Wednesday, October 26, 2011
THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE HOME - PART 1
The drafty old house built in the early 1800's I called home was expensive to heat during the winter or so I was told throughout my childhood. What child really pays attention to details like that unless buying heating oil prevents buying groceries or clothes to wear? My mother was a seamstress, so I always had a more than adequate wardrobe made from the scraps of material left from the outfits she made for others. When she was young and before she married and had children, her dream was to become a fashion designer. Her creative flair usually showed up in my clothes. Somehow she'd take a little of this and a little of that and turn it into something that looked like it belonged on a rack in an upscale department store. She also was very frugal when it came to buying groceries and making things stretch between paydays. She baked everything from scratch and in quantity so my 3 older brothers who seemed to have hollow legs for stomachs would never be hungry as they played sports during their school years. Being the youngest and the only girl, I grew up feeling less important than my brothers in the grand scheme of things at 20 Walter Street.
In the corner of the kitchen next to the radiator sat a 25 gallon steel galvanized trashcan filled with flour. Three gallon size glass pickle jars sat on the shelf by the kitchen table and were used for cookie jars. They never stayed filled for very long with four hungry children and their friends devouring their contents. Waking to the smell of fresh doughnuts being made or coming home from school to discover the cookies jars filled with freshly baked cookies ceased when I was 8 years old. The battle to stay afloat financially finally ended. The war had been lost and my mother sought employment outside the home to help make ends meet. At that point she became an LPN and worked the 3 to 11 shift at the local hospital. At 8 years old, I became the chief cook and bottlewasher. Life as I knew it changed drastically and eventually so did I.
Winters were always long and harsh in Maine, but as a child I hardly noticed things like that. The first snow always brought much excitement and anticipation as we hauled our sleds outside. My mother always fussed at us for tearing up the lawn with our sleds when we tried to rush things by sledding before winter had fully set in. The hill which ran parallel to my house was named "Little Walter" unlike its cousin, "Big Walter" which seemed like an almost vertical climb in the winter making it almost impossible to navigate at times. The top of our lawn was situated so that it made a excellent runway for sledding. From the top we would go down over the sloped lawn onto the snow encrusted sidewalk past driveways along menacing snowbanks finally coming to a stop before we reached Main Street. There on the corner sat Miller's Cave, the friendly neighborhood beer joint with a sign on front saying "If you can't stop in, smile as you go by". It was a place I always hated and feared, but I always managed to smile as I walked by! Inside among many perched upon the barstools sat the man I called my father. He was the stranger who resided in my home. He was aloof and withdrawn. Like many others, alcoholism robbed him of being capable of being a loving husband and father. He sat and drank his life away while his children frolicked in the snow and grew up having a father in name only. And in the end, I believe the loss was more his than ours...