Saturday, December 10, 2016

My Old House

It was my home, my community, my playground. The center of a secure world, the place that gave me roots. My first home, that when lost, was mourned over and recalled with vivid regret.
1865 Military Rd in 1965, from Rosemont Ave
Taken on a visit after we moved.

1865 Military Road in the 1940s. Those are Lilac bushes along the side.
The front porch was not yet enclosed.

My girlish dream was to grow up and buy the house back. Instead it was torn down. Lucille Kuhn took photos of its destruction. She said it resisted, its ancient frame still strong.



My Grandfather Lynne O. Ramer once wrote that the house dated to the 1830s and had "Indian arrows" embedded in the wood frame. I don't know who built the house and first owned it, but a 1915 Tonawanda map shows that H. Kuhn owned the land up to Maplewood except for a strip belonging to H. May, right across from what may be Ensminger Rd.

I have a visual memory and think in pictures before words. My memories are like looking at snap shots from my life.

I remember once going to the top of the attic stairs to watch Mom search for something stored there. I was not allowed to follow; Mom said the floors were not very strong. But I saw the light glaring in from the octagon window and wanted to look out it, sure I would see the Niagara River and Grand Island bridge. It was forbidden.

I hated going into the basement. The stone walls and dirt floor were lit by windows on the Rosemont side. On the other side was a storm cellar door, the kind I'd seen in movies like The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy's family goes into the cellar as the tornado is coming. But there were spiders and webs and dark corners and I knew there were rats in the house. Mostly I hated the spiders.

When I wanted to make Barbie clothes, Mom sent me down to find a box of fabric on a shelf. Instead I found a box of clothing. I didn't know if that was what she meant. Inside was a beautiful white blouse with white embroidery. I snipped a piece off. Somehow it would not turn into a Barbie dress. Later Mom retrieved the box, which were hand-me-downs from Patty and Lynda Greenwood, meant for me. She held the blouse up and wondered what had happened. I felt sick thinking of that beautiful blouse.

Mom and I at the front of our apartment. The steps were new, replacing
the long wood porch, and Mom's garden yet to come.
Each side of the yard had its own personality. The front yard was separated from the gas station by a white fence. In the spring Crocus popped up there, and later the Iris bloomed in a row. Mom had a small garden in front of our door with Portulaca that blossomed in the sun and daffodils in the spring.

The first photo I took with my Brownie camera
was of the crocus along the fence between
the house and the garage.

1965 photo of the front of the house from Military Rd
One more willow planted by my grandparents!

The side yard along Rosemont held lilac bushes grown large and dense. I would gather large bouquets in my arms, and smother my face in them to enjoy the perfume. I remember selling them along the road once. A man stopped and bought some. It was where Dad installed a swing set. The biggest Weeping Willow tree was also there, the tree that towered over Rosemont with its newly built houses.
Dad and I on the porch on Easter. I don't recall that oil tank.
The side of the house had an open, deep porch. I don't remember my family sitting on it. But I climbed over it, leaned over to grab the willow tree branches, and played fisherman dangling over a willow branch stripped of all its leaves save one at the end to be my catch. My brother learned to go up and down the step to the porch. We had a movie showing him going up and down again, intent and placid even when he fell.
Entrance to the smaller apartment in back.
Grandmother Gochenour with her daughter Mary and Mary's children,
and our Rosemont family friend Lou Randall
At the door to the smaller downstairs apartment where my grandparents was a Hollyhock bush. My grandmother showed me how to make a 'doll' out of the blossoms. And I remember there was a large horseradish plant that came up every spring.
Rosemont, the willow, and me
Then came the driveway with twin posts at its entrance; the photo above shows a dirt drive and no posts. My cousins and I would race up and down it. Below is a photo I took several years after we moved showing one of the posts. You can see the L shaped branch of the tree which I liked to climb.

1965 photo of 1865 Military Rd
Note the Texaco sign next door on Military Rd
At the end of the driveway were the garages with the 'rabbit coop' at the end. I didn't know that Dad has raised rabbits there as a teenager. And next to the 'coop' was a fenced in area where, Mom told me, the outhouse had once stood.

This photo of Janet L. shows the garages behind her. 1962.

Tom on the slide. Rosemont in background.
Tom near the swing set; the gas station in the background.
Snow hill in our front yard, behind the gas station
Aunt Alice Eniss and kids

The far side of the house parallel to Rosemont had a fence separating our yard from the shops next door: the Schwinn bicycle shop, the Texaco Station.
This photo of lil' me shows the side yard and fence
and behind where the Schwinn store would be built

And of course in front of the house along Military was the gas station built by my grandfather Gochenour, where my father worked.
The gas station in the 1940s

Our apartment consisted of a large farmhouse kitchen, a living room with an enclosed porch at the end, a bathroom on the first floor. The stairs went to a landing with a wall scone to light it, then turned, a few more steps leading to a hallway and the four bedrooms.

On the left was a small room with a large closet. You could see out the window to Ensminger Road and towards the river. Then came the largest bedroom at the corner. It was mine as a little girl, with gray wallpaper of black and white kittens playing with a ball of yarn. I was frightened by their eyes, black pupils on white, that glowed in the dark and needed my pink duck nightlight. There was a shelf along the wall on which sat my Little Golden Book collection. I read books by the nightlight when I was supposed to be asleep.

At the other end of the hallway were two bedrooms, parallel and equal, that I am sure were once one big room. They had folding doors. I was later moved into the bedroom parallel to Rosemont, with two windows looking at Rosemont through the willow branches. My bed looked was near the window that looked toward Rosemont from across our driveway. The windows were low enough to the floor that I could lay on my bed and look out to watch  the streetlights come on. In summer mesh screens were fitted in the window and I listened to the comfort of the Robin's evening song as I drifted off to sleep.

The bedroom next door was my Grandmother Gochenour's room. I sometimes went in to visit her. She had a huge collection of pennies and a cypress tree root.

When my brother was born his crib was in the smallest, first room, next door to the room that had been mine but now was my parent's. Mom lined the shelves with her books. I would pick them up and look into them. I was told the books were for 'adults', as if they were forbidden. Later I read some of them; they were mostly historical fiction books.

In Fifth Grade we had a homework assignment to make a plan of our house. I remember Dad helping me, teaching me some basic drafting rules. Sadly all my school papers were tossed when we moved so I do not have it.

Many years later I wrote a poem about the house.

 The View From Windows
by Nancy A. Bekofske

Rescue is out of the question,
going back not an option open to me.
Gone are those lofty trees like green umbrellas,
the purple flag of iris near the white rail fence,
the fragrant French lilacs, purple and white,
my world--my first world--and a life rooted
in a sense of place, no longer exists in space.

I remember the view from every window in every room.
Windows to the wider world.
I could see traffic on the burdened road;
the pushy hopefulness of yellow crocus in sooty snow.

From a doorway, looking across the room and out a window,
a water tower seen in a flat land, horizon's sentry.

From an upstairs window, I could see to the river,
the perpetual flame of the gas works,
the mangle of pipes and tanks.

Drying dishes, a glance to the left revealed a doorway,
pink hollyhock, a gigantic horseradish plant.

From my bed, looking across a gravel drive,
ironposted streetlights lit small box-like houses,
while from another open window I could hear the wind
playing in the branches of willows
(how they swayed like a girl's long hair in summer,
but in winter were plaited in clean ice).
These trees my touchstone;
I knew my house by its being next to the biggest tree,
I told others so, believing my own veracity.

At times, an airplane--no jet, not then-- droning
overhead would shake my world of make-believe to its roots
with reality's heavy awareness.
My heart would beat a faster tattoo, and restless,
disquieted, but directionless, I rushed outdoors
to breath freer air, escape the restraint of walls,
to seek the questions I already felt swelling
in my girl's breast, the mystery I could not name.

I only knew that I must shake off
girlhood's cushioned hermitage, to live and work,
now, suddenly aware of mortality's unaccustomed weight,
because I heard, and looked up from play,
to catch sight of a mystery outside my window,
common, yet profoundly unsettling.