This story has been running around in my head for quite awhile. It is about a familiar subject. The house we grew up in. When you are reading about it I want you to harken back to your house. The one where you spent your formative years. Think of those special rooms. Those nooks and crannies that made it special to you.
I started off life in a third floor apartment on Courthouse Lane side by each from the Kent County Courthouse. My father and mother then moved in with my dad’s parents at 40 Marlborough St. before they bought the old Spencer house at 35 Marlborough. That was my Old House and a major player during my formative years.
It was a fairly big house as houses went in those days. There was a big yard in back, which also held a two-holer outhouse, which we never used for the initial purpose, but kept it as a storage shed and play area with rabbit coops and dog houses on the back side. In those days, the only animals let inside were goldfish and pet turtles.
The EG police shed formed the back line barrier and was used for many a type of ballgame, plus with the secret door in it, we could exit to Main Street in a flash. There was a short drop between the back of the house and the yard which looked like western scenery and was the site of many “Cowboy & Indian” games with the molded plastic western figurines.
The entrance to 35 was actually on the left side as you faced it, up a couple of flights of stairs, which may have flummoxed the many delivery men we had in those days. We got everything delivered – milk, cream, ice, bread, rags and more.
There was a nice porch where we would hang out in good weather and visit with our elderly neighbors, the Horsefalls, Vera and George, who were like surrogate grandparents not having children of their own (at least at home).
The main door opened onto a foyer and there was a door to enter the kitchen, a door to go down to the cellar, and a door to go up to the second floor.
As you entered our kitchen there was a grand piano against the right wall, which could be made into a “player” piano, or, for me anyway, a place to practice my weekly piano lessons from Miss Burdick. The dining table was at the front wall with windows overlooking Marlborough. On the opposite wall was an armoire, where Mom kept her dishes, and an entry into the “pantry.” The pantry was narrow but housed the fridge, stove, sink and serving and “fixing” space. The fridge initially was an “ice box” with a metal-lined interior, which housed the ice. Mom went shopping every two or three days, mostly down to Uncle Tar’s. There was a sliding window in the inner wall to pass food to the dining room. Early on the dining room got converted to a bedroom for the three kids and that room opened onto the living room, which also fronted Marlborough and had a nice large three-sided window so we could watch the goings on outside.
My father built a long room at the north end as a bedroom for himself and Mom. As we kids got older, the girls stayed in the den-bedroom and my father made an alcove for me at the end of my parents’ bedroom.
Upstairs, where the Spencers probably had their bedrooms, lived my aunt and uncle. The three bedrooms up there were converted into a kitchen, living room and bedroom. They also had a full bath and two fairly good-sized walk-in closets, one of which was used for the crib and bassinet of their first baby.
When my father died and my uncle and aunt moved out, I took over their former living room as my bedroom. I only had a bed and nightstand but plenty of wall space, which I papered with colored pictures of all my sports heroes and more. The other good thing about that room was the window, which opened onto the roof above my parents’ bedroom and I used for quick exits, especially when answering the fire horn for fires and rescues. I used to get out, jump from the roof to the top of that bank, clearing the gully between, and sprint through the barn door at the police station and sprint even faster the two blocks to the station. Most times I made it, but on a couple of occasions made a “pony express” mount as the engine was headed north towards me up Main.
One other thing I did in the hallway upstairs was tack a Quaker Oats cereal cylinder above the door and with a tennis ball and great imagination, I played for hours channeling all the greatest players who ever lived. I even kept a score book It was a great training ground for me. Those sprints and “visualization” served me well in high school.
Karen took over the other bedroom while Gail got the original (former dining room) downstairs. After that it was lessons learned in Make Do, Family Hold Back, Live Within Our Means and others.
But, not withstanding anything, the BIGGEST GEM of that house, was The Cellar! It had shelving galore, one room filled with our toys all stacked neatly so we could go and find what we wanted at any time day or night. A workbench and then the garage, which held a three-wheeled electric car (like a golf cart but this was the ‘40s and early ‘50s) and all the wonderful junk my father had accumulated as he pursued his ideas (many ahead of their time) and job, and fantasies.
He had rented the second floor of the Big Star and put in lockers so sailors at Quonset could come there on liberty, rent a locker, and change to go on to their dates or good times in EG, Providence or wherever. In the garage the lockers were filled with other goodies – toys, games, inventions, magazines, etc.
My dad had many copies of Police Gazette and other crime and war magazines. Of course, being a prolific reader I had found them and, many times reading under the covers, just feet from my parents, learned AND saw things that the Germans and Japs did to their prisoners. I specifically remember a lamp shade made of human skin from one of the Nazi experiments. I also learned the names of many of the country’s newspapers.
In those days also you did not throw the newspapers away. They were put downstairs and bundled for the yearly Boy Scout paper drive. Our cellar had just the right temperature to keep them. And, a good thing too, as early on I did not keep the sports writeups on myself. Fortunately someone tipped me off and I was able to go through all the papers we had and get most of them detailing my exploits on gridiron, court and diamond before they got thrown out.
That old house held and holds many fond memories. Each part holds its own story and history for me and my sisters. The yard, the barn, the two-holer, the pet cages and houses, the cellar, the hallway, the garage, and of course, for Italian kids, La Cuccina, THE Kitchen, where love was dispensed as Love, and Love was dispensed as FOOD!
The smells, the joy and happiness in the air. The dining room table converted to a pingpong table and the games were fierce.
We did not have much by today’s standards and yet we never knew it. We thought we had it all. Today’s kids get a lot more but think less of it. They seem joyless comparably.
That Old House went down in EG history as The Spencer-Mastracchio House and was featured in one of the Packets put out by the EG Historical Preservation Society.
BUT That Old House went down another way! The town in its never-ending quest for parking spaces, convinced my mother to sell it in the early ‘60s and they tore it down and put up a parking lot. It didn’t work and for many years the north end of town was DEAD! Now, they wouldn’t have been able to tear it down at all with all the historic regulations.
May God rest That Old House. We loved it but, like a lot of things from back there in Old EG, it’s gone forever!]
Bruce, I remember the bay window that faced Marlborough Street. Saturdays Gail and I would get together to play and at lunch time we would sit at a table at the Bay Window and have Grilled Cheese sandwiches and tomato soup.. Fond memories of time spent at that house playing with Gail.
Wonderful memoir, Bruce. I remember my visits to see you at that house. Your mother was always kind and welcoming. Really sad that they tore it down. Great memories. Terry
I READ to Cliff on a daily basis. He is almost blind. He remembers playing with you and those plastic figures. All the war games especially.
SO many good memories.
Cliff and Donna Rice