Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Sentimental Journey

by Rose A. Valenta

It was a yellow shingled, four bedroom Cape Cod with both a front and back porch purchased by my grandparents circa 1905, in Olean, NY - the home that I loved to live in every summer while growing up. It never mattered to me as a child that it didn’t have central or room air conditioning; but did have a leaky basement, a coal stove, and wood trim that needed painting every other spring. It was a comforting and wonderful summer refuge.

That home saw the birth of seven babies, four boys and three girls most of whom survived the great depression and learned how to become entrepreneurs. It hosted several weddings and two funerals in the huge floral papered living room equipped with sliding wooden doors located in the hallway across from the stairs leading to the second floor bedrooms. Later, photos of the nuptial events hung in the hallway leading into the large kitchen. Divorces happened infrequently, kids moved back home, and pictures of Mom and Dad would come down off the wall and be replaced by photos of grandchildren.

In the foyer, stood a telephone table that supported an old black Western Electric telephone and the only Heathkit hand-soldered, hard-wired, working answering machine in existence. My father built it himself after he returned home from WWII and it was the talk of the town. People would come for miles just to see it and pay him to build one for them. He dabbled in electronics after the U.S. Navy sent him to school to get certified in ship communications equipment. He built most of the CB radios used by the Olean Volunteer Fire Department and fixed television sets. He opened Bill’s Radio and TV Service out of the house, and had tubes spread out all over the dining room table most of the time, much to the chagrin of my Grandmother, who would rather serve food there, than clean up an electronics laboratory. She found resin, solder, irons, wicks, and PC boards everywhere on her good table cover. Occasionally, she would get fed up and cart boxes of the stuff upstairs and put them on my Dad’s bed. She finally convinced him to set up shop in a spare bedroom, so she could have her house back.

The attic was where I used to hang out most of the time; I would have slept up there if she let me. I spent hours rummaging through the maze of beckoning old chests and storage boxes. Me and my friends would play dress-up there, then go next door to my friend Susan’s house, play the organ, and pretend to be show girls like Shirley Temple. I recall making my Dad bring down my old baby coach once, so I could take my dolls for a walk. One of my dolls was a boy named Oscar, he had a baby bottle, a pilfered vacuum tube, several diodes, and capacitors in his possession, when he got caught red-handed commanding the coach down the 100 block of North 14th St. by my Dad, who was missing some parts for a job. Of course, Oscar got put in the bad chair after I denied all knowledge of the pilfering and swashbuckling; plus, he got a stern lecture and no tea and sugar cookies that night.

The front porch was where my uncles would gather to smoke cigars after dinner and my Uncle Joe would serenade all of us by singing and playing the accordion. The entertainment kept my Grandmother from going over the edge about all the cigar smoke and ashes on the deck. She sat there with a dust pan and broom waiting for intermission.

Remembering the events in the yellow house always makes me smile. Grandma was a rock and lived to be 90 years old. She sold the house in the 1970s, and moved in with one of my aunts a few years before she died. I was already married at the time, and unfortunately my husband and I both lived and worked in Philadelphia, PA. However, I would have gladly purchased that house in Olean, if I could.

In 1998, my husband and I found a wonderful little yellow cottage on Chincoteague Island, VA. We fixed it up and also installed a closed-in front porch. It has an attic, where I store old clothes, Christmas decorations, and household items. Near the attic window sits a child’s rocking chair waiting for a small boy or girl to come to Grandma and Grandpa's house and rummage through the place to find small treasures. Often, my laptop and a printer sit on the good table cover in the large dining room. You can spend hours on that porch listening to crickets, ducks, and other wild life; with Big Band music or Beethoven playing softly in the background from the stereo in the corner. Occasionally, I drift off to sleep there. Sometimes, I can distinctly hear accordion music and smell cigar smoke. I have friends in high places. It is my weekend/vacation refuge from the stresses and storms of life and I love spending time there.

Then tourist season and Pony Penning set in, the area becomes noisy. Things are never really perfect are they?

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