Human InterestPersonal History


Right away I must apologize. “For what?” you ask. I’ve committed one of those unforgivable grammatical sins—I used “a preposition to end a sentence with!” The title of this post, “The house I grew up in” ends with the word “in,” a preposition. That is a major “no-no.” To be grammatically correct the title should be “The house in which I grew up.” But that sounds worse than the original title, to me. So it will remain as you see it. Sorry.

During the 22 and a half years before I got married, I had only two “Permanent Home Address[es]” in Indianapolis. They were 4814 E. 10th St. and 1707 N. Bancroft. The Bancroft address was really the place “I grew up,” because I lived there for 14 years and spent, what I think, were my most formative years in that home. I’ve written about the Bancroft neighborhood previously, but it was mainly about the people. This essay will talk about our home, and how we coped in a home one-third the size of our current home. 

But first, I must talk about my home at 4814 E. 10th Street, where I lived until age 8 years. It was a double located on the north side of a very heavily-traveled 10th St., directly across from Wallace Street Presbyterian Church. My mother was raised Presbyterian so naturally we attended that church. The house sat atop a hill, so to reach it, you had to climb 8-10 concrete steps from the sidewalk by the street. At the top of the steps, a concrete walkway led to the 3 steps that ended at a good-sized covered porch.

The house was long and narrow, partly wood-sided and partly brick. It had a living room, small dining room, an eat-in kitchen, and one bedroom and one very small bathroom. Below the living areas was a basement where a coal-burning furnace and a dusty, dirty coal bin were located. Off the kitchen was a side door that led to the small back yard and our half of the double garage. I don’t remember my dad parking our car in that garage. It was always parked on the street in front of the house. 

During those eight years, many memories of the house and life in it were made. By the time I began remembering life events, my brother had been born. My parents, my brother, Tom, and I all slept in the one bedroom; they in a double bed, and we in twin beds. It was cozy! I don’t know how we all slept in there without waking each other, but we did. I vividly remember having measles and chicken pox during those years, and being quarantined in the bedroom until the contagious period passed. When I had measles, a public health nurse came to our home and posted a quarantine warning sign next to the front door. No one could enter the house. I had croup at least once every winter and remember the steam vaporizer at my bedside. My mother added some eucalyptus oil to the water to make it smell good. It did, but it was the steam that helped. 

The one bathroom was a big challenge. There was one sink, one mirror, just a tub (no shower),  no vanity around the sink, and the commode was fully exposed. That left just a glass shelf below the medicine cabinet on which to place your items. I was too young to shave so my toothbrush and comb were all I used. We all used that bathroom, one at a time so we learned to share; my mother more than we “men.”

Winter mornings, I awoke in a cold house. If the fire in the furnace hadn’t gone out, it had died down enough that my dad had to go to the basement to restart it or add more coal and stoke it. I recall standing near the floor vent and feeling the heat arise from the furnace to get warmed up. We always ate in the kitchen which was right above the furnace so it was always the warmest room in the house. The door to the basement stairs was in the kitchen. My dad was very good about keeping the fire going and made trips to the basement a lot. Today, I have a much greater appreciation for what he had to do to keep us comfortable. 

Summers were hot, humid, and rainy. We had no air conditioning. It was a luxury that was still years away from being incorporated into daily living. So we had window and room fans to keep us “comfortable.” As a kid you’re not bothered by heat and humidity like adults so it doesn’t ruin your day, if it’s 93°. But thunderstorms with lightning certainly can. One summer our next door neighbor’s house, was struck by lightning, and it started a fire in her kitchen. Mrs. Cowles was a widow, and her side door was just a few feet from ours. During a severe thunderstorm, lightning struck her roof and somehow started a fire in her kitchen. It quickly got out of control. Fortunately, the fire department arrived and quickly put it out, but the damage to this 5-year old’s psyche’ was done. Thunderstorms with lightning were always frightening to me after that, because I feared our house would be struck, too. 

The other half of our double was occupied by the Blankman family. Bob was the man of the house. He owned Blankman’s barber shop on 10th St about a mile west of our home. My dad got a haircut at Bob’s shop every other Monday, the day his employer, L.S. Ayres & Co., was closed. Bob gave me my first real haircut at age 3 on a stool in his half of our garage. The Blankman’s had a son Eddie who was at least 6 years older than I. Despite the age difference, we played together all the time. He went to Little Flower Catholic school, so he told me a lot about Catholicism. Eddie loved classical music so we listened to Edward Grieg’s “Peer Gynt”  and the “Grand Canyon Suite” all the time. 

Eddie’s mother made a big pot of chili one time and invited Tom and me to come for dinner. The chili was really good, but I ate way too much. I got sick, vomited all over her kitchen floor and went home (next door) sick. How embarrassing. Another time she baked a cake. She made icing to spread on the cake and told us boys to pick the color for it. Instead of picking just one color, we mixed several food colors together, and the final product was a white cake covered with GRAY icing. Gray! It was hideous. It tasted different, too, but I think that was in our minds. We learned the hard way mixing all the food colors together doesn’t result in a pretty color. Later on, after we moved from 10th St. I never saw Eddie Blankman again. 

The last memory of 4814 E. 10th was the day my dad was brought home from the hospital after surgery. He was in Methodist Hospital for several days for a procedure that is now done outpatient. An ambulance delivered him to the center of our living room still on a gurney. He remained on the gurney in the living room for a couple of days. I was too young to remember much else about that incident, but I still recall it 75 years later. 

In March, 1952, our family moved to 1707 N. Bancroft. The double on 10th St. had been a rental, and my parents wanted to be homeowners, so for $7500 they bought a two-bedroom, 945 square foot bungalow a mile or so north of 10th St. The house was on what seemed like a huge lot, but there was no garage so the back yard seemed massive.  The front of the house faced west, and the back faced east. Two wide rows of concrete formed the driveway that bordered the south edge of the lot. The front yard was 50 ft wide and 30 ft deep and had silver maple trees big enough for climbing, on either side of the center stepping stones. The stones led to the three steps you climbed to get to the front stoop. Through the front door you entered the living room. 

To the left of the living room were two bedrooms, a coat closet, a linen closet, and a small, single bathroom with only a tub and no shower. To the right was the living room that connected to the dining room. Left of the dining room was the kitchen. On your right as you entered the kitchen was the door that led to the basement. The stairs started immediately; there was no landing or threshold before the stairs began. Later, I’ll talk about how this proved to be disastrous. At the back of the kitchen was the back door that opened to concrete steps and the 50’ by 50’ back yard. 

Despite this being a 2-3 year old house it still was heated by a coal-burning furnace and had no central, or window, air conditioning. So we still had a coal bin. It wasn’t long, though, until my parents had an oil-burning furnace installed. The old furnace was modified to adapt to oil-generated heat, and a large storage tank was placed in the old coal bin. New ducts were installed as well as a thermostat. How wonderful! How warm and cozy that made the house. No more filthy coal bin, coal dust everywhere, and no cold winter mornings. Summers were still hot and humid, but a window air-conditioner in the dining room helped a bit to cool the whole house. 

After we had lived there for a few years, my folks decided to add a family room onto the back of the house. The house was small and the three men of our family were big and getting bigger. Some friends had a family room just like my parents wanted, built on to their home. It was built by Bill Watkins Construction and Remodeling, was very nice, and they liked it. So, at the recommendation of friends, my parents hired Watkins to build a 20’ by 18’ room addition off the back of the house and kitchen.

Watkins drew up plans, my parents ok’d them, and construction was to begin that week. Two weeks later, after many phone calls, “we’ll be out tomorrow” finally came. The construction progressed at a snail’s pace with two week lulls between phases of construction. It was a very frustrating process that took far too long. When it was finally completed the roof leaked in several, I mean several, places, and the floor sagged and felt like it would give away. Watkins refused to fix these problems so my parents found a roofer and someone to install supports to stabilize the floor. The roof still leaked, occasionally, and the floor still sagged and felt unsteady, but the room remained intact and usable. Why did my folks have trouble with Watkins’ company and their friends did not? It turned out Watkins was going through a divorce, and his workers were disgruntled and unpaid. In fact, they quit. That situation brought my mother to tears on several occasions. After the addition, the back door to the house was on the south side of the room. It was just a few feet across our driveway and fence to the back door of Floyd and Lil Roberts’ home. The proximity made it much easier for Tom and Floyd to continue their bickering about the Yankees and the Dodgers. 

Tom and I shared one of the two bedrooms. The room was 8’ by 11’, I think. Our beds took up most of the space. We shared the bedroom closet, too. It was a deep closet, but if you had short arms you couldn’t reach into the far recesses to get a shirt. We shared a dresser, too. To study, we put up a card table in the middle of the room and sat on the edge of our beds. Tom sometimes studied elsewhere so he wasn’t in the bedroom as much as I. Many hours were spent studying in that small bedroom.

Before the room addition was built, we ate in the kitchen. We had a wooden table that folded in a way it could be stored in the narrow space between the wall and the side of the refrigerator, while Mom was cooking, and opened and set up in the kitchen for meals. There was no extra space in the kitchen with the table open and four chairs set up. But we made it work. After the room addition was completed, there was a bar between the family room and kitchen, and the table was permanently set up in the family room. Eventually, my dad used the family room as his bedroom. My parents both snored badly and each one kept the other awake, so they agreed to sleep in separate rooms. 

The “disastrous” occasion I mentioned regarding the door to the basement stairway involved an elderly baby sitter, Mrs. Ford. She was babysitting for my brother and me for the first time. In the middle of the evening she said she had to go to the bathroom. Being in our house for the first time, she forgot the bathroom was off the bedrooms and not the kitchen. For some reason she went to the kitchen, but didn’t flip the kitchen light on. As she entered the kitchen, she saw a door to her right she thought went to the bathroom. WRONG! It was the basement door. She took one step forward and fell head first to the bottom of the stairs. Tom and I heard a loud thud and her screams, ran to the kitchen, turned on the  kitchen light and then the stair light. There was Mrs. Ford lying head first against the basement wall, at the bottom of the stairs with her legs going up the stairs. Her nose was bleeding, and she was crying in pain. She was conscious, but hurt badly. I called my mother, who called an ambulance and called Mrs. Ford’s daughter. The house became chaotic as everyone arrived about the same time. The ambulance people somehow got Mrs. Ford up the stairs and to the hospital. The fall and landing fractured her pelvis. She lived, fortunately, but my parents were fearful they might be sued. They weren’t. Mrs. Ford’s daughter, who was my mother’s friend, summed the whole thing up by saying her mother was probably just being nosey. Mrs. Ford’s babysitting days were to be no more. 

Once again, this house had a single bathroom with one sink, no vanity, and a tub, but no shower. It wasn’t uncommon to get walked-in on during any bathroom activity. My poor mother waited til all 3 of her men were gone to take a bath. She had very little privacy—none of us did, actually. 

It was my responsibility as the older son to cut the grass in the summer. I got paid to do it. But I didn’t always cut it as often as I should. In fact, I always made excuses why I hadn’t cut it. The tall, unmown lawn bothered my mother, but not my dad. His opinion was my guide. If he wasn’t upset, I certainly wasn’t. The other factor was we did NOT own a power mower. We had only a push mower, and if the blade wasn’t sharp enough or if the grass was too high, it was almost impossible to cut the grass. Once, I let the grass in the back yard get so high, the push mower couldn’t begin to cut it. It was a futile effort. I ended up having to borrow someone’s power mower. Even then, I had a hard time cutting that tall grass. The real answer was cut the grass more often, stupid! 

Our back yard was big enough to play small scale softball. That is, before the room addition was built. Home plate was in front of the back door steps, first and third bases were to the right and left, and second was just beyond the pitcher’s mound. It wasn’t impossible to hit a homer over the fence into Clifford’s back yard. Once, a wild throw to home plate broke a window in the back door. Not a situation that pleased my parents.

My dad had a basketball goal and backboard attached to two poles installed in the ground in the back yard. We played basketball there for so long and so often the grass was all worn away. We had to replace the net a couple of times each year, and the rim was replaced after it broke from overuse! Every day almost year round we played basketball. If it wasn’t 2-on-2, or 3-on-3, it was H-O-R-S-E or P-I-G, or we just shot around. Anyway, we played basketball all the time. Our basketball goal was a magnet for kids from the neighborhood. That backboard and rim stayed around until after I left home until my mother had a garage built right on the spot where it stood.

Earlier, I mentioned the silver maples in our front yard were ideal for climbing. The hardest part was at the beginning. I had to jump to grab the lowest sturdy limb and then hope my feet could get enough traction on the trunk to push me up to begin the climb. Several neighbors down the street had good climbing trees, too. The Elkin’s had one you could almost walk up to the top. We would sit up there on those limbs talking all day. 

We had a pet cat I found on a scout camp out. The farmer where we camped gave it to me. That night, it slept all night in my arms in my sleeping bag. When I brought it home, my mother’s first reaction was “No way,” because she knew it would become her responsibility. But after Tige (the cat’s name—short for Tiger) showed her some love, she said ok. We had Tige for 11 years. She/he had some bad habits, though. One was jumping up and digging her claws into the screen door when she wanted in. Another was clawing at the fabric over the speaker’s of our console TV. But the worst was the December night when my parents had my dad’s office party at our house. Tige wanted in so I opened the door not knowing she had a live mouse clutched in her jaws. She made a beeline to the dining room where the women were playing cards. They all shrieked immediately when they noticed this captured rodent in her mouth. You talk about hysteria and pandemonium. The women were screaming and standing on chairs, and the men were trying to grab Tige. Someone did snare her, mouse still in her mouth, and took her outside. Another time she caught a small bird in her jaws. She brought that in, too. 

1707 N. Bancroft was my permanent address until August 14, 1966, our wedding day. My dad passed away October 1, 1968, so mom lived there alone until 1994 when, at age 82, she passed away. The house was small, but it‘s what my folks could afford, and we made the most of it. The neighborhood and the other families are what made it great. She lived there for so long (42 years). Air conditioning, a garage, and a bathroom shower came long after I had left, but they were creature comforts we lived without. I learned from living in this house that one can be happy even with just the bare minimum. It’s what you make of it. My parents were attentive to their sons and were interested in the things we did. They always took an interest in our lives without being controlling and preachy. They gave us praise when it was due, and discipline when it was needed. Those two homes were places where I learned to share and to deal with constant togetherness. We certainly didn’t emerge from those homes spoiled and selfish. 

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to top button