I loved that old house on Ohio Street. The front porch was where grandma and I sat on the swing and talked about stuff. It’s where we went on the 4th of July to bang pot lids together in celebration of our country’s freedom. From there I could first hear the clop, clop, of the horseshoes on the pavement, and then see the horse-drawn milk truck coming around the corner. If I held my hand perfectly flat I could offer the horse a piece of apple or a carrot.
I could ride my trike one way to the corner and back, or I could go as far as the next house the other way. I often pushed my luck by trying to ride farther than allowed. What’s the point of riding a trike if you can’t go fast and far? Once as I was gaining speed heading for the great unknown, grandma’s dog, Brownie, decided to be the trike cop. He ran ahead of me with a big stick in his mouth and dropped the stick right in front of my tire. That put an end to that great adventure for sure. Brownie was a Springer Spaniel mix and possibly the smartest dog that ever lived.
The backyard was a pretty cool place as well. The garage was separate from the house and opened to an alley. Subdivisions don’t have allies. Too bad. All along one side of the garage grew hollyhocks. It was hard to choose a favorite color. Was pink the best? No, maybe it was the deep red. When they were in bloom we made dolls from the blossoms with toothpicks.
The backyard was where grandma hung the laundry to dry. I loved laundry day. My job was just to follow. Grandma did all the work. She lugged baskets of laundry down to the basement. The basement was dark and damp with low ceilings and dirt floors. The clothes swished around in the washing machine, then went through the wringer and into the rinse water. Then back through the wringer and into a basket. Back upstairs we went with the wet clothes and into the backyard. That’s where I became an integral part of the process. I got to hand grandma the clothespins. I remember the smell of clean clothes coming off after they were dry, and I remember the smell of Fels Naptha Soap. Sometimes I pick up a bar in the grocery store and give it a sniff for a reminder of those laundry days and my grandma.
Grandpa’s domain was the kitchen. My favorites were his cream of tomato soup, and his top of the stove rice pudding. Oh, and goulash – don’t forget the goulash. Grandpa would throw a bunch of ingredients in the pot, and when it was done, viola! Cuisine fit for a queen. Grandma’s cooking did not compare. She tried, but mostly overcooked and burned a lot of stuff. I get my cooking skills from her.
The attic was undoubtedly the coolest part of that house. I wasn’t allowed to go up there without supervision because if you stepped off of the boards you would fall through to the floor below. That never happened because I always followed the step only on the boards rule. Cardboard boxes were everywhere, and who knew the treasures they held. Layers of dust covered everything. Light came from a hanging bulb, and the windows could have used a good cleaning, but it all added to the magic of the place. The best thing was an old wind-up phonograph. It played music that sounded different, but I loved it.
Grandma and grandpa never had much money, and so their gifts were time and love. I remember a Christmas where the cousins were all upstairs and there were sounds like Santa stomping around on the roof and we were all so excited to know Santa had come. Many years later I reminisced with my cousin John about how much they must have loved us to climb on the roof and make the experience so real. He said, “You are not any smarter than you were at five years old. There was never anyone on the roof!” It was a pretty steep roof. It would be foolish to be on that roof on a sunny day let alone on a winter night. It must have really been Santa himself.
My parents divorced when I was young, and my mother went to work at the telephone company, but grandma and grandpa were my constants, and Ohio Street was my happy place.