Warm memories from a cozy home on McKinley

| Friday, Nov. 2, 2012, 8:57 p.m.

I overheard some folks in the office talking about the houses they grew up in, and for the next few minutes my thoughts were back at 310 McKinley Avenue where I grew up.

It doesn't take much to divert a meandering stream.

Then the hurricane swept up the eastern seaboard and thousands of homes were destroyed or seriously damaged and the value of home took on new meaning.

I have now lived in my home here longer than any other in my life.

Houses warm us, not just physically but psychologically. For nearly two decades I lived at 310 McKinley, a two-story house plus finished attic where memories grew, and they still grow to the extent that one begins to wonder about their accuracy. Or whether or not a little inaccuracy makes any difference.

When Mom, her mother and father, five siblings and a nanny moved into the house, she told me, the street was dirt and a wonderful place to sled in the winter. When I was a boy the street was paved with bricks.

There are things I remember about my time in the house and I will share a few here in the hope it reminds you of special houses you have lived in. I will try not to bore, just provoke thoughts:

• We called a wooden-panelled room just off the kitchen the “breakfast room,” though we ate all our meals there, the dining room reserved for holiday dinners.

Along the outside wall was a set of three windows that could be cranked open, but mostly I remember the room in cold weather.

I could sit in one of two facing wooden rockers next to a radiator that was cased in wood top and sides and on which you could set a hot drink and watch the snow fall between the houses and cover the garden. There was an old radio on a wooden shelf with a dial and a lighted horizontal window in which a red bar would move to the desired station number, all AM radio then.

I did homework in that room; read the paper on the floor; I and later grandchildren and great-grandchildren played under the wooden table. Grandma, Mom and various aunts and uncles would hold long conversations there.

There was a cuckoo clock from which the bird would pop out and sound the hour and half hour. Once when “Happy Days” was a popular TV show my daughter sat in her highchair for dinner and when the bird popped off she turned and told it quite sternly, “Up your nose with a rubber hose.” Her grandparents laughed and laughed.

An uncle who delivered milk would stop most mornings to have his coffee with his mother; no need to put the milk in the metal box at the door. Speaking of that, I recall two in-ground garbage cans with foot pedals to open them and the pickup men coming into the backyards of all the houses to find cans such as ours in various concealed locations in the ground or under porches or in sheds. That isn't done anymore.

• My small bedroom was built on a flat rooftop outside what had been a window in my parents' bedroom. Two windows looked out on the houses that lined a dead-end street. At the end of that street was once an area we called “the field” and later a highrise apartment was built there.

It was fascinating as a child to look down from those windows and watch the goings and comings of neighbors in the row houses or the single houses, observe as dusk turned to dark and lights conveying cozy warmth flicked on in the windows, including those in the apartment building. The scene gave me a special appreciation of Hitchcock's “Rear Window.”

• Stairways were fascinations for a young boy. There was what we called the cellarway in which there was a knee-high platform that make a unique play space, a utility cabinet with a roaster that sat atop it and was only used at Thanksgiving. Inside the cabinet were my most favored and used toys.

The door to the cellar was in that breakfast room and adjacent to that was a back staircase that went to the opening landing between the first and second floors. A boy could sit there for hours and pretend to be hiding and read without interruption.

• A set of three windows in the dining room looked out on the home of an aunt and uncle and two nephews. The houses were close and the view limited, but I remember peeking out there on a Christmas Eve or Christmas Day and seeing the cousins and their parents scurrying about their house and marvel at the different ways people — even other family members — celebrated their holidays.

That's enough such memories for now. Hope as the weather starts to cool you are making memories in a house that is a home.

Meandering appears Fridays. To share your thoughts on this column (or on most anything) with news editor Mike O'Hare, write to the Leader Times, P.O. Box 978, Kittanning, PA 16201 or via e-mail to mohare@tribweb.com.

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