The first house that I remember was a little pink bungalow in Jamestown along the James River. 455 3rd Street SW to be exact.
To get to the master bedroom, you had to walk through the bathroom. In my youngest years the furnace burned North Dakota lignite. Not only was the furnace fired with lignite, but so was the water heater! It was a cute little thing, kind of like a Franklin stove with many pipes running back and forth inside. Grandma had to light the fire to get hot water.
On the west side of the house was the alley, and that had the coal chute to the coal bin. What a dirty mess! Weyerhaeuser Lumber delivered the lignite. They had a large yard down by the railroad depot with several buildings full of coal. They were right underneath the railroad, just south of the tracks. Apparently the hopper cars could drop the coal directly into the buildings.
My mother was an incredible gardener, and along the river was the perfect place to raise flowers and a vegetable garden. The front and back yards were full of iris, tulips, zinnias and who knows what else. My favorites were the tiger lilies with their orange blossoms and black seeds growing in the leaves. Besides having flowers, my parents planted a bathtub one summer to hold gold-fish. By the end of the summer the fish seemed pretty big to my eight year old eyes. Maybe that pond is why my brother Linn and I have back yard ponds today?
The property was split in half by the chicken house, where we kept rabbits. (Don’t ask.) The chicken house was a very large building. (It seemed that way to an eight year old.) There were cages for hundreds (it seemed like hundreds) of rabbits that my grandmother raised for meat.
We always had a cat in the house. One of them helped me get into trouble. Once after a snow storm, I was shoveling the porch by the French doors in the dining room. The cat was watching me through the panes of glass. It likes to play with the cat, so I feigned hitting him with the shovel. Too bad there was glass between the shovel and the cat.
The neighborhood was a lower class one, with a gravel street that ended at the river. Across the street were rental houses, two room affairs with tar paper siding. The family in one of them had a TV set. In the early 50’s that was a rarity. They were the only ones around with a TV so I got to spend many hours over there watching TV. With only one channel, there wasn’t much to see. Usually it was a snowy picture anyway.
Our first TV was an event, as well as when the phone company went to dial phones. Dial phones also meant that we would lose the CLinton exchange name and go to the numeric 252 prefix. For several years the phone book had some numbers as CL2 and others as 252. We all had to learn the new numbers and what to do with the dial, rotary of course.
Klaus park was only a block from our little house. It was a very large park by most standards, the second largest one in Jamestown. One of the best parts about it for a kid were the summer and winter programs that the park department ran for us. In the summer they would hire a high school kid to run a game shed. We could sign out everything from baseballs and bats to croquet sets. There was always a croquet game going in the park. What a way to spend a lazy summer day! We all learned to play ball by borrowing their equipment and trying to do something with it over at the ball field. The other one that was fun was tether ball. This was a game with a ball tied by a long rope to the top of a tall pole. The object of the game is to hit the ball to wrap it around the pole. There was always another kid on the other side trying to wrap it his way! It was so much fun, but we got sore hands hitting that darn ball for hours. In the winter the highlight was ice skating.
The James River and the Pipestem Creek surrounded the park, so in the winter skating was a natural. The warming house and rink were just a short skate down the river from our house, which was also on the river. What a classic scene, nighttime on the river, between the trees, lights on the ice, music from an old record player and a wood fire keeping us warm in the warming house. I tried to play some hockey, but hitting that little black puck and hitting the other players was not for me!
Early one winter I was walking home from Mark Schwartz’s house. There was no snow yet, but there was ice on the little pond in the park. The James River had really meandered in that area years before, leaving several oxbow hollows in the park over the centuries. One of them was covered with ice that year. So on my way home it seemed like the right thing to do to slide around on that clean, slippery ice. Best of all was how flexible it was! It rippled up and down as I ran and slid around! Boy was that fun! Almost like a roller coaster! Now I realize how exciting it could have been! The game shed was gone by the time I moved (1960) but the ice skating rinks lasted through high school.
Google maps does have a street view that gets close to showing the house. Look for the intersection of 5th Avenue and 3rd Street SW in Jamestown. Look east. Even today it looks a little forlorn and poor. Our house was at the end of that gravel stretch, on the right, behind that white shed. All you can see is the roof-line.
Originally published 2014-09-26