New York. As a fourth grader, I made the transition which came with a move from the midwest to the east coast relatively easily. My family moved into what we believed to be an enormous, modern and fancy home. The front entrance had a little medallion that said the house was “all electric”! There was an attic bedroom with purple ballerina wallpaper. There were dark, secret places behind the closet walls, and under the home’s rafters in that attic bedroom which were magical places for girls with vivid imaginations and thin bodies to explore.
My two younger sisters and I loved that house and the neighborhood. The top level of the next-door neighbors’ split rail fence became a balance beam which we conquered with grace and laughter, and no broken bones. The backyard abutted to a small pine woods whose trees dropped long needles that were easily swept into piles which became the “walls” of make-believe mansions with adjoining stables. Just beyond the split rail fence neighbor was a creek (which in the sobering reality of adulthood was a really just a drainage ditch) that entered a large culvert as the water flowed under our street. It was perfect for wading, building dams and for make-believe world exploration expeditions. The culvert was big enough that we could walk through it to the other side of the street, where the water dropped from the culvert in what seemed like a huge waterfall back into the creek. In the winter, the water froze into a blue ice slide.
We knew every family in the neighborhood, which of them had kids, and which families were in the very unusual situation of having no children. Our best friends’ homes were interspersed within the neighborhood, down one street or up another. The rich families lived at the top of the hill behind us, the elementary school was just a few blocks down the street from our home, and the busy main street was several blocks away. The neighbor kids all walked to school each morning. The school playground included a very steep sliding hill that we used in the summer, on large flattened pieces of cardboard and in the winter, on wooden sleds and toboggans. The unspoken but clearly understood limits on our parental-authorized realm were approximately 5 blocks in any direction. More for me as the eldest, and less for my younger sisters.
My parents developed a group of friends primarily through a small church and my father’s work at IBM. This group of IBM employees and their families were like our young family, and we socialized together. In those days, IBM had a joke that the letters stood for “I’ve Been Moved”. Most families had moved many times, and had no family in the area, so it was important that the employees’ families had a chance to get acquainted. The company provided its employees a company-owned country club, which included a swimming pool and golf course. We spent many sunny hours at that pool in the summer months. We felt very lucky. These same families traveled together towing pop-up campers to warm states each spring and to state parks in the summer to camp. For the most part, the families had children of similar ages, but some did not. We swam in the very cold ocean, played mini-golf, and sang together around campfires in the evening. The older kids played guitars and knew all of the newest songs, like “Blowing In the Wind”.
In my mind, I know these memories are long in the past, but it is hard to realize that they are from 50 years ago. FIFTY years!
This past week, Merle and I took a road trip to visit our daughter and son-in-law in Philadelphia. On the way home, we took a detour of a few hundred miles so that I could visit my old house in New York. With the assistance of the miraculous GPS, we were able to easily find the house.
While it has been well-cared for, it is obviously not the mansion of my childhood memories. But as I stood on the sidewalk across the street, it still felt very special. The sidewalk is still the same one where we roller skated (with the metal strap-to-your-shoes skates), back and forth in front of the house, as well as down the sidewalks of a hilly street that is perpendicular to the house. The split rail fence is gone, the creek is filled in, and the little pine woods is now just a few trees with grass underneath. But when I looked at the house’s Zillow listing, the attic room looks the same, minus the purple ballerina wallpaper. Those secret rooms are sure to be there, and the room above the garage-mine-still looks over the neighborhood. I spent many hours just daydreaming out the window. The vinyl siding has likely covered over my name that I left written underneath the outside of the window frame when we moved. I wonder if the siding contractor noticed it when it was installed.
Over the past fifty years, I’m sure that there have been several families who have lived in the house. How many children have grown up there? How many of them felt it was a special place? Did any of them put their little sister down the laundry chute? Did they roller skate in the basement, while holding hands with a sister or two and circling around the metal center pole? They probably found those secret rooms behind the closet, but I’ll bet they didn’t play a game called “Green Ghost” in there. Did the mother iron laundry in the family room while watching her soap opera until her children came home from school screaming for snacks?
How many times did other children race outside early in the morning to get the garbage can down that steep driveway as the noisy truck rumbled up the street? Did other parents curse that same driveway in the winters as they aimed the car for the garage when it was covered with ice?
My brother fell on those front steps and had to be raced to the emergency room. I wonder if his blood is still somewhere on the cement. When we had guests from overseas sharing a Thanksgiving meal, I fainted and broke off a front tooth. I don’t suppose that the kitchen renovator found a piece of tooth in the floorboards.
The memories which this house hold are all in my head. Only my sister shares them. My brother was too young. My mother was an adult. Her memories would be different, and she is not a sentimental person. It was one of the best times of my childhood.
What memories does this house hold for others who have lived there? Will someone else use a GPS and track down the house to see it again?
All of those memories, all of those children, all of the families have made their own memories in that house. That is not just a house in that photo, it is a home, not just for me, but likely for many others. I hope that their memories are as good as mine.