Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Old Neighborhood

My brother was two and a half years old when I was born. Our family lived in a small two-bedroom bungalow, where we continued to live until I was about five years old. At that time, Mom and Dad began looking for another place to live, where Phil and I wouldn't have to share a bedroom and where I could have a real bed instead of the crib I was quickly outgrowing.

They found a place that had five acres, with a house that Dad referred to as "the only barn in the county with a bathroom in the hayloft." In other words, he was going to have his work cut out for him to make improvements to the house. But the price was right; and, having been raised on a farm, Dad was pleased to have a little land where he could do some gardening.

That is the home where I grew up and where so many memories were made. We lived in that house 12 years, moving away the summer between my junior and senior years of high school. (We stayed in the same school district, though, so I didn't have to change schools.)

There was a mobile home park bordering one side of our five acres. Later, my parents would sell a lot to my aunt and uncle, where they would build a house between us and the trailer court. On the other side of us was a small house with a family that had five children. In the next house down from them lived a grandma and grandpa who were raising their two granddaughters, one of which was my age and the other, Phil's age.

That grandma and grandpa owned some rental houses at the back of their property, two of which were known as "the chicken coops" by those in the neighborhood. The chicken coops may or may not have ever been occupied by chickens, but they were small and rather depressing looking and had no indoor bathrooms.

There were a brother and sister that lived in one of those chicken coop homes. The girl was one grade behind me in school, and the boy was only about a year younger than she was. They didn't have an easy life. There were occasional black eyes and bruises, compliments of their step-father. I know they were taken from the home and placed in a children's home at least once or twice, but I don't believe it was ever permanent. And, as bad as their home life was, they preferred it to the children's home.

That "barn" and five acres that my folks purchased provided just a wonderful place for my brother and me to grow up. At least, we thought it was perfect. Phil and I each had a little place in the woods that was our special place. In addition, there were three small sheds on the property that may have actually been chicken coops at one time. Dad let Phil and me each have one of those little sheds to make a special play place for each of us. I think the third one was used for tools and such.

The house itself had a kitchen, dining room, and living room downstairs, with doorways into the kitchen from both the living room and the dining room. Dad put in a beautiful hardwood floor in the living and dining rooms, replacing the old board floor, which had spaces between the boards that were wide enough to look through to the basement. The kitchen floor, of course, was linoleum. We used to have great fun getting our family beagle excited and watching him try to take the corners on the linoleum and hardwood floors as he would run the circle through the three downstairs rooms. Throw rugs would just go flying.

There was a pantry off the kitchen which my carpenter uncle made into a breakfast nook for us. He built a table and two benches that fit perfectly in that space, and that's where we ate all our family meals. The dining room was just for company, although it also served as a place to send me when I refused to eat the food that was put before me. I would have to sit alone in the dining room, staring at the now-cold food on my plate, and listening to some member of the family singing, "Slow Poke." I had a stubborn streak.

Upstairs were three bedrooms and a bathroom with sink, tub (no shower), and toilet. There was also an area for a dirty-clothes basket, where my white cat, cleverly named "Whitey," liked to sleep, when he wasn't in my bed.

The house was heated with a coal furnace located in the basement, and the heat radiated up through the first story and to the second story through grates in the floor. Actually, the only grate on the second story was in the bathroom, but heat did also travel up the stairway. Bedroom doors had to be left open if heat was desired in the bedrooms.
I don't remember the house ever looking this bad, probably because I was just too young to remember.

This is the way I remember the house. The white building behind and to the left, partially hidden by the house, was the garage built by my aunt and uncle after my parents sold them a lot from the five acres. You can see the sheds in the back of our house, two of which were given over to Phil and me for play areas.
This was the view from my bedroom window. The cement slab to the left was where my aunt and uncle's garage would be. You can just see the row of house trailers in the trailer court on the far left.
These are the brother and sister who lived in one of the "chicken coop" houses, with the neighbors' dog, Boots. They're standing in our driveway. Our 1950 Nash, Nellibelle, is parked in the background.

This is my cousin, Steve, taking my picture as I took his. This shows the back of the house and a little of the view back towards the street. There was a gravel road at the end of our driveway, where we kids loved to ride our bikes because it had a good hill that we could race down. (Keep in mind that it doesn't take much of a rise to be called a "hill" in our neck of the woods.) Also, at the top of the hill was a place where a basement had been dug for a house that was never built. The water that collected in the hole was home to a lot of tadpoles, which fascinated every kid in the neighborhood.

This shows more of the back of the house, and you can see a little bit of the bay window that was in the dining room. I can tell that this was taken about 1960, because of the Corvette and the 1959 Nash Rambler parked in the drive. The Corvette belonged to a visiting uncle.

This is a picture of me, holding a small black baby doll that is wearing no clothes, probably because it was a doll that would wet itself. If you put liquid in it's mouth, it would come out the other end. I think that's my baby buggy, too, although I don't remember it being that dark. The picture is in the yard of the neighbor with the five children, one of whom is looking on. The outhouse in the background was no longer in use, but the little houses glimpsed further back and to the right still used outhouses.

This shows my brother and the two sisters who were being raised by their grandparents. It was taken in our yard, under the clothes line (the clothes dryer of our day). There was a swing hanging from the clothes line supports. Also visible is a corner of my aunt and uncle's house and some of the trailers in the trailer court.

This picture is of Phil and me and our dog, Nosy.

And another picture of Phil and me.


  1. You sure do have some fond memories of those years and it's easy to see why. Sadly, there are families like your "chicken coop" friends everywhere - no matter the location - no matter the era. I'm glad your own memories are happy ones. Thanks for sharing these fine photos. It's so nice to be able to document your childhood memories in this way.

  2. We really did grow up in very innocent times, didn't we. Little did we know how fortunate we were to have had the childhoods we did. So much fun to see these pictures. :)

  3. Hilary-When we're young, we tend to accept our circumstances as "normal." I do have fond memories of growing up in that neighborhood. But that's not to say that things in the neighborhood were always rosy. As for the "chicken coop" friends, I saw them several years ago when their mother died; and they seem to have gone on to make good lives for themselves. I was touched to learn that the girl had named her first daughter after me.

    Sandra-We did indeed grow up in in a more innocent time, although all was not innocent in that neighborhood. But the hard things didn't keep me from having some good memories. I wonder what some of the other kids from that time and place would say about their growing-up years. Sadly, I've lost touch with all those mentioned here.


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