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Monday, January 02, 2006

I Lived on this Street.......

from the time I was born to age eighteen when I left home for college. I really lived here. Amazing........everything looks shabby, not at all as I remember. My grandma's house seems terribly small & yet the kitchen's been remodeled & is by all accounts larger. There's a big picture window looking out onto a large back yard that was once a huge vegetable garden with a chicken coop off the the right. Behind the chicken coop was an outhouse with only one huge seat. Now it's just one green yard with a nice shade tree. These days Uncle Mario has a picnic table under the tree where he sits to have his lunch.

I lived in this house until I was 5 years old when my parents bought a house 6 doors away, up the street toward the center of town. The house was old, run down from years of neglect. The prevailing story was that the old woman who lived there had closed off all rooms except for the 2 she lived in. The kitchen & sitting-bedroom were the only ones that had electricity. Rumor had it that she had closed off the rest of the house to save on coal that she burned to heat the house. She must have not been able to get to the cellar to fire up the furnace those last few days. Someone found her dead in bed one cold winter morning. It seems that neither she nor the house had temperatures compatible with life.

What was left of her house was good enough for my folks. It was dirt cheap! Twenty-five hundred dollars. They put down $500 borrowed from someone & my mom says she didn't sleep until the mortgage was paid for about a year later. I remember my dad actually using a huge scythe to cut the very tall weeds around the house while my mom removed all sorts of junk from the indoors. And I see her belly, huge with a baby soon to be my brother Frank. They worked long days to get the place ready for our family. No one took notice of the time & energy it took to make the place into our home. But I noticed & remember my beautiful mother, her face glistening with sweat as she scraped the floors clean & washed layers of dirt from the windows.

The neighbors on the south side seemed old to me, but as I think back they must have been only in their forties. They were quiet neighbors & kept mostly to themselves. I remember being very curious about them because unlike my family, their faces seemed without expression & I can't recall them ever laughing. Beulah was a very large woman, not fat but as mom liked to say, built like a "farm girl". She had very broad shoulders, narrow hips& long slender legs. Her flowered house dresses were always neatly pressed & on Sunday she added a strarched lacy collar to the neckline. Her pewter colored hair, she fingerwaved to her head emphasizing the flat face with round eyes & small prim lips. To me she looked like Stuart's portrait of Washington. Completing the picture in my mind's eye, is Henry her husband, the image of Abraham Lincoln!

As I got older, I realized that I was probably their only visitor. Occasionally my folks would talk to them about the weather & ask about their garden, but they never visited to chat or have a glass of tea. When Beulah hung her clothes on the line in the side yard next to ours, I'd often wander over to spend some time with her. She listened to the incessant chatter that was my trademark & once she asked me to "recite" a poem for her. She seemed to enjoy my company & when I admired the small basket that held her wooden clothes pins, she told me about getting the basket for a doll she had as a small child. She told me the basket was very old & precious to her. I truly believed she hinted that someday it could become mine.

When I sat with them on their small porch in the late day heat, I 'd notice that Beulah continually wiped beads of sweat from her very red face. She'd use a huge cotton man's handkerchief which she'd carefully refold & replace in her dress pocket. Henry always dry as a bone, was never to be seen, no matter the temperature, in anything but a long sleeved blue denim shirt. It was always buttoned precisely under his huge adam's apple. I found that mysterious & intriguing. At age 8, I often pondered his appearance & lack of sweat! I can plainly see them both sitting with straight backs in their wooden rockers on that small porch. Somehow I knew that I was never to ask what they drank from the huge white mugs they kept at their sides. A few times, dad asked me if I had met the boarder living with our neighbors. He said his name was Jim Beam!

On the other side of us there was a very small house. It was quite literally a doll's house. The interior was totally white with splashes of color from needlepoint & embroidered scarves that covered all surfaces. We were not allowed to wear shoes or touch anything. The family only slept there, they lived in the basement where it really was quite cozy. According to my mom, Mrs. Kay "ruled the roost" in that house. Opinions in our huge family about the Kay's ran the gamut. Some of my older aunts considered it the ultimate home. Everything cleaned daily. Everything exactly placed as Mrs. Kay wanted. In the other camp was mom. "No allowances made for living", she would mumble to my Grandma. "Her kids eat in the cellar! Terrible!" she'd say to her sisters. But I always had fun there. There were 3 Kay kids, 2 boys & a girl my age. We were classmates & walked to school together. All 3 were beautiful blondes with splarking blue eyes, except for Pauline. She had a one eye that was blue, the other was a greenish color with a brown dot. She was considered very special by all the other girls in the fourth grade because of her unusual eyes. If you were nice to her, she'd let you have a good long close look at the brown spot.

Mrs. Kay was not only fussy about her house, she was a stickler about good grades. She would have me over sometimes in the evening after supper to do homework with Pauline. Mrs. Kay said that Pauline had trouble "with the numbers." Even at that young age, I loved "numbers" so I agreed to help her whenever asked. It seemed perfectly natural to sit around that huge old oak table quietly doing homework while while Mrs. Kay cleaned a chicken for one of her customers. She kept a large coop of chickens behind the house & sold eggs too. She seemed to me a very smart woman because she carried a leather pouch heavy with coins & bills in her pocket. Most of the kids at school & in the neighborhood were scared of her. I suppose she looked stern wearing her rimless spectacles & I remember an occasional remark about her "thin lips."

There was a chow-mix dog tied outdoors in the Kay's backyard to keep "nosy kids out of my garage." Well, nosy me wandered too close to the garage & that dog sure did keep me out. My mom sent someone for Doc Stevens. He came by the house a short time later to have a look at the bite on my thigh. Doc Stevens pinched the bite edges together with small metal clamps. I thought my dad was every bit as good as Doc because 5 days later he removed the clamps & I never felt a thing. My dad said I was "very brave."

The days I spent living on that street always seemed to exciting to me. I remember days being such fun & so full of great things to do. All the women were home during the day so that there was always someone out & about who knew where every other child or person was. I knew that whatever I did or however I behaved would get back to either my mom or my Grandma. Grandma knew that every Thursday I visited Mrs. Sorvino to ask if she was making spaghetti for supper. "Sure, I'm making spaghetti tonight for Tom & the boys. You come back later & I'll give you some." Sure enough, she'd save me a small bowl every Thursday.

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