My Parents and the First Home I Remember

This has been the hardest surgery – prolapse – that I can remember. I am not sleeping well at night and waking up numerous times with pain and a need to use the bathroom. Added to this are the months preceding the surgery when I had constant stomach distress and lack of good sleep. There are times when I feel so weak that I don’t know whether I will ever recover. I started thinking this morning that this period of my life may be my an important part of “way of the Cross”. Whether it ends or somehow gets better, I do not know.

I had a sort of dream this morning. Whether I was awake or not, I do not know. Perhaps some of the time it was a dream, other times I was almost awake. I was dreaming of the house in Pittsburgh that my parents had built. We moved into the home in the summer of 1950, just before I was to go to my first year of school at St. Aloysius Catholic School on Mt. Troy Road.

First home in Pittsburgh

Mom and dad had bought the lot on which the house rested just after dad had returned from the Second World War. After the lot was paid off, they used the lot as collateral for the construction of a family home. The home was a two story red brick with the garage attached to the basement level, making the home three actual levels. I remember the house so well, although after mom and dad sold the home to move to Baltimore, Maryland, the new owners added on to the home over the existing garage. The photo shows the updated home. Previously the area over the garage was a large open porch.

Entering the front door from a small porch which was raised two or three steps from ground level, one entered the living room. This was the middle level of the home. There was a staircase to the upper level to the right which turned. In the corner of the turn was a coat closet. The living area was large and off to the left was a stone fireplace with mantel and two bookshelves – one on either side of the fireplace which dad built of knotty pine. They were three shelves high, only going about halfway up the wall. On one of the top shelves was a clock which my sisters and I all loved. It had a merry go round in the center of it which turned. I cannot remember how many books were on the shelves, but there were knick knacks on some of the shelves including a small statue of two small horses with their necks across each other. I still have that statue which dad had given to mom after he took a trip to Washington, DC for his work. The furnishings in the room were contemporary, I think, with a sofa in the corner directly across from the front door. There was a TV – black and white – across from the sofa against the wall.

The dining room made a kind of L-shape. I know there was a table with chairs in the room, though I don’t remember eating there. Mom and dad would entertain friends who came to play cards and games with them after we were in bed. Next to the dining room, just behind the living room, was the eat in kitchen. Dad had built a booth for all of us to sit at when we ate. The kitchen was not that large with just a refrigerator, gas stove, sink and some cabinets. A door led from the kitchen to the porch over the garage and from there to the back yard. Another door just next to the exterior door led to the basement and garage.

Going back to the living room and up the stairs, there was the family bathroom just a bit over from the top of the stairs. This consisted of a bathtub, toilet and sink. Next to the bathroom was a bedroom with two twin beds. Each bed was called a “hollywood bed”, as dad had built headboards for them.  They were constructed of wood covered with some kind of padding and vinyl. At the foot of each bed was a toy chest, also constructed by dad, each of a different color. There was a small walk in closet and I think, a chest of drawers. The floors upstairs were hardwood which dad and mom refinished every summer.

Next was my parents room, which I think was the same size as the childrens room. Mom and dad had large mahogany furniture – I wonder if someone gave it to them – consisting of a double bed, dresser (I think) and a chest of drawers, one part of which was for hanging clothes. It must have been old but in beautiful shape. I am guessing there was also a closet, but I don’t remember it. The windows in the home were casement windows which opened by rolling out from the house.

The third bedroom was much smaller than the other two. I know there was a crib in there, a small closet which accessed the attic. Since Christine was born several months after we moved to the home, that must have been her bedroom for a time. Later – about 6 years – when Jill was born, I remember Jill sleeping in the crib, which I still have. Where Christine slept, I cannot remember.

Going down to the basement dad had “finished it”. There was asbestos tile on the floor – popular at the time with knotty pine paneling. There was for a time an old player piano – I took lessons when I was about 7 or 8 for a year – after that the piano was discarded. Near the back end of the basement was a cement wash tub and washing machine. There was no dryer. Mom hung clothes on lines stretched across the basement when the weather was cold or wet or outside when the weather permitted. Dad also had a small work area, probably under the staircase, though I cannot picture it. Off of the basement, at the bottom of the stairs, was the door to the garage. There was also a “cold cellar”, a closet under the front porch where food was stored.

The back yard had a huge patio which dad had built by mixing cement on the garage floor and wheelbarrowing it up the side of the driveway wall over planks which allowed him to push the wheelbarrow. There were about 36 3 foot by 3 foot concrete pads which formed the patio. In addition dad built an outdoor grill/fireplace to cook outdoors. The upper part of the yard, reached by a couple of stone steps was a large garden and a swing set which dad built out of pipe. It was possible to swing very high on this as the structure was huge. My sisters and I loved to swing as high as we could and launch ourselves into the air, flying to the ground.

We had neighbors on each side of us and a huge field behind our yard which led to the “little woods” where we were allowed to play and the “big woods” which were forbidden to us. Of course, we often explored the “big woods”. There was a small grove of trees there in which I loved to sit, surrounded by the trees and sweet smelling violets.

Bertha and Frank Henry – 1942

As I thought about the home and all that mom and dad did, I was amazed at their energy and determination. That energy continued throughout their long lives, though they could not do as much as the years passed. But given that dad was working a “swing shift”, making $50 a week at KDKA, taking care of a wife and family, I wonder how he was able to do so much. And of course, mom, who cooked and cleaned and washed the family clothes and looked after all of us – how did she have the energy?

I stand in awe of the people who were my parents. And I miss them so much. I know I was not the perfect daughter. So many times I did things which I knew were wrong, things which would have saddened them had they known. I am sorry for disappointing them, for not being the person they knew I could be.