Our House, Our Home

18 10 2020

In the first six years of my life I was kind of bounced from one home to another. Starting in the great state of West Virginia, Ma (as I always called her) and I moved to Maryland to live with her brother’s family and find work. I was later sent back to WV to live with my Great Aunt Dot and her husband David. From there I found myself being sent to Kentucky to my Great Aunt Pearl and Uncle Price who had moved there and ran an upholstery shop; we lived in small apartment above the store. Pearl and Price left there and I went to live with Price’s sister’s family. Mom had to leave me with other folks for a time as she tried to get on her feet. A single mother back in the 50s didn’t have the easiest road ahead of her, especially one with physical limitations; Ma had over an 75% hearing loss. Finally, the day came that Pearl came back to Kentucky to get me and we traveled to a whole new place–Fremont Ohio. Fremont was bustling with many factories that offered work to ones that needed it. A good number of folks from the Appalachian region had moved there for a better life. I can remember the joy I felt when the bus pulled up in front of Tremper’s, kind of a magazine, tobacco, and soda shop. There, on the sidewalk with a big smile was Ma. I don’t think I touched the steps of the bus when the door swung open; I just jumped straight into her arms. Toting our luggage, the three of us walked across State St. Bridge and up Sandusky Ave. to the smallest house I had ever seen. It had a small kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and living room; I doubt it was much bigger than my garage today. But we made do until the day Pearl told me we were moving down the street into a big house over on Holland. I was so excited; I had been sleeping on a rollaway bed in the living room and now I was going to have my own room. That excitement dissipated quickly the moment I saw the place. It was a big house alright, but it looked like a strong wind could knock it down. This place had been built back in the 1800s and at one time was a showcase home with the wide 1-house façade and narrow Greek Revival front attic-story windows. (I got that description from a fascinating book, “Fremont, Where History Lives” by Larry and Krista Michaels.) But over time, it had become an apartment house until it was abandoned for many years. Now it was run down with many trees and two sheds that leaned hard to one side. Pearl and Price had been coming there to do work for some time and fixed up enough of the house that we could move in.

I wanted to explore the neighborhood, but everyday there was work to be done. As the adults did carpentry, painting, electrical and plumbing; it was my job to carry trash out to a pile in the backyard. Price had a disability so he didn’t work but Pearl and Ma had jobs they would go to each day, and then come home to do repairs to the house. We moved there when I was 6 and it seemed like the task for fixing this place was endless; but that didn’t deter my Pearly Mae! Every day she put in several hours at times backbreaking tasks to make that house a home.

The lowest point came when we had to evacuate, I believe one Spring. We lived two blocks from the Sandusky River and it flooded that year.  Pearl had put hours into sanding the hardwood floors and then staining them. They were beautiful! But after the river had subsided and we were allowed back, those floors were now covered in black silt, garbage and even a couple dead fish. I remember seeing my beloved Aunt’s face look as if she was ready to cry. But after a few minutes it was task at hand; get those floors clean and re-stain them. To my young mind it just didn’t seem like it was worth all the effort, so one day when it was just the two of us, I ask her, “Pearl, why do you love this house so much?” Sitting down at the kitchen table with me, her face became soft looking but very serious. “Johnny, all the places you have lived, the places your mom has and even Price and me always belonged to someone else. This is our home, and you watch, someday it’s going to be beautiful. I know I didn’t have the same enthusiasm for the place as she did, but if that’s what Pearly Mae believed then I would also.

I must have been about 14 the day I rode my bike home and just stopped in front and looked. Most of the old trees were gone, as were the sheds. In their place were flower beds and lush green grass. The front and back porch set the house off with trellises on the ends that colorful flowers grew up. In the back was a long sidewalk with an arched trellis spanning 20 feet and again flowers growing up and over. On both sides of the back sidewalk was a huge vegetable garden that yielded enough food to can and eat until the next growing season. Pearl no longer had a dream; she had a home she was proud of. The inside was just as lovely with not only the floors, but the wood trim stained to a mahogany finish. Pearl loved tropical fish and had several large fish tanks placed around the house with one that was my favorite she had built into the wall. With the largest yard in the neighborhood, there were numerous times and she hosted outdoor parties for all the good people that lived around us. Pearl was ahead of her time when it came to diversity. We had folks from every race sitting at the long tables eating, laughing, and enjoying being together. I was so proud of Aunt Pearl, her beautiful house, and my home.

“It is not how much we have, but how much we enjoy, that makes happiness.” Charles Spurgeon                                           .

I have no doubt that many had the chance to buy that house (Which by the way, cost $1,500), but when they saw with their eyes what it looked like they all walked away. Pearly Mae saw it with her heart. She looked past the mess and the deteriorating conditions and saw beauty no one else had. She felt rich in what God had given her. A home.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Pearly Mae retired and moved back to West Virginia to be near her brother and sisters and many of the neighbors she had been growing old with cried. But she loved being with her family again and would stay there the rest of her days. Still, several times she told me in confidence how much she missed Fremont, her friends and her beautiful home there.

On Feb.3, 1984 a tragic accident ended this “Traveler of the Rock Road” journey here on earth. And this man she used to call “Little Boy Blue” still misses her. But I wouldn’t wish her back for anything. You see as much as her heart saw the beauty of her Holland St. home, that same heart also saw the Home where she would spend eternity. Keep an extra seat at your kitchen table, Pearly Mae. Someday we’re going to sit and talk again, but this time for a hundred years!

Thank you, Fremont for giving us a home there.

See ya next time.




6 responses

18 10 2020

Your posts could be 1000 words longs and I’d still enjoy reading them. Nothing satisfies like a good story woven deftly by a great story teller. I appreciate the quote by Spurgeon and the verse from Thessalonians. It really is all about perspective, isn’t it? My grandparents were cotton farmers from the sandy hills of southwest Oklahoma—“Grapes of Wrath”territory. But they survived the dust bowl, raised my mom and uncle, and were two of the richest people I’ve ever known. By the way, they had a two acre garden! Blessings! I enjoy your blog!

19 10 2020
Marcia E.

Beautiful story, John.

14 11 2020

Thank you Marcia.

19 10 2020
Tyler Kolbe

My grandparents and great grandmother lived in this house when I was born in 1952. I don’t remember much about it except it was a duplex. Not sure when they moved, sometime after my great grandmother died. Could you shar some dates of when you were living there.

14 11 2020

My aunt and uncle (great) bought the house in 59 and we moved in, in 60. I don’t know about before we moved there but the house was very rundown and I remember my Aunt Pearl dealt with a elder woman that was selling because she need money for medical expenses.

14 11 2020
John MIller

Thank you David

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