A friend of mine from childhood days recently sent me a realtor’s mailer about a house having been sold. The house was one I lived in from about 1940 to 1945 in Margate City, N.J.
I did a Google search on the address and found the web site where the house had been listed with numerous interior and exterior pictures. This was a virtual time machine taking me back seventy years to when I was a a third grader in the Granville Avenue School (since knocked down and replaced). I could look into each room, and memories were abundant.
Below is what the front looked like in those years. The new front porch is a great addition. The room over the garage was a kid’s joy as a place to play all kinds of imagineering things.
The new front porch covers up the chute to the coal bin in the basement so they must have converted to gas. The basement, with Dad’s work bench, was a wonderful place. I used to melt lead in the furnace and pour it in to hand carved molds to make necklace pendants. I built a small airplane down there (or at least the cockpit) in which I could sit and engage a home-made throttle which caused an electric fan’s blades to begin to turn for takeoff. I also made my first electromagnet by wrapping a few turns of wire around a nail and then plugging it in. Ater replacing the house fuse I concluded that maybe I needed lower voltage.
Grampa and I occasionally took turns cranking an old-fashioned ice cream freezer which made ice cream from condensed milk. There was also a dark and scary hallway down there that led to Mother’s closet of preserved tomatos and peaches, always well worth the darkness.
Here’s that tiny porch after a snowfall, and my Dad towing Kippy Holgren and me in front of the house, followed by my collie, Trixie.
Memories swirl around in the rooms.
I see my father sitting in his easy chair in the corner of the living room next to the console radio, listening closely to the news reports about the Pearl Harbor attack, me sitting by his chair, knowing that something serious was going on. For my father it was but twenty-three years since he had been in the trenches in France and I’m sure he was concerned.
I had been playing that afternoon at my friend’s house when his father told us what was going on. With all of the worldly perspective of a just-turned-nine kid I declared “We’ll beat ’em.” That was at the home of my friend, Bim, who sent me the realtor’s card, and with whom I shared growing up from kindergarten on.
I see the scene through those front windows as great sections of boardwalk floated by from the beach three blocks away as the ocean headed for the bay in the hurricane of September 1944.
At the other end of the living room I see my sister, Betty Ann, marrying Wally in 1943 in front of the fireplace, a sudden wartime marriage that worked. R.I.P. to both of them.
I also see our Christmas train platform in the corner of the room, with the tree on the platform as it always was, and I see the pile of presents there as I snuck down early one Christmas morning, marvelling at the sound effects desk that had arrived so that I could better play “radio.”.
In those years my father and I struggled over my reading comic books. He was insistent that I read “good” books. I remember sitting in front of that fireplace one afternoon while reading a library novel about a horse. There was a part in which the wolves attack a horse and devour its uterus. I asked my father what a uterus was. He harumphed and wanted to know what I was reading. That took the pressure off of the comic books for a while.
I see many meals around a table in this room. My brother, Bill, and my uncle were off to the war. Sister Betty Ann had moved to LA to await the return of her husband’s ship from the Pacific. Dad was working for the Army Corps of Engineers and was away all week. My grandmother having died after Pearl Harbor, my grandfather lived with us, so most meals were for Mother, Grampa and me. I also see the celebration of my parents’ 25th wedding anniversary in all of the rooms but the food was here. Uncle Frank was in the kitchen removing cherries from the empty Manhattan glasses and rinsing them for reuse. He saw me watching him and he said, “Don’t say nothin’, boy.” Yessir.
Brother Bill was home on leave from the South Pacific and made it to the anniversary party. I remember my mother in tears when she learned he had to go back.
This was my bedroom. I chiefly remember making a profound mathematical discovery here while doing fifth grade homework one night. We were learning about fractions including multiplication and division. Having learned in re whole numbers that one could check divison by multiplying the divisor and the result, I wondered if that would work for fractions. Mirabile dictu, it worked! Simply amazing. Life was not all profund, however. I recall filling my chemistry set test tubes with water and placing them outside on the window ledge in the winter. Later I could remove them from the test tubes and suck on the ice. I also remember agitating neighborhood dogs by howling out of the window at night. Somehow it all worked out.
The postage-stamp-sized backyard is still there. Grampa had a victory garden along the rear fence. The stairs led to that fun room over the garage which was never seized for any adult use.
There are houses on the other side of the fence today but when l lived there it was a sandy-hilled wilderness of cedar trees and brush. There, my friends and I frequently fought off the enemy. Communication with the rear was thru my cigar-box walkie-talkie. For those of you too young to remember, yes, they are knickers that I’m wearing. The mortar being held here by Bim was a piece of pipe from some construction site. It’s being loaded by Mish Glenn (R.I.P.) who was also carrying a tommygun. Mish’s younger brother, Alfie, stands ready with a bazooka in case of a tank attack. Since there are no records of successful invasions of Margate I guess we did a pretty good job of defense.
I have trouble remembering what I had for lunch, now, but, fortunately, lots of other memories abound. These are of good, growing, learning, fun years.