Friday, November 19, 2010

Little House on the Corner

I may have been conceived in Jacksonville, Florida and I was definitely born in Louisville, Kentucky where I lived a grand total of five weeks (that’s weeks, not months or years), but I will always call Elnora, Indiana my home town. My parents were born & raised in that little piece of Daviess County Heaven and, by the grace of God, I got my chance to grow up there as well.

However, unlike Laura Ingalls Wilder, my parents’ little house was not somewhere out on the prairie, but on the southwest corner of East & Mable Streets on the far eastside of town. It began life in the mid-1940s and was built by Stanley Stout, who later constructed a home for himself and his wife immediately south of us.

Our tiny house started out not much bigger than Abe Lincoln’s cabin. It was a two room cracker box with each room being thirteen feet square, making the house 13’ by 26’. By the time my parents purchased it in 1946, Mr. Stout had added a kitchen behind the living room and a second bedroom behind the first one. And, thankfully, it also had a full bathroom with walk-in closet making it a “modern home” as houses with all the necessary plumbing facilities were called in those days.

Our total property consisted of three lots. The house occupied the corner lot, our large garden took up the entire lot directly west, and the lot south of our house contained several fruit and shade trees to serve as a buffer between our home & the Stouts. We also had a “coal house” and a “pigeon house” on our property. The pigeon house must have been used by Mr. Stout at one time, but when my parents bought the property, it was used mainly for a storage shed.

Unfortunately, our house lacked two very important items, especially after I was stricken with polio in 1948 shortly before my 4th birthday. There were no “real” steps up to the front door or back door, just some clumsily placed concrete blocks. So, whenever I would stay at my parents’ house rather than at my grandparents’ home a block to the south, my mother or father would have to carry me up the “steps” and into the house. As I grew older, this became very embarrassing and by the time I was about eight years old, my mother (Elizabeth) could no longer easily lift me, so my father (Emerson) and his nephew, Kenny Johnson, finally poured proper concrete steps at the back door so I could manage them by myself. There was a sturdy steel railing for me to use and a landing at the top. Then, about two years later, they also poured a nice patio with steps up to the front door, making our little house finally complete.

Years before adding the finished steps to our house, my parents decided they needed more space, so about 1950, my dad agreed to dig a basement in his “spare time.” With Kenny’s help, they excavated the entire basement by hand and then hauled the dirt out in coal buckets. It was a long, tedious, and fascinating project to watch. I still marvel at how they were able to put a full basement where only a crawl space had been, doing all of the work themselves. They constructed new walls and used a small concrete mixer to pour the floor. At some point, my dad dragged the old concrete piers that had supported the center of the house down to the apple tree at the corner of our yard. When laid on their sides, they became seats for my friends and me to use while playing with our toys in the dirt around the tree. Other times they were a Wild West fort or whatever else our imaginations could conceive.

I guess I knew the house was small, but I never really thought much about it. I had everything I needed in that small space, especially after the basement was added. I could listen to Elvis, Buddy Holly and Connie Francis on my little white 4-tube Philco radio. My Lionel train, my ping-pong table and other games and toys were in the basement. And, I had my friends.

The Hobson girls, Patty, Pam, and Polly, lived across the street to the north. Steve and Lonnie Green resided to the west just past our garden, and Mike, Phil and Donnie Baker were less than a block away as were the Manning brothers, Marvin and Verlin, who were somewhat older. Other kids lived nearby and as I grew older and finally got to go to public school, I made many more friends before heading to Purdue following graduation.

We always found something to do and trouble to get into. We shot our BB guns and bows & arrows at targets and sometimes at each other, practiced throwing knives & hatchets at trees or the side of my grandpa’s old barn, and many times came close to getting seriously injured due to our own stupidity. We even wore chemistry goggles to protect our eyes when our games got out of hand.

My dad died long “before his time” in February, 1963 when I was only 18 years old. In my vivid memory, I can still see him carrying those coal buckets full of dirt out of the basement and sitting on the concrete block steps to smoke a cigarette when he got tired. I can see my mom in her plaid house dress carrying iced tea (or beer) out to “Daddy” and Kenny when the work got too hot. I can see Pam Hobson doing tricks on her back-yard trapeze and I can also see her falling off and getting hurt. I can see the arrow that I shot straight up into the air coming down and barely missing the top of David Taylor’s head, and I can see my crutch slipping on the wet grass and me hitting my own head on one of the concrete piers down by that apple tree prompting an 8:00PM trip to Doc Rohrer’s for stitches to my left eyebrow. A half inch lower and I would have likely lost that eye.

With much sadness, I sold the little house on the corner in 1974 following the death of my mother. Since then, the owners have upgraded the siding, added a new roof, and closed in the outside entrance to the basement. The fruit trees are gone, the coal shed has been torn down, and the pigeon house has been replaced by a garage. The rusty old TV tower remains standing as does my mother’s clothesline. She had a washer and dryer in the basement, but still loved her clothesline.

Funny the things you don’t forget, like the “rut” Mother made in the hardwood floors when dragging the heavy plaster cast she needed on her leg for months following an auto accident, the old aluminum Christmas tree lit by a slowly spinning color wheel, the silly way the front door opened into in my bedroom rather than into the living room where it belonged, and the tiny kitchen with barely enough room for a table.

Many people, places, and things make indelible impressions on us as we travel through this thing called life. Thanks to the Elnora Post and this blog, I’ve had the chance to share a few of those impressions. As we get older, the most important things we have are our abundant love of family and our many memories. I’ve been blessed with both.


Anonymous said...

I have enjoyed reading and still enjoying to do so, my brothers were mentioned in this artical, made me smile My brother Donnie had passed away in october last year (2010) and so had my brother Joe,(2009) keep the memories coming I do injoy the stories. Thank you. Cathy Thompson (Baker)

Jim Johnson said...

Cathy, thanks so much for your kind words. I think of the old neighborhood often and I'm so sorry to hear about Donnie and Joe.

Anonymous said...

Terry Chestnut from Elnora, IN. Gary and I played catch with you at your house. We lived three doors down, on the same street, like the article in the Odon Journal. I would like to get in contact with you, maybe by email. Please leave some form of contact.

Anonymous said...

elnora has changed since then w crooked cops an town hall embessling money wish i could have been raised in a better elnora TO ALL THIS IS NOT A TOWN TO ENJOY ANYMORE UNLESS YOU KISS RONNIE HO HO HOOKERS ASS