The First House I (Really) Remember
As my mother and father looked through the living room window of the house, my father muttered under his breath "I just don't know Dora, $13,000 is an awful lot of money to spend on a house. I just don't think we can afford it."
"But Roy, it has a fireplace!" That was the biggest sale point in my mother's eyes. A fireplace!
They had been looking for a house in the northern area of Pittsburgh for a few months now. Loading up the Rambler and driving around looking at houses, week after week.
There was no Internet back in the late 50's, so they relied on tips from friends, real estate agents and just plain luck. They were always on the lookout for those signs stuck in the front yard.
This house was situated on a piece of land that sloped towards the backyard. The road was the highest point in the yard. A concrete block wall divided the yard into two separate plains, one above the other. Behind this wall would be a great spot for a couple flower gardens.
My father was a landscaper, so things like gardens played a very important part of his search for a house. Much in the same way that astronomy and photography played a part in my own house hunting. I needed a dark sky and a place to build a dark room.
Getting back to the house, the front door took you into the upstairs. Three bedrooms and a bathroom shared this floor. To the left as you entered the house was a set of steps leading downstairs to the living room. Eventually, this high ceilinged hallway became the home to a grandfathers clock.
At the base of the steps, entering the living room, you saw a door leading out into the back yard. Beside this was a set of double windows, all of which showed the trees in the woods beyond the back lawn.
To your right was that all important fireplace! Brick, framed with a wooden surround, topped with a mantle. Little blocks of wood made a crown effect under the shelf of the mantle, a feature that continuously drew my young eyes and imagination.
Moving on, an arched doorway led into the dining room and off to the side of that room, the kitchen.
Now this kitchen was not what you would call a Chef's Dream Kitchen. It was small, small enough to be crowded with two people in it. The sink and a small counter shared the outside wall with another door and just a couple feet across the floor, the stove and fridge sat. At the far end of the kitchen a door led into what we called "The basement".
The basement was big enough for a furnace, a washer and dryer and a few tools. It took a few years before a washer and dryer showed up, until then, the wash was hung outside on the line. Cris-crossing the yard, in-between the clothes and sheets, Mom would put long sticks to help prop up the line and keep the clean clothes from dragging on the ground.
The basement wasn't what you would picture when you heard the word. Most of it was under the front porch. Beneath the house itself was a small crawl space with a dark, damp dirt floor.
Going out the back door brought you to a grassy flat area, evenly dived by two large trees. Further back, another cement block wall created another landing. Past this, after another 15 feet, the ground dropped off. A steep high hill started here, leading down to a small stream. The hillside was covered with trees with a couple small cliffs breaking up the slope. This would provide me with hours and hours of adventure as I was growing up.
"Don't you go near that hillside" my mother continuously warned me. "you'll start rollin' and won't stop until you hit the bottom!"
Little did she know, this just made the hillside that much more exciting!
"Yes, Mom, we'll stay away" we would tell her, mostly to ease her fears. NO, I guess we really told her that so that we could go and play near it....
In those days, we would go out in the morning and come back around dinner time. Mom's and Dad's didn't worry about us kids in those days, as long as our chores were finished, all was OK. Chances are, they would worry more if you stayed indoors all day.
We didn't have a TV when we moved, it wasn't until 1962 that we got our first set. A portable black and white Philco. It was on that set that I discovered cartoons, the Three Stooges, Laurel and Hardy and started my TV life. I sometimes think I would have been better off if we never got it!
When my aunt died, we inherited her color console TV. An RCA, complete with a remote control. This was around 1970, the black and white set went upstairs to my room and eventually to my new place when I got married. The color set stayed in the living room for years. I can still remember that remote control. It had three buttons on it and every time you pushed a button, a thick "cur-chunk" resounded from it. We could change the channel from the dining room!
"Oh, modern technology, isn't it great?"
We could get four stations and the funny thing was, each station corresponded to the number on the dial! Channel four was on four, Channel Eleven was on eleven! I guess they didn't count the same way we count now days.
As kids, when we weren't risking our lives on the hillside, we were roaming around in the fields below it. Splashing in the stream, trying to catch tadpoles, crayfish and salamanders.
We built cabins, played army and explored the world around us. As we aged, our world expanded in size. We discovered a bigger stream and across it was what seemed to us to be a mountain. It was covered with trails and on the far side of it were a set of railroad tracks. Two of them, side by side. Trains would pass by every fifteen or twenty minutes. This was such a great place to grow up in!
We would go down to the railroad tracks and count the cars as they sped by. We would try to toss rocks into the coal cars and if we had a spare penny or two, we would set it on the tracks to see it get squashed. A bit further down the tracks, we discovered a tunnel and a couple bridges, more things to explore. We had all of this as we were just hitting our teens.
The house has aged well, it has been re-shingled a couple times, the wooden sides covered with aluminum siding and some more insulation added to it. It still has that little kitchen.
I am the owner of the house now, the $13,000 mortgage is long since paid off. The furniture is more in my own style than my parent's, though you can still see lots of their influence. Even though they are long gone, their spirits live on in the house.
Mom still smiles when I light the fireplace, at least in my eyes she does!