Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Back to Ohio: Part 2

Occasionally I will dream of it, the white 1930s (perhaps earlier?) Greek Revival-ish "four square" suburban house where I grew up in Akron, Ohio. It is still there on Ayers Avenue: the only evidence that we were ever there is the large Japanese maple tree that dominates the front of the house. It is as old as I am, planted there in the summer of 1962 and, like myself I suppose, it has become a thick trunk with a sprawling mass of different directions and odd cohesion. Other plantings and embellishments--like the fence which created our giant play pen in the back yard, the silver maple which grew too fast and was always losing limbs, the evergreen by the sign post out front, even the green yew hedge in front of the windows--all are gone. With the exception of the large tree out front, the yard and house and even driveway look as they did in 1962 when my parents bought the house. The cement "stoop" (in the midwest, the front step is always a "stoop", from the German influence no doubt) is still there, the black shutters on white aluminum, the white cement block garage. My mother, who has gardening in her soul and DNA, always planted red and white geraniums along the front walk and she turned her hand to the back yard, too. She had been raised on a vegetable and flower farm and she tried to infuse her 1/8 acre with all the greenery and floribundance that she could.

The entire lot size was not much bigger than a postage stamp. When I was a child it seemed park-like: the well-manicured lawn out front and the cozy fenced in space out back with its zinnia and tomato bed, its meandering trumpet vines and morning glories all over the fences, even a pumpkin patch which launched itself from behind the garage up into the trees. For one year we had dangling orange pumpkins! The swing set and a few other small trees--an apple and a silver maple--made up the back yard. There was even a poured cement patio off the living room and another smaller slab area with a "back stoop" off the kitchen where the milk man from Reiter Dairy left us milk, cottage cheese, and sometimes ice cream (It was years before I realized that my mother actually had to leave a check list for him!).

We left this house in 1974, almost thirty-two years ago, and yet I remember every detail of it: the cool plaster walls, the tiny bedrooms (again they seemed much larger then), the suburban efficiency of it all. Downstairs there was a living room that stretched from one end of the house to the other, comprising half of the box; the other half was made up of a small dining room at front, a small kitchen with breakfast nook and small closet in back and a staircase that bisected both sides up the middle. Beside that was a coat closet in the front hall and behind the coat closet was an even more commodious storage closet where brooms and cleaning supplies and some kitchen overflow was kept. Adjacent to the broom closet was a tiny half-bathroom across from the cellar door down to a cavernous basement.

The kitchen was pink and black: pink painted cabinets, a pink refrigerator, and black appliances. Even the linoleum was black with pink and white flecks on it. I used to stare at that linoleum pattern for minutes on end while my mother was making dinner. It reminded me of the starry night outside which we could occasionally see from our front lawn but much more clearly on our summer visits to New Hampshire. I remember asking my mother or maybe father in that kitchen: "What's infinity?"

"A universe that goes on and on." Remember, my mother was probably trying to cook something. Imagine such an intrusive question?

"Well, it must stop somewhere...where does it?"

"I don't know that it does."

"Wouldn't there be a wall at the end of the universe? But then, there must be something beyond that wall..."

I soon realized that the conversation that I was now beginning to have with myself would go no where and that the answer was probably not attainable in my lifetime. I was probably somewhere between three and five, when questions like that might occur if you were practically at eye level with black linoleum with pink and white flecks. It was probably also the first time that I realized my parents probably didn't know EVERYTHING and that infinity was probably something invented by God to drive us nuts.

I learned to bake and cook in that pink kitchen. For Girl Scouts, the Berlani girls and I made a four course chicken dinner, carefully attending to the side dishes, gravy and dessert. As I recall, the roast chicken wasn't quite done and we left the kitchen in total chaos. My mother probably cleaned up (the badge instructions for "Cooking" didn't specify cleaning up). I also would bake in my aqua Easy Bake oven for hours on end: chocolate cake with white icing in those cute little miniature Betty Crocker mix boxes (that, along with the aqua blue Easy Bake oven they don't make any more), white cake with confetti icing, miniature cupcakes, hey, it was a cottage industry for my dolls and I, who like Drusilla in the Raggedy Anne stories, lined her dolls up all around for a tea party with sweets and "sugar water tea". Later I would graduate to more complicated dishes but if it wasn't for those Easy Bake years--or the small pink assembled cardboard kitchen under the cellar stairs with its plastic food and endless hours of playing house--I doubt I would have wanted to bake or cook as an adult. Years later when my daughter was young, we got a second hand "microwave" model of the Easy Bake oven. I couldn't stand it and never took it out of its box. My daughter and I made a few things in the real kitchen oven of our apartment. In hindsight I think I deprived her of a pivotal childhood experience! Perhaps that is why she doesn't have the impetus to cook much more today than chips and salsa or buttered popcorn. I ruined it for her.

I dreamt last night of returning to that house but I will save that for another installment.


Jamie said...

Holy crap, Catherine! You grew up in Akron??? My whole family is from there. I was born there and raised mostly in Hartville. The parallels continue.

So anyway, I'm back from vacation and am blogrolling you as we speak. :-)

Mike Wise said...

Cathy, because of my Cath-aholic history, I felt 'guilty' reading your article when I should be doing some critically important thing at work! But for some reason I wanted to read your thoughts on Ohio....

As I've said before, I really enjoy your writings. I'm so glad you found the Blog outlet.

Btw, you can easily prevent the adver-comments: from your dashboard, click on the Settings tab, click on Comments, then scroll down and toggle to Yes "Show word verification for comments".

Blessings, Mike

answer-man said...

ps I'm having a little trouble sending comments so if I do it twice please excuse me and I apologize.