Episode #5 - Secrets in the House
The old Victorian had been built in 1852. It sat on top of a hill on 28th Avenue, near 16th Street. It was a huge house in my perspective. There were little windows upstairs, but there wasn’t an up stairs. Floor to ceiling was twelve feet in all of the rooms. The windows were eight feet tall. My grandparents had moved in with their first child in the latter part of the 19th century. They rented the two rooms on the small side of the house. From the wrap around front porch they had a private entrance into the front room. The back room was the kitchen. In these two rooms, they raised nine of the 13 children my grandmother bore. One died of a fever when he was just a few months old, another died mysteriously when he was only 3 days old, and the other two were pre-term. My dad was the baby. Many years spanned between the first and last child. One of the two sisters had married, had a child, and returned home with her son to live with the family again. That son, Ted, was just a little younger than my father.
When the frail, aged, owner of the house, who had resided in the other side, offered to sell the home to my grandparents, they accepted. A huge double door, which had divided the home was unlocked and opened, providing a spacious home for a family of twelve. As children left, Aunt Dee and Ted remained in the smaller side, again closing the door. By the time I knew the house, it was Dee’s side and Grannies side.
We always entered through the front door into the parlor. The long hall to the living area was wide. The round banquet table stayed against that hall wall, except for quilting, holiday or big Sunday dinners. Leaves, which would make the table even larger for special occasions, were stored in the linen closet. The huge double doors were on the left, at the hall end was the entrance to the linen closet. That closet was bigger than my room in New Orleans. And oh, the treasures it held.
The linen closet had no windows. There were occasional shelves with a mirror on the wall behind an oil lamp. There was an ash tray and a small box of matches next to each lamp. I wasn’t allowed to light the lamps, so I used a flash light or battery powered lantern which sat on the floor just inside the door. The closet was skillfully organized with table, bed and bath linens all in separate areas. Company dishes and serving pieces were close to the hall door. Hidden behind the table linens were the silver chests, trays, and serving pieces. Bath linens were on shelves next to the big galvanized (bath) tub which hung on the wall. Nearest to tub and towels was a small door which opened into the kitchen. On bath day the tub was placed in the kitchen, where water was heated on the wood stove, and pored into the tub. Dirty, soapy water was dipped out in buckets, and pitched out the back door. That usually startled the chickens, which would cluck, flap their wings, and scatter madly about.
In one nook of the closet, there were mountains of quilts, some comforters, chenille bed spreads, sheets by size, and pillows. There were rows of round hat boxes stowed in the nook, and steamer trunks, suit cases and double sided “bomber bags.” Close to Granny’s kitchen door was a section of cook books, and assorted tins of recipe cards, and recipes clipped from the newspaper.
My favorite section of the closet was the wall of cigar boxes. Granny may have hidden the silver behind the linens, but the real treasures were in the little boxes. One section of boxes had costume jewelry - play time fun and Sunday wear. There was a section of crayons, pens with removable nibs and beautiful colored inks, scissors, linen writing paper and envelopes, and whisper thin Air Mail paper. The sewing section contained fruit baskets of thread and boxes which were marked by little pieces of fabric hanging out of the lid. Some were boldly marked by “Bonnets”, “Baskets”, “Arms, legs, hands”, (these were sorted in letter envelopes in the same box). The boxes and shelves went on, “Dutch”, “Fan”, “Jack”, Tulip” . . . Below the shelves were wooden fruit crates with material from the rag man, and duffel bags of scraps from my mother and Aunt Evelyn, who sewed for her boys, Walter and David.
Then, there were the wallpaper sample books. Some I could use for drawing and making cut-out dolls, (for which, there was even a cigar box of cardboard pattern pieces.) Other sample books contained my grandmothers treasures, newspaper patterns. There were dress patterns, night gown patterns, patterns for aprons, little boy’s shirts, and dresses for little girls. Other books contained quilt patterns. The news media published a special section of the paper for Ladies. This is where women got their inspirations. I think there were different columns on different days. I remember seeing the recipes on Thursday. I think quilts were published on Saturdays. Some of the patterns were traced onto brown paper, butcher paper and even gift wrap. Pattern swaps must have been common, as I would discover notes with “to” and “from” scrawled on some of the papers.
That closet was well organized. I learned to save everything, but keep it in a place with like objects, and label the container. Perhaps I absorbed the system by osmosis when I took naps on a quilt laid on the floor of that darkened closet. Back home, instead of cigar boxes, my childhood things were stored in shoe boxes, and are now stored more readily obtainable plastic bins.
. . .to be continued next week . . .
To read or re-read the story to this point:
episode #1 http://www.quiltingboard.com/t-89325-1.htm
episode #2 http://www.quiltingboard.com/t-91439-1.htm
episode #3 http://www.quiltingboard.com/t-93252-1.htm
Episode # 4 http://www.quiltingboard.com/t-95299-1.htm
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