The house was three stories tall, had four rooms in the basement and two flights of stairs to each floor. I was only seven years old the day we moved in and I got lost, only being found by following the sound of my crying.
The first floor had open porches on two sides and enclosed porches on two sides. The second floor had one open porch that was fun for sleeping out overnight. The back stairs was a straight run and excellent for sliding down bumpety-bumpety-bump.
We had exceptional radiators—a low, very wide one in the living room by Mother’s chair, which she piled high with magazines despite Dad’s comments about inefficient heating. In the library there was a very tall radiator, which my parents would back up against to warm themselves after supper. In the kitchen, under the two windows, there were waist-high radiators with rounded tops, perfect for drying wool mittens and snow pants after sledding.
Jean, 18 months my senior, and I shared a bedroom and double-bed. I would talk her to sleep, though years later we never could remember what I talked about. News, weather, sports and probably heavy on the commentary. Jean was everlastingly frustrated because she was neat and I wasn’t.
The day Grandpa died, the Benda’s and their our-age daughter came over to keep us while Mother and Dad went to the farm. Who knew that a double bed with wooden slats couldn’t bear the weight of three little girls jumping? The mattress and springs came crashing down and Mrs. Benda didn’t know what to do to fix it so we just slept on the floor inside the bedframe until Dad came home. He fixed things.
When the new baby came—my brother Ricky—the bassinet was put next to the radiator in the dining room so Ricky would always be warm and Mother wouldn’t have to walk up and down stairs. There was a chandelier over the dining room table and Ricky’s highchair would be hiked up next to Mother’s chair, except when we were having waffles, then the serving cart with the waffle iron would be hiked up next to Mother’s chair. I don’t know what we did with Ricky.
When Ruth arrived, she turned into a tomboy. All the kids on the block who were the age of Ric and Ruth were boys. One summer night while we sat at dinner we listened to the boys outside the window debate who the best quarterback was and decide it was Ruth. When she entered seventh grade, Ric went to Mother and told her that she had to explain to Ruth that she couldn’t play football anymore. The boys had become aware that Ruth was a girl and they no longer would tackle her.
Milk with cream came in bottles that the milkman put next to the side door before we woke up. The cream would separate and rise to the top, and in cold weather the liquid would freeze and force the top off. The tower of cream with the top would look like a little man wearing a hat. After the milk bottle was empty Mother would wash it and put it back beside the door for the milkman to pick up. We had never heard of recycling. One day in the summer Mother was in a hurry to get the dishes washed so she could get us all together and head for the farm. She handed me the milk bottle, slippery with soap, to take outside. I dropped it on the porch, where it shattered, cutting my right big toe and leaving a scar these sixty years.
The wide front and side porch was good for reading and playing dolls on rainy days. It was lined on one side with pricker bushes, which were hateful when you had to retrieve a badminton puck or croquet ball. The three oldest of us each had a section of the yard that we had to mow. It was a hand-mower that was used for many, many years until it was sold in a garage sale to a man who intended his children to use it to mow the yard at their summer camp. Before all the paint wore off, it was yellow and green.
It rested in the two-car garage behind the house. In front of the garage there was a fire place with a few stairs that led down to a lily pond with a fountain in the middle. When they moved into the house, the backyard was so overgrown with trees and bushes that Mother and Dad didn’t even know there was a lily pond. Dad used two-by-fours and chicken wire to build a screen over the pond so Ric and Ruth wouldn’t fall in. Mother planted porchulaca flowers around it. I’ve never lived any place where I could get porchulaca to grow.
Hollyhocks grew at the end of the back sidewalk where it met the alley. The garbage can was beside the hollyhocks and one or the other or both drew bees that were frightening to pass when I came home from school. The garbage truck came down the alley for pick-ups, as did the trash truck. The alley was the shortest way to the park down at the corner. The park was where we went sledding in the winter and to the day programs in the summer. It’s where I learned to make gimp bracelets. Later, when we were teens, it was where we would go to make out at night.
It was a quiet place that was green and safe.