That Old House


By: Kathy Smith Special to the Boca and Delray newspapers
My mom kissed my dad when she was 15 and as she says, “that was that.” She finished her nursing degree while he did is service in the Navy. When the war was over, they married. Their first child came 9 months later and the second one came a year to the day later. They lived with my dad’s sister, in the attic of the home he was born in the Bronx, until the third child arrived. As you might assume, we were Irish Catholics, my father taking to heart what the Pope had said, “we need to replenish the earth after a war…”
Being No. 5 of 10 children, I only remember moving once. The night we moved in we all had new beds and new sheets, dad came to each door and said goodnight, “Welcome to your new home, we are staying here for a long time.” New Rochelle, New York is about a 30 minute train ride for my dad to work Manhattan. I always imagined it was where Indians may have lived.
Our house was about 30 years old when we moved in, but it had six bedrooms and enough space in the kitchen for all of us to eat together! We did have a “big” kids table and little “kids”table and of course always a high chair. My baby sister didn’t arrive till much later but we made up for that by having my uncle move in while he completed his college degree after he finished time in the Korean War. We ate at home every night and every night my mom cooked. The rule was, come home when the street lights come on or else. My brothers always got the or else. First time they were late, they had to eat in the pantry standing up and the next time they got cereal or bread and butter. Thank goodness it never went to the next level.
It was a great house to grow up in, our bedrooms all had odd shaped ceilings and alcoves. It was a very cold place in the winter until we got electric blankets and the summer we all had big noisy fans that actually lulled us to sleep. We rarely watched TV, except the Mickey Mouse Club and Disney. We had chores and the ones that could, read out loud to the little guys. When I was about 11 my parents put in a “children’s” phone line. I was still sitting at the little kids table, my sister and older brothers had major teenage stuff going on. Talking on the phone at all, for me was a gift. Time marched on, my sister got married my brothers went off to prep school and college, then it was like my own private number! Life was good.
Our backyard had a swing set & teeter toter where we spent hours plotting stuff. In the winter my father would pull out the hose and freeze the whole side yard, there we all learned to skate with double bladed clip ons. We learned to ride the bikes we got for Christmas around the circular driveway we had. One side has a slight incline, you really needed to pedal hard to get up it or crash into a tree, like I did. In our teenage years this circular driveway filled up with all my dad’s clients used cars. Not everyone had their own car but there was enough to go around. Thinking back our sweet neighbors across the street probably hated us, our driveway looked like a car graveyard.
The only really creepy place in the house was the part of the basement that was unfinished, we called it the cellar. We had a freezer down there and it was filled with bread, meat and stuff my mother always needed. No-one wanted to go down there. When she needed something, she had to look at the rotation chart to see who was next. My sister and I tag teamed, neither of us would go alone.
Our neighborhood was not a throw-fare to anywhere, we only had to watch for the neighbors cars and a bad dog that liked to get loose and torment us all. We could ride our bikes, climb trees and gather enough kids for memorable softball or dodgeball games. My older brothers would actually let me play, sometimes. Most times the girls would russell up jump rope game.
Our neighborhood was full of big families, 9 across the street, 8 up the street, we filled the sidewalks on the way to Holy Family Elementary school every morning. (I just googled it, we walked a mile each way.) The boys raced to school for best positions in the playground game, the girls walked slow and chatted and no mothers drove their kids to school unless is was raining. There was a paved cut through between two houses that lead us to the crossing guard at the bottom of the hill. This is where the chipmunks, squirrels and various other wildlife lived in the rocks on both sides of the path, it was a place you did not enter alone! The one time I did, terrified, I slid on the ice all the way down the stairs after hearing the leaves rattle. Thank goodness, my mom made me wear my leggings that day!
Weekends were filled, my mom learned early to keep us engaged. In the spring we took down the storm windows washed them put them away in the cellar. Brought up the screens & washed them and put them on each window. In the fall we raked every darn leaf, my dad would motivate us by saying if we get them all to the road before the leaf sucking machine comes you can jump off the ladder into the pile! Yup, our town had a truck with a machine that came by on a regular basis and sucked those leaves up. I never knew where they went, forgot to ask. Anyway, he got us to do the job and we had fun jumping. We all became swimmers. That was her babysitter and we came home clean & exhausted. No choice here, we were all treated the same, you had to go. I can only say that she must have used the telephone during the day, while we were at school to gather up some neighborhood interest. Because we were in a carpool and my mom only had to drive once every two weeks. Yes, also before seat belts! One time we had 15 in the station wagon on the way to the YMCA. Kids were skinnier, smaller and no-one cared about who sat where. And the radio rarely on only to the news channel.
I commuted to work in Manhattan for two years from that house. Then moved to San Francisco. My parents sold this home when the youngest went off to college. My parents may have doubled their investment but the house was more than 50 years old and needed much work. All 10 of us have driven by at various times in our lives. My sister actually knocked on the door and was invited inside. She says it is really small, they changed things so much she was confused. Recently, my brother was at a hotel near our old neighborhood, there was a wedding in the hotel. The friend my brother was visiting knew the brides dad. Up to the bar they ramble and my brother was introduced to the father of the bride, the present owner of our home!
We all have a picture of this home sweet home hanging prominently in our each of our homes.
Want to share your memories of your first home or a home special to you? Let us know! We may run your story in an upcoming edition.