Saturday, September 13, 2008

50 - by Guest Blogger Marty

Hi, I’m this weekend’s meandyouandellie guest blogger, martyjoco (you can call me Marty). I’m very honored to be here. I’ve got a true story for you; I think it’s probably a little unusual these days.

This month marks the fiftieth anniversary of when I first moved into this house.

(This is, of course, an artist’s rendition, but the artist got it right.)

In the summer of 1958 I was four years old, the youngest of eight children. My parents had been renting a big house across the river -- about a half-mile south of where the famous cranes now beep -- from my father’s employer (which is now my employer – there’s another story). The company was about to begin a major expansion, necessitating our move, and after months of searching for something remotely affordable that would fit eight or so people, my mother found this big grey brick house. We moved in just before Labor Day, maybe one day before siblings #3 through #7 would start school in a new town.

As of this month, the house has begun its 100th year, and I have been resident for half of them, with only a few years away here and there. To make an action-packed story brief: between the ages of 18 & 21, I careened around the continent somewhat frantically by jet, train, thumb, hippie bus and car, with multiple stays in San Francisco, Seattle, New London and Nova Scotia. Ultimately, there was a relatively long (13 months) stint back in Seattle, where my son was born. Although I loved both New London and Seattle, I came to realize one couldn’t really continue to switch coasts every month, or hitchhike with a baby, and it was time to figure out where to settle in. The day before the bicentennial my son and I flew home to this house. Settle in I did, all right.
* * * * *

Back in 1958 when we first moved in, it looked much less overgrown more bleak and barren than it does today. This photo is probably Easter 1959. Note the front porch; it’s huge and important. Pay attention to that tree on the right, too, it comes up again later.

Here’s most of the back yard, and the very early VW wagon, perfect for 10! (On the diving board subject: once in a while my mom let us ride to the beach standing on the back seat with our heads sticking out the sun-roof!)

* * * * *
The house had plenty of room for cousins to visit and stay a while (sometimes for a whole week, while their mom was having another baby). It was always great fun to have them over – for one thing, it was the only time we were allowed to have those 10-pack little boxes of sugary cereal.
This is dinner with cousins, and I remember that those are peas on the kitchen table. My mother really hated that fake brick & ivy wallpaper and it wasn’t around for long; the tile is still here, though.
* * * * *
Spring dress-up holiday photos were sited in one yard or another.

This was taken on the corner in the front yard. Each Memorial Day, which my folks called Decoration Day, we wore white dresses and went ‘down’ to Rhode Island to leave flowers at the family cemeteries. Although there were flags and parades, I don’t remember that holiday being so totally about military/veteran things as it is now; it seemed to be just as much about family and honoring ancestors, whether they had been in the war or not.

* * * * *

The house has hosted innumerable holiday dinners, birthdays, all sorts of parties and inevitably, funeral gatherings. There was even one rollicking good wedding reception in the back yard in June of ‘72.

We had a baby boom in the mid-70s, during my mother’s mustard-yellow wall and way-too-many-houseplants period. This is the Christmas before we moved back East (round-trip Greyhound from Seattle with a 2-month-old); my boy is in red, expertly held away from the holiday china by my mom. He is #14 of my parents’ 20 grandchildren; she was a pro.

Thanksgiving and Christmas were crazy, hilarious and cacophonous affairs in those days, with big crowds and lots of food. There was tons of cooking and bed making and laundry and dishwashing too. The family had become quite far-flung over the years, with the older siblings living from Germany to Alaska and everywhere in between, but everyone made an effort to get home if they could. It got pretty big there for a while.

I’d guess this is 1964: my sister and me, two more cousins and the first six grandchildren. (It’s easy to become an aunt at six when your eldest sibling is sixteen years older than you are.) It looks like I’m about to drop baby Ben, but I’m quite sure I didn’t. I did know how to change diapers from earliest memory. Cousin Jackie is holding a cool Hess Christmas truck that I coveted.

Coming from a very small family, PD was rather intimidated by the holiday hoopla at this house, but he and Hugh did come by upon their return from London on Christmas 1977, to share tales of Sex Pistols and Eddie & the Hot Rods and then to witness my sisters tap-dancing. I’m positive they thought we were all totally insane, but he stuck around anyway, and I’m glad.

* * * * *
Over the years, the yards became much more verdant, with trees and hedges and gardens coming and going. At some point my folks planted two maples in the back yard, a hammock’s distance apart.

I don’t remember if this storm had a name, but that was it for the back yard hammock stand. The hooks on the front porch columns worked just fine, though.

* * * * *
There are four floors in this house. One quarter of the attic is a finished room with lots of angled walls; for about 30 years that was the coolest and most desirable (most isolated) bedroom for the ranking teenager of the house. There was another room up there entirely filled with barrels and boxes and piles of old clothes: Halloween Central for all the kids and everyone’s friends. The cellar has one room that was called (and still is, at least by me) the root cellar, presumably because it was stone-walled off and you could store the potatoes and turnips in there to keep over the winter. At some point, when paneling was all the rage, my dad decided to panel it, and it then became Grandpa’s Train Room: pretty great. Nowadays it tries to be a wine cellar but the wine never lasts…
There’s RC and my boy; my dad is having a beer and they are both having fun. (If you missed the 70s you might not believe it, but my father’s white and red plaid pants were actually Levi’s.)

* * * * *
Fifty years fits a lot of pets. There have been plenty of dogs at the house: Tippy, Wilhelmina (Willie the mother), Count Wilhelm of the Stars (Willie the son), Tiberius, Odin, Sugaree and Murphy. There have been cats: Ten, Myrna, Wrigley, and current resident stars Alfie and Best-Cat-Ever Wilko. There were finches and fish, turtles and chameleons. There were even two ducks once – that was crazy.

That’s me with three of my sisters holding Willie #1’s first litter of pups. I locked myself in the bathroom with the black one when the people who bought it came to pick it up.

Here’s my boy in the dog pen with Odin’s son Murphy. Abe was a big reader from very early on, and named his new puppy after the dog-cop (cop-dog?) in the Richard Scarry books.

Mustn’t forget Fifi Doodle, my father’s cockatiel. My mom had bought a 45 that taught Fifi to screech say ad infinitum (verging on ad nauseam), “Hello Baby! Hello Baby!” and “Good Morning, Sweetheart!” When my father became too ill to go upstairs, the dining room became my parents’ bedroom, and Fifi’s cage was in that corner where all the houseplants had been. After my dad quietly died there on a beautiful day in September 1986, Fifi wouldn’t talk at all for weeks. Good old Fifi.

* * * * *
Let’s get back to the porches. They have always been the best part of the house. The back porch is small, but comfy and quieter and more private than out front. It’s half-covered in grapevines, and sunny in the afternoon. It’s where you shake the rugs and brush the pets and leave stuff you don’t know where else to put.

It’s a place to pose with your cousin wearing silly hats you found in the attic.

It’s a place to pose before saying goodbye to precious dear friends headed back West.

From the moment it is warm enough to sit outside, the front porch is the major hangout and best place to be. It’s sunny in the morning, shady in the afternoon, sheltered from the rain, and a great place to eat your breakfast or dinner or watch a thunderstorm. The street is a main one that leads to the hospital and the beach, so it’s busy (and noisy) and interesting, with lots of folks walking by all the time.
Here’s my folks and my sis reading papers and having a beer on the front porch one summer evening when she was home from California for a visit.

This is one rare time in the early 80’s when all eight kids were here at once; the front steps are a ready-made riser for group photos.

* * * * *
Nowadays, the mustard paint is [mostly] gone, as are my parents and my two eldest siblings. My boy is a grown man and lives nearby here in town, and he and his girlfriend have cats and a dog of their own. All the other kids and grandkids and cousins have scattered to the wind, and things are considerably quieter at the big house. We tend to let someone else cook on Thanksgiving, and Christmases are quiet, grown-up affairs.

The trees are tiny…

…and it doesn’t start to get loud at all until at least the fourth bottle of wine…

* * * * *
It turns out that houses – even slate-roofed brick ones – have some kind of internal clock that instructs just about everything to start falling apart after a hundred years of holding all that life inside. Those of you in 90-year-old houses, listen up!

We just got the back porch rebuilt again; it now awaits a perfect weekend when we aren’t too busy to paint – perhaps in October? The grape vines are laid out on the yard but will go back up as soon as that’s done.

The porch guys are coming back any day now to replace some of the front porch columns. We didn’t let the state of things keep us from holding P&M’s Annual Labor Day Porch Party, though… there’s that porch again!

This party has also been billed as a booze-up, no kids or pets, please…

* * * * *
So, that’s the story of my house, and thanks again to Jacquie, Beth and dear Ellie for letting me share it with you. I have now begun my 51st year here. It might be the last, PD & I are thinking that it could be about time to hand the place over to a bigger family who really need all these rooms, like mine did back in 1958. It might not be the last, too, since we would have to a) clear out four floors full of 50 years’ worth of stuff and b) find someone looking to buy a huge as-is house on a noisy street and c) find another house for us here in town with at least one really good porch – preferably two.
Heck, if Bill & Elllie could find one from Texas, we should be able to, too! We’ll see.

* * * * *
p.s. Remember that tree on the right I asked you to note way back at the top? See what fifty years will do? The white dogwood my father planted was glorious this spring, but yes, we know it has gotten rather out of hand. I think this is what real estate listings call “mature” plantings!


Anonymous said...

Beautiful! High-point of my day so far. Thanks for sharing, MartyJoCo. From one guest blogger to another, let me just say, you're good. But if you ever move it better still be stumbling, I mean, walking distance.

Anonymous said...

What a lovely trip through your house history, Marty! Great place, great photos, great telling. Thank you so much for honoring us with such a brilliant homage!

Anonymous said...

I love it, MartyJoCo. Your parents would love it. What a wonderful tribute to your house and your mom and dad.... and your seven (!) older siblings.

And thanks for a(nother) great porch party this years! A dark and stormy night indeed.....

Springer Kneeblood said...

Very well done, Marty! I found your guest post fascinating, and that's from someone who's utterly unrelated to you and to all the people in your story. You should teach an online course in bloggestry.

rpb said...

Ducks??? You had ducks?

Anonymous said...

Hi Marty!

Love the house and thanks for reliving it's history with us.

Anonymous said...

This is like, the absolute best blog I've ever had the fortune to find. Everyone's pictorial stories are so wonderful and so unimaginably unimaginable. I don't know how you could bear to part with this house. What a great, great story. How lucky you are. Thank you. Thank you