Thursday, January 20, 2011


Old family home held a lifetime of memories

It was my home for more than 20 years. A grand old house with seven huge poplar trees casting shade across the yard, and frontage on the water that included an old boathouse. My father bought it in 1946 after he came home from World War II, because he was the eldest son and had the responsibility to provide for the rest of his family. His parents, younger brothers and sister lived there while my parents, my older brother and I lived in an upper flat in North Tonawanda.
In 1954, when my aunts and uncles had moved away, my father and his brothers modified it into a two-family home. My grandparents stayed, living in the apartment upstairs. My grandfather died there in the late ’50s and was “laid out” in the parlor downstairs.
We took family trips to the Adirondacks, and had a homemade trailer in the yard to haul our gear. In the 1960s, my father demolished the old garage out back and built a new two-car garage by himself, including mixing and pouring all of the concrete.
My brother, Jim, and I grew up sharing a room until my father built another bedroom where the dining room had been. We got our milk from Papke-Moll Dairy across the street, and our groceries from Kraemer’s corner store a block away.
I was home from school on a sad day in November 1963 when President John F. Kennedy was shot, and I watched the moon landing in 1969 in the comfort of our living room. My younger cousins and I often played cards with my grandmother and watched “Lawrence Welk” with her on TV. My brother and I walked to Delaware School, the junior high and the “new” high school.
Jim and I moved out and got married in the ’70s, while my grandmother remained in the house until 1977. She’s been gone more than 30 years, but my father never rented the upstairs. The space was used mostly for storage, but he kept her bedroom intact with all of the original furniture. My brother would stay up there when he came home for his annual visits from the West Coast.
My mother did volunteer work, including many years of involvement with the Girl Scouts, and she had mementos of her work all around the house. Mom passed away seven years ago, and my father kept all of her clothes, books and other favorite things pretty much where she left them. He died this past summer after being in poor health for two years.
We had so many memories in that house. I knew that parting with three generations’ worth of accumulation would be difficult, and because I am the one who remained in town, the dreaded responsibility of clearing out the house fell on me. I gave the family heirlooms to my aunt and cousins, and had an estate sale to clear out as much of the good usable things as possible.
An old friend removed the remaining possessions for me, assuring me that as much as possible would be donated, recycled, sold or otherwise reused — the rest would go out to the curb. It’s much easier when you don’t have an attachment to — everything.
I hadn’t been inside the house for a few weeks and stopped by recently. It’s empty. Upstairs, downstairs, basement. Nothing. No furniture. No appliances in the kitchen or tools in the garage, no books or beds, no dishes in the cupboard, no clothes in the closets or pictures on the walls. It’s all a memory now. After 64 years, it’s just a house.

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