Monday, June 9, 2008

A Cozy, Rosy Cottage


Those were the days, weren’t they? Growing up in postwar suburbia in the 1950’s was the best. Life was so uncomplicated; home meant everything.

It wasn’t that our house was all that remarkable: just a three bedroom bungalow like the many others springing up all over the newly acquired annex. Our cozy cottage with a white picket fence was sprinkled liberally with red blaze roses. Scarlet and white petunia beds flanked the concrete walk. One thing for sure, it seemed that everybody on the block strove to have the best lawn, the neatest hedge row, and the most abundant flowerbeds in those days.

Yardwork was a family affair. Once each fall, after cleaning off the garden and gathering the leaves in bushel baskets we would have a trash burning out in the back alley. The smell of burning leaves always triggers such happy memories of the neighbors coming out to chat about their families as they added their fuel to the small fire. There was such a sense of community.

No one had air conditioning, so houses were open all the time. I’ve often marveled how we would sleep with all the windows agape. Often times in the hottest months we’d even sleep with only the front screen latched. I was a latchkey child, and when I would return home from school, the key to the front door was kept over the lintel. Folks back then were just much more trusting. It surely was a gentle time.

When I reflect on home I am very thankful for the sensory images that mark the memories. Didn’t the light play games in the 1960’s? I loved how the afternoon radiance danced upon the white clapboards of the front porch: casting its rosy glow on everything. Astonished, I would go outside with hands uplifted; trying to capture some of the ruby-light on my fair skin… so magical it now infiltrates my dreams.

In 1962 dad bought my mother a console stereo. I remember the deal included twenty long playing albums. From that day on the home was filled with wonderful music ranging from 101 Strings, to Ferrante & Teicher, to the Brazilian duo of Los Trabajaros on their Latin guitars. Sitting on the porch in the evenings as the melodious strings wafted upon the air was a favored pastime. Music had become my daily staple. Without it, home seemed cold and unwelcoming.

There are certain smells that have always reminded me of my childhood. My mother ever a fabulous cook has always had dinner on the table by six o’clock come what may. One of my favorites, though, was her home baked ham. We had it most Sundays so she was busily basting and baking on Saturday. The sweet aroma of fruit glazed, succulent ham spiced with its hint of savory mustard, cooling on the rack in the kitchen fair drove me to distraction. Its scent lingering throughout house coupled with fresh baked bread on Sunday still causes my watering taste buds to cavort in anticipation. Oops, I almost forgot to mention the pineapple upside down cakes. No Sunday dinner was complete without those delectable treasures of mother’s culinary expertise. Mom made these delicious confections in a black wrought iron skillet each Sunday morning and turned them out on a platter to cool while we went to church. No cake was safe as pineapple rings or cherries were stealthily filched by prying fingers.

It seems that 1962 was a red letter year at our house. The Early American craze was rampant. Mom and dad both would spend every weekend refinishing the primitive heirlooms they had raided from their ancestral homes: coffee mill, churn, flax wheel, cradle… all to furnish the new addition we had added on to the back of the house. The back porch had been enclosed and opened up to create a country kitchen complete with a huge colonial style fireplace. Mother designed it to include a raised hearth and a wrought iron swing arm that held a large black iron kettle she kept water in to humidify the house. We were seldom without a crackling fire from autumn to spring. Dad loved to cook over the fireplace. Aluminum wrapped ears of corn, and potatoes tasted much better when cooked in the glowing coals on the hearth.

Yes, life was sweet then, made all the sweeter by the family life that centered in and around that cozy, rose covered home on Vermont Avenue.

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