Thursday, July 28, 2011

My Childhood Home

My first memory is of waking up crying in the middle of the night with a leg ache; my dad administering orange flavored aspergum and rubbing my legs.  We were living in the west apartment of my grandmother's house at 354 Biddle Street in Lapeer (Grandma T. lived in the other apartment.)  I was probably 3 years old.  My room had a big pink iron bed and a crib in it.   My brother, Terry, must have been the one in the crib; my sister, Patti, sleeping with me.  I'm not sure, but I think my brother, Mike, might have slept in the sleeping porch off my mom and dad's bedroom.

Years later, when Gary and I married, this would be our first home.  We slept in that same room (Minus the big pink bed and crib.)  The room had a double window with a rounded top .  I loved that house!

My grandpa bought that big old house for his family to live in when he knew that he was dying.  My aunt Gern once told me that she thought they must have been rich to move into such a big house.   Grandpa remodeled the house, making it into duplex, so that my grandmother would have some income after he was gone.

When I was about 6 years old, grandma bought another little house on Madison Street and we moved into the big apartment at 352 Biddle Street.  

Entering the house your eyes were drawn to the north wall of the living room and the beautiful french doors, with fancy floral doorknobs made of brass.   The front door was on the south wall as well as a window.  For as long as I can remember, a mirror made of cherry hung on the wall between the front door and the window.  Checking my appearance every time I left the house in that mirror would become a routine.  Years later, when mom and dad had a fire at the trailer they had moved into, that mirror was the one piece of their furniture that I was worried about (It survived and now resides with brother, Terry.)  

An archway, on the east wall, lead into the dining room.  In the dining room a double window, with many panes, looked out of the dining room onto the east lawn.  A blue glass violin vase with a black metal hanger always hung on the wall by the window.  I don't know whatever happened to that vase, but years later I found one at an antique store and bought it (Maybe it's the same one.)  My violin vase now hangs next to my dining room window.  There were bookcases, cupboards and a dutch door (A door cut in two so that you could open just the top if you wanted) on the north wall of the dining room.  The south wall had a wonderful stairway, a wall of wood paneling and a large coat closet. 

That coat closet would become our telephone booth, when we were teenagers and wanted a little privacy.  Nestled in among the old coats and galoshes with their dry dusty smells, I spent many hours talking to my future husband.

My room was up the winding stairs and to the left.  The west wall had a bookcase (Also built by grandpa.)  Wallpaper of purple rose sprigs on a white background graced the bookcase wall (The other three walls were plain purple wallpaper.)  The ceiling sloped down.  The closet didn't have a door, so dad put a folding door on it (There was a hole in the closet wall and I am wondering now if the reason there was no door is because that hole was the way heat got into the room.)  There was a round top door on the south side leading out onto a balcony.  Being afraid of heights, I rarely ventured out onto that balcony.  My brothers, though, did make use of the balcony during their teenage years, slipping out without my parents knowledge.

For many years I had the bedroom to myself.  My sister, Patti, had the little bedroom on the north side of the house,  accessed through my bedroom.  My sister, Dawn, was born when I was 7 years old.  She slept in a crib in mom and dad's room, until she was old enough to move in with our sister, Patti.  Eventually, Patti moved into my room and the great war began.  We slept together in a double bed with an imaginary line drawn down the middle.  Each of us constantly accused the other of crossing over that line.  

As we got older, twin cots were bought, but there was still an imaginary line drawn down the center of the room.  My side was neat and tidy, prim and proper; while Patti's side was often messy and very modern looking with posters on the wall.  We were kind of like Patti Duke's portrayal of two cousins on The Patti Duke Show, complete opposites. 

 In Patti and Dawn's little room, there was a window you had to sit on the floor to look out of (More sloping ceilings.)  The closet was built around the heat duct and was very hot.  Some of grandma's things had been left behind in that closet.  I remember a set of bronze bookends depicting Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

The boys, Mike and Terry slept in the big room to the right of the stairs.  At one point, this would become my room.  I think this might have been after Mike went into the Army.  The room was bright, with two big windows on the east wall that caught the morning sun.  There was a big closet (With a real door) on the south wall.  The door into the room was on the west wall with a little cupboard next to it; still filled with more of grandma's things (I remember a white ceramic pitcher with a ship engraved in blue.)  The ceilings in this room also sloped down.

The apartment only had one bathroom and it was accessed through mom and dad's bedroom.  At one time it was accessed from the living room, but that doorway had been boarded up and shelves built.  The main feature of the bathroom was a huge old fashioned claw foot bathtub (No shower here.)  It is amazing to me, now, how a family of seven functioned with that one bathroom.  

I think mom and dad's room should have been a family room, but with our big family, we had to use it as a bedroom.  There was a glass paned door to enter the room off of the kitchen.  The east and west walls had double windows.  I remember sleeping in a crib next to the east window when I was sick with the measles.  Mom's old fashioned pedal sewing machine usually sat under the east window.  The door to the basement (And outside) as well as a door to the screened porch were also off of this room.  

A big old wardrobe was pushed up against the south wall of mom and dad's room.  Mom's paper dolls and what she called penny dolls were stored in that wardrobe, they could be brought out only on rainy days.  I remember she had the famous Olympic skater, Sonia Henie, paper dolls.  Christmas presents were also stored in that wardrobe.  The year I discovered this,  I had a very disappointing Christmas.

The east wall of the kitchen featured a huge window with a wide windowsill on which sat mom's plants.  Under that window was my childhood's worst nightmare, the kitchen sink!  It seems like I spent half of my childhood slaving to wash the many dishes a big family like ours used every day.  If it was my turn to wash the dishes, I had to wash them (Even if I wasn't eating at home that day.)  Gary would come and help me, when we were dating.  In the background Crimson and Clover, by Tommy James and the Shondells, would be playing on my battery operated record player. The week I got my class ring, I cut my hand on a broken glass while washing dishes in that dreaded sink.  Several stitches were needed and my new ring was hidden by the bandages.

The house had a huge yard, bordered on the east side by a row of black walnut trees.  These trees were planted close enough together that I was able to put one hand and foot on one tree and the other hand and foot on the opposite tree and scooch my way up.  A barn had once sat on the property, the cement doorstep was still there.  The foundations stones now bordered the back northeast corner of the property.  A swing set and tractor tire sandbox were in the northwest corner of the yard.  The yard backed up against an unused alley, the site of many neighborhood games.

Grandma loved gardening, so the property was filled with flowers and bushes. Rose bushes, peony bushes, iris, tulips, daffodils, lily of the valley, violets, hostas, hyacinth and probably many more flowers that I have since forgotten about graced that magical yard.  A huge rock sat in the middle of the back formal flower garden (I loved sitting there.)  An overgrown blackberry bush climbed an old Victorian iron fence on the southeast side of the property.  Nestled against the big bay window out front was a golden flowering forsythia bush.  When I was three or four years old, I sat under that bush and cried because the neighbor kids wouldn't let me play with them until mom bribed them with cookies.

We had a wonderful childhood growing up in that big old house.  The house would probably be at least 150 years old now.  It needed insulation, the sewer had a tendency to back up and it was probably infested with bats and squirels; still I wish Gary and I could have bought it and fixed it up.  I sure did love that old house!

This is what the house looks like now.  It was much prettier when we lived there.
All the flowers and shrubs seem to be gone.  There were also shutters on the windows.