On any warm summer evening the setting sun would shine on the bouquet of colorful and fragrant flowers grew along the curb and walk way. The lawn green and always freshly cut was watered in the morning to keep the sun from burning it during the day, on hot days the grass received an extra watering in the evening. A ‘keep off the grass’ sign wasn’t needed; Gran kept her eyes on the lawn and yelled out the window, “Get off my grass!” Even stray dogs knew better then to poop in front of the big house without a driveway, in the quiet Jamaica neighborhood in Queens, NY. Two evergreens bushes and a honeysuckle lined the front of the house beneath three west facing windows. When the fall arrived the flowers, grass and honeysuckle bushes turned yellow then brown. The leaves from the neighbor’s trees would cover the grass. In the winter snow would cover it all, only to melt in the spring and Gran would have us out there helping to prepare the front yard for her flowers. The back yard she would turn the soil and lay manure and peat moss so she could plant her corn, carrots, green peppers and tomatoes.
When guest arrived they would walk up five steps and wipe their feet on the worn mat that no longer said welcome and enter an enclosed porch. A plaque greeted guest as they entered that asked the Lord to bless this house.
The hard wood floors were cleaned and scented with Murphy Oil. The screen covered windows allowed a breezed laced with the scent of honeysuckle to enter and gently blew the sheer curtains. There was a wicker couch and chair set where mommy sat in the evenings drinking Papst Blue Ribbon and smoking Kent cigarettes. She would listen to her talk shows on the radio, while reading her newspapers. My sister and I played punch ball in the street with the neighbor kids. When screamed cheering our teammates to run the bases. Often we had to scream out, car! Then we all moved to the side. When street lights came on we’d play hide and seek.
Along the north window Gran’s house plants grew. In the winter the plants were protected under plastic. Beige drapes with red flowers were hung to keep the cold out and the heat in. The door leading to the long hallway remained closed in the winter.
The hallway seemed long, especially since I was the one that had to sweep it after I swept the thirteen stairs. I then would wipe the wooden base board with that Murphy Oil. The sun from the front door and south side stain glass windows gave the hallway a soft glow. From the hallway we could enter the dining room. The walls were a soft swirl texture of bumps and holes painted off white color. The hard wood floor were slanted and border with a square design with four triangles in the center. A plastic table cloth, brought from John’s Bargain store, covered the dining room table. A vase with red and white roses cut from the backyard decorated the center of the table in the summer. On one end of the table were a weeks’ worth of newspapers, at the other a folded white table cloth and either me or my sister would set the table for three.
On the buffet a crystal punch bowl that became home to open mail, phone messages and grocery store receipts. A chair sat on the side of the buffet close to the hallway door, where we use to sit and talk on the black rotary phone. When my friends called I would take the phone into the hallway, sit on the steps and talk to my friends in privacy. This was way before cordless phones. On the other end of the buffet Gran kept slips of paper to write her numbers to play. She would stand at the door and call the runner number and ask what the number was. When she hit we all go treats, mom got a six pack, my sister and I got some tasty treat.
Above the buffet was a mirror that we vainly used when sitting at the dining room table. We also used it to check our hair and clothes before going out. There was a matching china cabinet that housed the fine china and crystal glasses, used only on holidays or when Aunt M came to visit. The pattern was delicate little pink and red roses and the plates were trimmed in gold.
In the spring the area rugs were taken up, beaten, rolled and stored in the dark basement. In the fall the rugs were placed back on the floor, fruit replaced the roses on the table and green drapes covered the windows. In winter the punch bowl was emptied, cleaned and filled with Grans’ fruit punch during the holidays. In addition to the fresh fruits were a variety of nuts.
No eating or drinking in the living room. I can still hear Gran, ’get out my living room with that cup.’ We could sit on the sofa or high back green chair and watch T.V. or read a book. There was a sealed fireplace, on the mantle photographs of our relatives were on display. On the walls beside the chimney were two stain glass windows that brightened the living room during the day in any season. My mother’s piano smelled of pledge, my school picture were there along with my sister, brother and our oldest brother’s military photo. He severed in Viet Nam and when he came home after he was wounded he didn’t want the picture up. It was replaced by a photo he took in a brown leather jacket and he looked like Shaft in the 70’s.
Gran’s stereo didn’t have an eight tracks or cassette, it had a radio and could play 33, 331/2, 45 and 78’s. Gran played he blues and jazz. I remember listen to ’King of the Road.’ The other artist like Billy Holiday, Nina Simone and we could hear it all through the house. The new RCA color TV, the green tint often needed adjusting, sat on top of the old black and white console. Three windows that looked out to the porch, during the summer the windows were open to let the breeze from the porch in. In the winter they were covered by itchy red and white drapes. On Christmas Eve Aunt Thelma and Uncle Vernon would arrive to take us to pick out a live Christmas tree that we decorated with ornaments that weathered many Christmas. The smell of the pine filled the house. I realized that we got the tree on Christmas eve to get a good buy. The trees were always tall and full. The adults would put the lights on the tree, then my sister and I would decorate it. The same decorations were uses year after year, the red, green and silver metal bells, the reindeers, Santa’s’ and the pine cones Gran collected a spray painted and sprinkled with glitter. One of my brothers would put the garland on and we all would throw the tinsel on.
Gran, my Aunt T and mom would be in the kitchen cutting an preparing food for Christmas dinner. Uncle V would be outside with my brothers putting the lights ups. All of them would be sipping on some kind of liquor, Gran drank her Chives’ Regal, anyone who brought her a bottle knew that’s what she drank. She would say, ‘I only drink the best.’ My sister and I would be sent to bed and they would stay up parting, I remember seeing the pictures in the morning. One picture I remember clearly was my mother, she was wearing black and white checkered pants, she was laying back on my Aunt T, she had her legs open and her pants were split in the middle. They must of just finish wrapping the presents and putting them under the tree because that’s where they were on the floor.
The kitchen never had any dirty dishes except on Thanksgiving and Christmas. There was always a home cooked meal, fried chicken, fried liver and onions, lima beans and smoke neck bones, beef stew or spaghetti. In the summer there would be fresh corn, carrots, green peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes from Gran’s garden.
On New Year’s Eve chitterlings stunk up the whole house. The New Years Eve dinner menu was potato salad, spear ribs, peas and rice, collard greens, those stinking chitterlings and pig feet. The house would be decorated with balloons that my sister and I blew up. We watch Dick Clarks Rockin’ Eve. At ten seconds to midnight we would help count down, then run around popping the balloons, blowing horns and shaking noise makers. When the balloons were all popped, Guy Lombardi’s ‘Auld Lang Syne ’ came on we would run around kissing everyone. Today when I play Auld Lang Syne I weep remember those yester years. My youth was so innocent.
There was a table in the center of the kitchen. Each night Uncle’s dinner was in a pie dish on top of a pot of water so it could be heated up when he came in from the VFW at night. That’s how we heated left over’s before microwaves, and the food stayed hot. Every meal included rice, even if there were potatoes.
There was a toilet in the basement; the door that enclosed it had glass windows with decals of naked women. The only full bathroom was upstairs. There were three racks and two hooks behind the door for towels and wash clothes, a rug on the floor in front of the toilet and a matching seat and tank cover. There was a rug on the floor by and one draped over the porcelain bath tub. The tiles on the wall were painted light blue with flat paint. The tiles on the floor was small, white and rectangular shaped and laid without any specific pattern. The bathroom always smelled of pine. The bathroom has it’s own memories, it was always warm and cozy. It was in the bathroom that I took the hallway phone a talked to my friends. It was in that bathroom that I smoked my first cigarette.
The bedroom next to the bathroom was my brothers’ room, they had twin beds, with checkered red bedspreads, and there were two windows in their room, one facing east, and one facing north. The next bedroom was Uncle’s, his room was neat, a twin bed with a white bedspread, two dressers, and one with cologne he never used. There was a window in his room. He had a thirteen inch black and white T.V. that he let my sister and me watch after school. Uncle’s room always smelled of stale cigarettes and liquor. Uncle had these little souvenir picture things that you hold up to the light and look in. There were naked ladies with big boobs. He had books in his draw that has people having sex.
The master bedroom was Aunt Dale’s room. She had three west windows, and one on the north and south side of the room. She had twin beds, one for guest. She had a big black safe in her room. My aunt went to night school every year to learn to read. In the evening she would ask me to help read her Dick and Jane books. Aunt D never learned to read, I suspect she was dyslectic. She wasn’t crazy like Gran use to say; after all she owned that big house and managed to keep the lights, water and heat on in the winter. She couldn’t read but she could count very well. When I became responsible for the house, I learned a new respect for my aunt.
The attic was where Gran, mommy, my sister and I slept. Gran had a little room with a little north side window, a closet that was stuffed with clothes. She had newspapers, notebooks filled with numbers and Bible books stacked in one corner. A dresser with two jewelry boxes full of costume jewelry and her pearls. A coffee table cluttered with an ashtray for her chesterfields, a radio so she could hear the Yankees play, scraps of paper to jot down her numbers. It was hard to open Gran’s door because of the clothing she hung up behind it.
The hallway was short up there; there was wooden rail and a little crawl closet where trunks of clothes, old toys and books were stored. My brother had a huge collection of first edition Marvel comic books and baseball cards that Aunt D threw away, not knowing the value.
The room my sister and I shared with my mother was big. Mommy had a full size bed by the west window, the area was an alcove. She had a long console T.V. that had a radio. It didn’t work so it was used as a dresser. She had stacks of magazines on the floor. At night she would put on classical music for us to go to sleep to, or we would listen to Sally Jesse Raphael talk show.
Our area of the room was big and mommy didn’t care how we changed the beds around, they were bunk beds that we stacked and sometimes put side to side. There were two metal closets and two dressers in the room. One for mommy and one for us. There were also two deep closets, one mommy kept her clothes in; it was also home to the squirrels in the winter. The other deep closet my sister and I often played in with a flash light.
This was home for 44 years even when I moved out, I could always come back home. I did right after mommy died to stay with Gran. I moved in with my husband and three teenagers, the old house couldn’t handle them running up and down the stairs. The patched repairs became unglued and the house deteriorated. My income couldn’t keep up, the house that I love so, became a monster. I got a loan and repairs were made, I stayed. Rising insurance rated, oil, water, electricity bills, I was struggling. Now I understood why my house had an extended family when I was growing up.
My Aunt W died a year before I was born, I was named after her. She won the house in a palimony suit from J. E. in 1914. In 2004 in the shadow of the Middle East upheaval I sold Aunt W house to an Arab and Jew. I felt ashamed and disgrace that I couldn’t keep our family house.
I packed the dining room table, the china cabinet and our vanity mirror. I tried to take out the stain glass windows but the wood was too old and the first one cracked. I packed all the mementos I could, everything was put in storage. I swept each room gathered my bags on the porch. The sun didn’t shine through the west window that afternoon, it was raining and my heart was breaking. I walked the buyer through the house, I looked at each room for the last time, I could hear the ghost of laughter, I could hear the pipes clank and smell the oil burn when the heat first comes on for the year. I could feel the house rock when the wind blew. I could hear the Yankee game being announced over the radio. I could hear Aunt D reading ‘see Dick run, see Jane run.’ I could hear Uncle snoring. I could smell the pine from Christmas trees, and stinking chitterlings. As I walked through each room on that gloomy summer afternoon, I felt my heart sink deeper and cried for hours after I said good bye to my old friend.
LORD BLESS THIS HOUSE.