Friday, March 30, 2007

206 W Mantua Avenue (as per Bob)

While I can't remember much of my academic life in second grade my house is rich in memory. I haven't spent enough time describing the house. Here is how it looked. The house sat on a corner lot, 1/4 acre. It had a basement, a first and second floor and an attic. There was a front yard, side yard and rear yard and garage and behind the garage a smaller yard. We called this smaller yard "the digging yard". You'll see why later. At the rear of the garage was a tall tree with a small tree fort in crumbling disarray.
The first floor had an entry hall, small powder room off the entry hall, a formal living room, a second living room, a dining room and a kitchen. The second floor had two large bedrooms, a bathroom with shower/bathtub, and a smaller bedroom and a smaller room that could function as a den or bedroom at the occupants discretion. The attic was finished but unpainted. The attic held a large exhaust fan that would cool the whole house in summer. A crude, early form of air conditioning. The basement was unfinished with three distinct areas. At the base of the steps (arrived at through the kitchen) was a laundry area with sink. Immediately following that to the left was the furnace, oil tank, and my father's workbench. The larger area, beneath the formal living room and entry hall was an unfinished space that served as our play area. It was lined on the sides with huge waste lines. These were cast iron pipes, roughly six inches, that wrapped the whole basement at a height of three feet. We'd play on these like a jungle gym.
We'd also venture into the front crawl space, which was beneath the wrap around front porch. The crawl was fecund with a pungent aroma that I now know to be chlordane. The home must have been treated for termites either just before or shortly after my parents purchased it to eliminate a termite infestation. Chlordane has a strong odor that I came to know years later when I became a pest control operator. We crawled happily through the sandy soil of the crawl. In the furnace area, just behind the furnace there was a break in the foundation that led to a second crawl space. This was beneath the kitchen. The kitchen was a recent (20's or so) add on and this too was fecund with insecticides. We'd make this a clubhouse in fifth, sixth, and seventh grades. Hung on the sides of this area we found leg hold traps for muskrat.
We loved this basement. We played here on rainy days. We were banished here covered in swamp mud later in life. We'd strip our clothes and run up to bath and change. We had huge wars and games of hide and seek and once we got a ping pong table beat the crap out of each other with tiny white balls.
The attic was scary as shit. It was finished with unpainted white plaster. There was graffiti on the walls scrawled in black charcoal. One piece read "Peggy Sacca says her mom smokes cigarettes". The Saccas were the previous owners. Peggy was the leggy girl that walked me to first grade. She was and, as my friend Suzy said, is, stunning in a classic Italian manner.
The house was ringed in Black Maples. Easy to climb with limbs just four or five feet from the base they were hideouts in games, bases for wars with little men, and filled with carpenter and pavement ants. Moss sprawled out from their base which we'd cut out and toss at each other or marvel that it would retain it's shape.
The space by the kitchen on the side had a small, ivy covered, garden. In one corner were several lilac bushes. My parents had a cement St Francis statue placed there and irises grew there as well. Around the yard were various ornamental bushes, including lilacs. On either side of the home were two evergreens that grew eventually to a great height. The wrap around porch was encircled with bushes that left you able to see out in the summer but no one could see in. Our life was lived completely on that porch in late summer.
The garage eventually crumbled into dust, destroyed by carpenter bees and dense wisteria. At the rear of the garage was our tree. We climbed it relentlessly. I climbed higher than anyone but Charlie Flitcraft's sister Susan, nearly to the top. The limbs swaying under my tiny frame. Probably close to fifty feet.
We'd use the tree to gain access to the garage roof and then leap to our near deaths in the digging yard (eight feet or so). My father hung his rowing oar from his sculling days at the University of Pennsylvania in the garage and besides a variety of cars over the years it held our bicycles, Flexible Flyers (including my father's from his childhood), and shovels and rakes.
The rear yard for many years had a hole with a garbage can in it to hold organic garbage which the town emptied once a week. The milk man delivered milk to the back porch until I was in fifth or sixth grade. We received several bottles of milk, half and half, and one of chocolate each morning.
It sounds like some magical place. In the morning in the spring the air was rich with the scent of a thousand blossoms, most notably a flowering ornamental peach by the garage. When I was older and returned to Wenonah to get better Johanna came to stay with me shortly before Easter. One day in late April she walked out onto my porch, a swirl of blossoms filled the air and she screamed for me to come out. Popi she said, I've never smelled air like this before! I had. Every year for many years. Each spring in late March the ground would erupt in crocus blossoms. I imagine that right now Wenonah is bright with forsythia and daffodils. As it has been for years.


BLT said...


206 West Mantua Avenue

There's a 206 East Mantua Avenue, too.

The four street names that really bug me are those on either side of the railroad tracks.
North West Avenue
South West Avenue
North East Avenue
South East Avenue

all the other little towns just seem to have Railroad Ave on one side and Depot Ave or something similar for the other side. said...

Saw your blog by accident. I'm 1 year older but went to the very same school, had the very same 1st grade teacher, and lived for a number of years on Mantua Ave. I'm trying to figure out where you're house was in relation to ours. Actually we lived in a number of houses in Wenonah.
I also had a sort of 'coming of age' in relation to the issue of race, growing up in this town. Take too long to explain in this message. Just thought I'd say hello.

Best regards,

Randy Browning
Norwalk, CT