What I thought I would write here are the small points of time, my memories, in my childhood, as I reflect on my life lived with my parents and sisters. Since Jean and Christine are no longer here to remember these times with me, I want to set them down so that I never forget them, for they are a part of who I am.
What is my very first memory – not the little events that have been remembered for me, but those I remember on my own? I remember nothing of the time we lived in an apartment on Porterfield street. Mom told me how I had locked her out on the porch while she was washing windows. She knocked on the windows, trying to wake my dad who was working night-turn, but was unable to. A neighbor saw her calling to him, but he was deaf and couldn’t understand her cries for help. I don’t remember that, but my mom did.
My first memory is of visiting Mt. Troy Road – the house mom and dad were having built there. I was 5 years old when we moved – the move must have taken place before school started in the fall. During the visit to the construction site, I met Denise Garrison, a girl who lived two doors down from our new home. It was summer – the year was 1951. I was invited to come swimming with the neighborhood kids at a pool that Denise’s dad had built for her out of cement blocks, but mom and dad wouldn’t let me. Jean would have been three years old and still a toddler. Christine was only a few months old. I would start school at St. Aloysius in the fall – although this I am not sure of, as I wouldn’t be six until November. I remember nothing else of the visit, except that I wanted to go swimming. The photo on the right shows “the group of children” from Mt. Troy Road by the swing set that dad built. In the front from the left is Christine, then Jeannie in her cowgirl outfit, then Tommy Hildebrand standing and Lorraine McGinnis. The back row was me, Denise Garrison, Kay Wurdack, Barbara Pugh and another McGinnis daughter. Denise and I had received the same summer dress for our First Communion that May.
I have vivid memories of the house that dad and mom designed and built. It was a simple yet strong house – a house that was full of love – it had two stories with a basement and garage below the home. Mom and dad, I had been told, had bought the lot after dad returned from World War II . After mom and dad had paid off the lot, they had used the lot as down payment for the mortgage on the home. The house was red brick and looked like the kind of house all kids draw for themselves. All the bedrooms were upstairs – 3 of them – a master bedroom, a room that Jean and I shared (it had a closet, two twin beds with red vinyl headboards that dad had made and a toy chest for each of us that dad had made, which were covered with some kind of vinyl fabric – one was red and one was blue) and a small third bedroom and also one bath with a sink with metal legs, a toilet and a bathtub, no shower. The last bedroom I only remember as Jill’s room, after she was born. Obviously Christine must have been there at first, but I don’t remember that. On the first floor was a living room which you entered from the front door – no vestibule or front entry space. The dining room was right next to it and formed a kind of ” l-shape”. Through a door from the dining room and right behind the living room was the kitchen with access to the basement. There was a door from the kitchen to a patio which was over the garage – mom used to lie there to get a tan and my sisters and I played there sometimes. The stairs to the top floor were to the right off the main entry in the living room, but you couldn’t see them as you entered the front door. There was a little closet at the foot of the stairs for coats that was also hidden from the front door. (I remember dad had his Lucky Strike cigarettes on the top shelf of that closet – one day he took them down and gave them away when he decided to quit smoking because a man whom he worked with had a heart attack and died. The man was a smoker.) Upstairs, in the room, I remember for Jill there was a strange shaped closet which had access to the attic and a sloped floor. I remember that it was a neat place to hide. And I remember the pretty pink dresses mom had sewed for us being in that closet. The picture on the left, above, shows the home as it was changed by the new owners after we had left Pittsburgh. The new owners added more rooms on the right over the garage. I don’t remember the little covered porch over the front door, but it may have been there.
The yard was big to me. The front had a flat area where dad planted the Christmas trees he bought each year and then a steep slope to the street. The house was built on the highest point of Mt. Troy Road and looked over the valley beyond across the street from the front door. A farm with a house was directly across from it and the public bus stopped just in front of their home – the girl who lived there, last name Hollenbeck, died as a teenager from ptomaine poisoning at a picnic one summer. The back yard was large too, with an area for a patio and outdoor fireplace which dad built, and beyond it, a play space and a garden. Behind our yard was a large field with trees and the bottom of the hill behind the field was what we called “the little woods”. If you walked even further in that direction, you came to the “big woods.” We weren’t allowed to go there, but we did. The big field was owned by the Mentzer’s and they had a pony, although the pony was kept closed in a paddock and a small fenced area. My sisters and I used the field and the woods for imaginary adventures. At the bottom of the field, directly behind the Garrison’s house was an old apple tree that was partially fallen over. The apples were always full of worms and rotten. The photo to the right above is Christine sitting in the wash pan, Jean on a tricycle and me trying to do tricks on my larger tricycle – this was taken on the large porch over the garage. Dad would have taken the photo. I must have been about 9 or 10 years old, with Jean 2.5 years younger than me, and Christine 5 years younger than me.
When any of us would spend the night at grandma’s with aunt Rose, she would make Ovaltine and milk for us, as she did for herself. For some reason, perhaps someone had told her, Aunt Rose thought the Ovaltine would help her sleep. Aunt Rose had always had trouble sleeping, something that plagued her even into her later years.
Once in the 5th grade I was asked to sweep the classroom with the broom. I didn’t know how to use a push broom and Sister got angry with me and took it away.
I often played with Denise Garrison when she wasn’t playing with the daughter of her mom’s best friend. Sometimes we would play Hank and Frank detectives. I don’t remember whether I was Hank or Frank. My sisters and I would play cowboys and Indians in the large field behind our home in Pittsburgh. There were trees to climb, lots of room to run and the woods had plenty of materials to make bows and arrows.
Dad would bring home movies in the summer time and show them on the patio he had built in the back yard. Neighbors came over to watch. It was there that we first saw “Undersea Wedding” and after that we always asked for it. After dad died, Christine found a man who had a copy of the movie. I wrote to him and he sent us copies.
We were the first family in the neighborhood or among any of our friends and relatives to have a color TV. Dad was working for Westinghouse in Pittsburgh. The company had 40 of their large color TV’s available and offered them to their employees for $200 although the original price was $1000. The employees put their name in a hat and a drawing was made. Dad’s name was chosen. Often neighbors came over to watch Dinah Shore show to see it in color.
We spent many Christmas eve’s at grandma’s house – or sometimes at Aunt Mary’s when she had the larger home. Grandma would make huge pots of sauce and dough and would make pizzas on Christmas eve. The house always smelled so wonderful with the cooking pizza. Aunt Rose would dress up in a Santa suit that grandma had made years before and late in the evening come into the house to give our gifts to the smaller children. Aunt Rose always put up a large tree – the ceilings in grandma’s home were 12 ft. She had a wonderful Nativity set. All the little lambs and camels had fur on them. The tree was absolutely magical – it was so beautifully decorated. Years later, after grandma had died and Aunt Rose didn’t want to put up a tree, I made her one out of cloth. Every Christmas she would take the tree I made and put it on her TV in front of the window on Sandusky Street. Aunt Rose gave her original Nativity to Janice.
Mom often made our dresses and was quite an expert at sewing. I think grandma might have taught her at least some of her skills. Once she made all three of us – Christine, Jean and me – pretty pink silky dresses. The skirts were made in layers. In my mind’s eye I can still see those dresses. As we grew older mom continued to sew for us. She made me a lovely dark blue skirt and blouse when I was going to college. I loved the way the skirt fit and flowed when I walked. She also made the bridesmaid dresses for my wedding and a beautiful purple velvet dress for the Valentine’s dance before I got married. I still have the dress. Mom also made Erin lots of pretty things, especially a Christening dress and a First Communion dress. I still have the Christening dress. I had kept it for Erin’s child, but since she had no children except a child she adopted, the dress has been unused. Maybe someday Shamma will get married and the christening dress will be used again. I hope so.
One winter when mom and dad bought a new refrigerator – a GE two door – dad used the cartoon to build us a playhouse in one corner of the basement. Eventually, dad would finish the basement with knotty pine siding and tile floors. The laundry area was in the basement, as well as a work area for dad, though I cannot remember exactly where that was. I just know he always had a work room with a bench. Mom would hang laundry in the basement during the winters and outdoors in the warm days. She did not have a dryer when I was young.