Friday, February 7, 2014

Myrtle Marie -- The Heart of the Family

My grandmother Marie in her Easter Sunday finest - the broad front porch -- with the all-important porch glider -- behind.
Last year, my cousin Tim sent me a wonderful gift -- a CD of old family photos that he had scanned.  It was an absolutely delightful and thoughtful thing to do.  Looking through the photos brought back a flood of childhood memories.  

At the time, I wanted to thank him for his thoughtfulness. I started a thank-you email that soon became a bit of a memoir of my childhood, recalling my Grandparent's home and some wonderful times. Sadly, the house that was the centerpiece of all these wonderful memories is now in a deplorable state of disrepair. Sold by my Grandmother in the early '70s after my Grandfather's death, the current owners either wouldn't or couldn't make the investment of keeping it up. But when I was a child, it was a seemingly enormous, pristinely well-kept, whitewashed brick family home suited for a very large family -- exactly what my grandparents needed for their six children and their children's rather large extended family.  Thank you again Tim!
The six siblings and their spouses -- my parents are third from the right.
Hi Tim
It's been fun talking to you the past couple of days.  Your photos were a wonderful gift!  
I starting thinking about Grandma's house and decided to see if I could look it up on Google Maps. They actually have street views. Anyway, I looked it up and it's pretty depressing.  I showed my husband the before and after and it's barely recognize-able. They've torn off the porch (I did know that from the last time I was over there) and poured a foundation, added some wrought iron post-like things. But it's unkempt and overgrown.  There are old car parts sitting in the driveway. It looks like they put vinyl siding on it (why anyone would put vinyl over brick is beyond me, unless they didn't want to paint it). All that beautiful white-washed antique brick hidden by vinyl.  No more rose trellis, white pillars... all gone.
My Grandfather fishing -- To say he was an avid fisherman is a bit of an understatement. He was devoted!
I looked back and forth at some of the pictures of the house. One in particular struck a cord with me. Grandma standing in front of the porch in what looks like her Easter outfit.  She looks the picture of the perfect homemaker -- pretty dress and hat, roses, whitewashed brick, flowers around the house, well-kept and groomed. The glider and bouncy steel porch chairs behind her reminded me of all the time we spent on that porch -- day and night, winter and summer.  We hung out there -- gathered there.  I would lay on the glider and read Nancy Drew Books in the summer. I remember (our oldest cousin and king of the crop) Mike sprawled on the glider, taking a nap.  I remember my dad doing the same thing...
Dinnertime with a typical spread. Looks like turkey back there...
It's funny how grand it all seemed to me in my mind's eye -- a child's eye view of it all. Large and clean, and full of life's comings and goings, kids and laughter running through the rooms, cigarette smoke on the porch. Always the smell of roast beef and noodles or ham drifting from the kitchen along with the sounds of laughter and dishes clinking as the long oak table was set with as many chairs as possible fitted around it -- the heavy sideboard table groaning with food. Football games on Sundays - Grandpa harrumping and everyone getting all worked up about the Reds or the Browns.
Watching the Browns, The Reds, or maybe the Buckeyes... 
Elvis' Blue Suede Shoes or one of Grandma's favorite Tennessee Ernie Ford songs played on the record player in the living room. I remember the living room being an oasis of quiet -- nothing breaking the spell of the room except for the rhythmic tick tock of the mantle clock (I have the same clock ticking away on my mantle -- it was fun to see it in one of the photos you sent. [Enlisting the day after Pearl Harbor, my father gifted the clock to my grandmother just prior to going overseas to serve in Patton's 3rd Armored Division during WWII]).
Grandma in the oasis of quiet. I'd kill for those drapes today...
When the magic glass door closed the room off from the rest of the house it became a quiet little oasis. The emerald green brocade of the living room sofa so cool against my skin when I would lay on it -- I loved that room and that sofa. 
The clock is in the upper right corner of the photo. 
The secret underground railroad stairway, the old dress-up clothes in the upstairs walk in closet -- the same closet that had the stairway?  (For years, I had recurring dreams about a secret stairway. When in my thirties, my cousin Tim came for a visit. After dinner, we sat around, laughing and reminiscing... When I brought up the hidden stairway of my dreams, he quickly assured me that, indeed, there was a secret stairway and a secret room that was used as a runaway slave hiding place by the abolitionist couple who built the house before the civil war.  Because of it's somewhat close proximity to the Ohio River, my grandparents home was a stop on the underground railroad.  When I was ten years old, my father was doing some wiring work in my grandparents' basement and came across yet another secret room with a hidden entrance. We could only assume that this was also a hiding place for runaway slaves on their way north to Canada.)
I remember the smell of aging wallpaper on the walls -- big flowery wallpaper. Chiller Theatre on Saturday nights -- you older guys made me, who was for several years the youngest cousin, go upstairs by myself.  I was always worried about that upstairs -- I scared to death up there.  That upstairs seemed enormous to me, especially in the dark.   But I loved the old claw-foot bathtub that sat up on a pedestal in the one full bathroom in the house.  It always seemed wonderful to me to have to climb up to take a bath in the deep soaking tub -- like a bathing throne! 
My usual partners in crime... 
Do you remember all the shenanigans we cooked up in that upstairs kitchen?  I remember hanging out up there with you and CG, and sometimes Donna -- playing cards and board games -- listening to you and CG tell jokes that I was just a bit too young to understand but pretended to anyway!  How many kids had grandparents with a kitchen in their upstairs? We were unique! (Years later, I learned that this upstairs kitchen was part of a semi-private second floor apartment that my Aunt Maxine and her young family inhabited during WWII, while her husband -- one of my two Uncles Charlie -- was away at the front. I had two aunts each of whom married a man named Charles.   The Uncles Charlie proved a source of deep confusion for a little kid who's father also had two first names -- Preston and Lamar. My mother and her family called my father Preston while my father's family called him Lamar. It took some effort, and a few years, for me to keep all these interchangeable names straight. To add to my confusion my  father's older brother Harry also had another name -- Shinny.  My Aunt Leora was Loki...  My Aunt Nancy's husband Larry was also known as Lordy Dog.  All names were interchangeable. Until I reached the age of seven or eight, I never quite understood what name belonged to whom so I kept my mouth closed and just listened.)  
I remember helping Grandma with the washing (I adored my Grandmother and loved helping her do anything, from the cooking to picking huge bags of greens for dinner) -- getting my hand caught in the wringer washer.  I can still feel my hand being crushed as I tried in vain to pull it back against the rubber ringers. Grandma was crying.  I was screaming, and my Dad came running in, extracting my thoroughly bruised hand from the ringer mechanism.  I was always getting hurt, one way or another.  
The laundry helper around the time of the wringer washer incident.
They say you can never go home again... I thought I might like to go back and see the place. But it's heartbreaking. Grandma would be so unhappy. It's fairly apparent, even from Google Earth, that the house is no longer loved nor cared for...
If we decide to come over, I'll let you know. It's a pretty time of year for a drive along The Ohio ...
Thanks so much for the photos!  It was so thoughtful of you to think of us ... I've enjoyed the heck out of them!
Love... Nan

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