A few months ago as we were driving down West Perry Street, I couldn't believe my eyes. They were tearing down my old home, the house I grew up in along with my mother, father, seven brothers and sisters.
The 2nd floor with its two bedrooms was already down.....so many memories flooded my mind. The back bedroom belonged to me and my two younger sisters. As I stared at the house I could almost hear their childish giggles and chattering which was so exasperating to me, their older sister, who was trying to get some sleep. Even a loud "BE QUIET" didn't still them for long, so I'd bolt out of bed and deposit each outside the bedroom door amid their loud protests and "Mom, Mary did it again".
The front bedroom belonged to my brothers, and in it stood a lovely beautifully etched dresser with a marble top. My grandmother bought it for my mother when she was a small girl, with money she earned by selling vegetables from her garden to the neighbors door-to-door. It now belongs to a great niece of mine.
The next time we drove by the whole house was down, just leaving the gaping basement in view. Yes that was the basement where Mom did the Monday morning washing for 10 people. She got up very early to heat the water on a stove that stood under this steps. I can still see the big copper vat sitting on the stove, and oh yes, wash day always meant mom's famous bean soup and corn bread for supper. By the stove stood the washer where mom used to hide Christmas candy, and that candy tasted so good when we snuck some for tasting. A long potato bin was full to the top and the coal bin was chuck full. Mom always said she felt safe and secure when the potatoes and coal were in the for the winter.
Mom never asked for much, just the bare necessities, which my father provided along with occasional extras by working long hours in his shoe shop which was in the enclosed back porch, with its long iron buffing machine and its quaint wooden cobblers bench that held a newspaper headlining Lincoln's assassination in its drawer. That's where pop resoled and heeled many a shoe to provide for his family.
This old house was in our family for 96 years. My grandfather built it. Our family moved in 57 years ago. It started out with just to rooms, later a kitchen, bedroom and bath were added. We were far from rich but we did have one of the first bathrooms in the neighborhood.
Those rooms held many happy memories (Christmas, Easter and family gatherings) and who can forget our very first radio with the big horn on top. In the dining room one wall held a treasure which our father taught us to hold in high esteem, a large beautifully framed picture of his mother, taken from a tin type, who died when he was only three. Long ago pop made me guardian of this beloved picture, and it now hangs in my oldest son's home, always to be a treasured heirloom for generations to come.
This old house held all kinds of sounds. It held the sounds of my oldest child's first cry and his last breath three days later. It held the sounds of my oldest brother's small printing press that stood in the corner of the kitchen, printing out the news for a weekly paper he put out. Its walls almost smiled at the sounds of my second oldest brother's attempt on the banjo. It rejoiced with us at the happy sounds we made preparing for a much treasured visit from my brother Paul (a religious in the Holy Cross order) and also the sounds of happy reunion when my younger brother came home safe from war. Even the outside walls chuckled when my third oldest brother conned me into burying my penny with the promise of a penny tree to grow on the spot. It also held the sad sounds of mournful weeping when a telegram came telling us my beloved brother Paul (Brother's Cesaire) was killed in an auto accident. In later years it held the sounds of my aging mother's feeble footsteps, who lived there till she was 95. But that's what a house is made up of, laughter and tears and anything else that goes with everyday living.
In its prime it boasted a double grape arbor started by my grandfather, several fruit trees and a garden in the back along with a garage that housed a Model A Ford. The front yard was graced with one of the best smelling lilac bushes around.
The other day when I went by, even the basement was filled in, nothing was left. But I doubt that the tearing down of our house or the passing of time will ever still those voices or wipe out all the loving and laughter that once invaded that space. A new building may go up there, but to me that space will always be 471 West Perry, the house that sheltered and cradled me, the house that was a fortress against whatever the world could dish out. It was our home and we were safe within its walls
Signed Mary L. Elchert