Just when you're feeling old and tired, something comes along to make you feel young again. That happened to me last week, when I opened the July 24, 2016 special section of the Plain Dealer titled "HOUGH-50 YEARS LATER".
The section spoke of neglect and failed projects but also hope. I turned the next page, and there was the photo of Newton Avenue, and my grandfather's house. Newton Avenue had been designated an historic street a few years back. That made it safe-I hope-from the wrecking balls of medical conglomerates and developers. These houses were built at the turn of the century,the 1900's, and I had been told were all designed by the same architect/builder.
Grandpa's house was just peeking out of the curve of the street, all but hidden behind a tree. But I didn't need to see the whole house. I remember it still.
It was in this house I celebrated my tenth birthday, although I think we were more invested in moving our belongings in. Great Grandma had her little bundle of things, Grandpa had his things, and I had a new bed, a maple -spindled twin, not a rollaway anymore.
We put the dishes in the tall cupboards, moved the porcelain-topped kitchen table into a corner, laid towels beside the farm sink. I loved the elegant mahogany and white tiled fireplace, even though the gas insert didn't work.
The lights in the rooms had been converted from gas light to electrical, and the tulip shaped wall sconces held a single shaded bulb-no more than 40 watts of light.High windows in the dining room were of stained glass. We were ritzy!
A Room to Dream In
We settled in. I had a longer walk to Hough School now, so had to leave earlier. But I had a room of my own! The three windows jutted out in a small bay with a window seat, and from there I could sit and watch life on the little street go by.
This was the room where I dreamed, listened to "Fairy-Tale Theater" and the Hartz Mountain Canaries on my new Zenith clock- radio, a birthday present from Grandpa. I painted the room often, going from Apple Blossom Pink to Wedgewood Blue, wherever my romantic fantasies took me.
In winter, Grandpa and I would shovel coal from the basement coal bin into the furnace to get the house past freezing. In spring, we climbed on ladders, each to a side, and took down the heavy wooden storm windows. Of course come fall, we had to lift them back up again.
Looking at that photo in the newspaper, my mind flew back to all the things that changed so quickly in those short 10 years I lived there.
It was where I explored the whole neighborhood on my bike, and tight-rope walked along the high fence to my schoolmate's yard to play. Where I begged to paint the back yard fence and then was made to finish the job.
This was where I swung on the front porch swing and practiced memorizing all the books of the Bible. Soon it was Junior High and new friends to invite for overnights. We swooned over Johnny Ray and plotted how to skip school while playing the little .45 record player, all the while Great Grandma calling up to us to "quiet down there!"
The bedroom became less of a place to dream and more of a place to dress and leave behind when high school began. There was an after school job, The Blue and Gold newspaper at East High School, the girl cliques and dances and all the things that make high school both exciting and panic-driven.
Then suddenly there were boys, and then one particular boy. The heavy front door opened often for dates and even the cold vestibule was warmed by the excitement of being "special."
Soon I was walking out of the door in my graduation gown, my hand tightly clamped on my mortarboard; then banging suitcases down the worn steps to college, so eager to be leaving. A year later I stood by the mahoghany mantle in a hooped wedding dress, this time adjusting a bridal veil for photos. Blink a year and the honeymoon days vanished behind us as I toddled down the front steps to deliver our first child---a daughter. Himself painted my old bedroom back to Apple Blossom Pink.
How can so much growing- up happen in ten short years? Both Grandpa and Great Grandma were gone-first Grandpa carried out to an ambulance, then Great Grandma dying in the night in her room. The walls absorbed cholic cries and arguments, frustrated tears and happy making-up laughter. Then, suddenly, the house was being sold.
Mom had the realtors come through, and I saw the house through their eyes: old stock, creaking floors, outdated amenities and layouts, peeling paint on the porch, wrought iron floor registers still pushing up coal soot even after the furnace had been converted to gas heat.
But someone bought it. I like to think that someone saw past the weary walls and knew it as a place they, too, could love and live in.
Even after we moved, I never forgot the house I grew up in. We drove by it when the children were small, just to point it out. A son who worked in that area would sometimes report he had driven down the street, just checking. Last month a friend drove me to see it again, as we headed home from downtown. And such a beauty! Fresh paint, neat fence, well kept and looking spiffy -- a house that is a hundred years old.
Once I took my grandson to see it. "Kinda small" he noticed. But it hadn't seemed small when I lived there. It had seemed just the right size for us. Big enough for a family's turkey dinner in the dining room, and big enough for a Christmas tree in the front window. Big enough to shelter me from growing pains, and big enough to hold all the love I needed.
And isn't that what a house should do?
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