Patricia Craig Johnson --- Searching for My Ancestors --- Sharing My Life Stories

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Monday, March 22, 2010

A House To Remember ---- 1240 M Street

The house was large, two stories and a ½ basement. It had fourteen rooms and since the 1930’s had been partitioned into sleeping rooms and small apartments. For a young couple without much money it was ideal. The income from the apartments and sleeping rooms helped make the payments and cover the cost of improvements.

The house cost $7,000 in 1961 and that was a low cost even for those days. A new 3 bedroom brick house went for $18,500. That doesn’t seem like a high price now, but then it was out of the reach of the ordinary family. At that time $100 a week was a good salary.

At first, I was reluctant about buying the house at 1240 M Street. It took some adjusting to having strangers living in the same house we did, and besides that, there was only one full bathroom for the entire house. There was a little extra room with a stool in it. It would seem like an intolerable situation to me now, but it’s surprising that it wasn’t that hard to adjust to it. The bathrooms were located in the back hall of the house just inside the east side door that was the entrance for everyone except the family in the front four rooms of the house – that was me and my family.

The main apartment, where we lived, had four large rooms and a glassed in front porch. There was a huge living room and a huge kitchen/dining room combination and two good sized bedrooms. The living room and dining room were separated by colonnades and that gave a large open appearance to that part of the apartment. The floors were beautiful Birdseye Maple – priceless today. The glassed in porch was south facing so it was a great heat saver in the winter. The original kitchen (in its one family days) had been partitioned off and made into a small two room apartment. Aye and Leora Ulmer lived in that apartment. They had lived in that apartment for at least 15 years. Aye was a bartender at a local bar and he and Leora went there every afternoon at 4 o’clock (you could set your clock by it) so he could work and she could visit with the patrons – and drink. Their rent was $25 a month.

The stairs to the second floor were also off the back hall and folks that lived upstairs entered through the east side door and straight upstairs. There were four rooms on the second floor. The front two rooms were a small apartment and the other two were sleeping rooms. A young man named Kenny Taggert lived in the apartment, and later when he married, he and his wife lived there until they could afford to rent something a bit more conventional. He was a nice young man that was born with a physical handicap, but he worked as an office machine repairman and always had a job and always paid his rent on time.

One of the sleeping room regulars was Leo (Curly) Grieson. Curly was a shy and quiet man that had a serious alcohol problem. He never caused us any problem so there was no need to pass judgment on him. He was a steady patron of the bar where Aye Ulmer worked. We never learned much about Curly, just to speak and give him a receipt for his rent which he faithfully paid every month. It was $7 a week for his room.

The other sleeping room was rented off and on to various people in transit. It was no problem if it was vacant as it was handy to have the extra bedroom for relatives when they came to visit.

The half basement had two rather dingy and dark rooms and a laundry area with my old wringer wash machine and rinse tubs set up. I loved that wringer wash machine as it was “meditation time” when I did laundry. For one thing no one wanted to come close in case they would have to assist in the laundry so it was a time to think a lot. Although I was glad when my mom bought me an automatic washer for my birthday one year, we kept the old wringer as a back up.

One winter day, early in 1962 an old man came to the front door. His name was Ben Black, and he said he had heard we may have a room for rent. I didn’t have any rooms so I told him all I had was a basement but it wasn’t really fit to live in . He insisted on looking at it so I led him down to the basement and sure enough he wanted to rent it. I had a hard time thinking of an amount for it as it wasn’t the least bit rentable – in my opinion. Finally Ben said he would give me $15 a month and I finally agreed. I knew by looking at him that he still had a lot of pride and living there for nothing would never set with him. Ben lived there until he died about seven years later. He was a good customer of the bar where Aye Ulmer worked and he had done something to alienate his family so none ever came to see him. He had been a carpenter all of his life and I still have a little stool he built and gave to me so many years ago. Everywhere I move it goes with me. Ben never talked about his family and we weren’t the type to pry into people’s lives.

One winter Ben started some tomato plants down in that dark basement. When I started my garden he came upstairs and gave me the tomato plants and he was so proud of them. I simply HAD to plant them even though I was sure they would be shocked at the first sunshine they encountered. It was sprinkling the evening I set them out and I was sure they would be completely wilted the next morning – but surprisingly they were standing tall and strong when I went out to inspect them. I don’t know why, but those tomato plants took to outdoor life like you wouldn’t believe! That summer I had tomatoes coming out my ears. I couldn’t think of enough ways to can them. I made tomato catsup, tomato sauce, plain canned tomatoes, tomato juice, stewed tomatoes, tomato relish, salsa and they still kept growing. My explanation is that they had a special ingredient from the very beginning – Ben’s love of doing something for someone else.

The house had a special aura about it. It was old, strong, solid, and had weathered many storms. Not just weather storms but the storms of the many people that had lived there. Going through the house when we moved in was an adventure in itself. We hauled so many things to the dump that now would be antiques it is not good to think about it at all. Old free standing kitchen cupboards that are all the rage now for furniture restorers. The antique craze hasn’t caught on yet. Oh dear, the old tools and assorted implements in the old barn would be worth a fortune now.

During the 10 years I lived in the house many things happened. My daughter, Cindy was eight year old when we moved in and had graduated from High School when we moved out. My grandparents, Ralph and Hazel Cary lived in the upstairs apartment the first winter we lived there. They were in Nebraska visiting my mom and Laurel and we set them up in the apartment so they could have their own little place. Cindy would come home from school and rush upstairs to show them what she brought home from school or to hear stories they read to her. It is a good memory that three generations lived that house at the same time.

My stepfather, Laurel Evelyn died during this ten year period – as did my grandmother, Hazel Cary and my dear driend, Grandpa Fred Kuhlman. The house was the gathering place for friends and family after many funerals. It was so large and roomy it was the natural place for family reunions and holiday dinners. So many took place there it is hard to remember them all. Many times we invited all of the people in the house to come to dinner on holidays and special occasions. Sometimes they had somewhere else to go but many times they didn’t and if there wasn’t room at the large table there was plenty of room for card tables and chairs to be set up. There was always room for everyone.

The biggest event that happened at 1240 M Street, was when my youngest daughter was born in June 1962. The house hadn’t had a new baby in it for decades. It had been a relatively quiet house but now it was filled with all the noise associated with a new baby. Laurel belonged to everyone in the house. They all were delighted when she was born. Being an adventurous little girl she often would go to visit the neighbors and she didn’t even have to go outside to do it! She liked to go down those creaky and dark stairs to the basement to see Ben Black. He always had a cookie or candy for her.

More than once her wanderlust caused everyone around to help look for her. One fall day, when she was about 2 ½ years old I was busy canning. She woke from her nap and after going potty she dressed herself, jeans on first and panties on the outside and shoes on the wrong feet. I was busy so I hadn’t fixed things. She followed me out to the garden and when I turned around she was gone. She had decided to go for a walk by herself. I was starting up the street looking for her when a friend stopped by and we went in her car to look for her. We spotted her about two blocks away. Lois said, “She’s okay, let’s just watch her and see where all she goes.” We watched as she cut through yards and across alleys and she finally ended up investigating a tire swing in someone’s backyard. She wasn’t the least bit concerned or worried about being lost. She looked at us rather questioningly as we rescued her. Actually, we were both rescued, because I was rescued from having to call the police and having to describe what she was wearing!!

It was in that house we sat and watched President Kennedy intently on television as he addressed the nation about the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. Here also in November 1963 we watched again as we learned President Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas, Texas. We watched men walking on the Moon, Robert Kennedy’s funeral and Dr Martin Luther King’s funeral.

There was a lot of living going on in that old house. There were birthday parties, slumber parties, 4-H meetings, getting ready for dance recitals, and high school proms and graduations. It weathered all of the activities and became a part of it all by being the safe haven we came home to. It was a house built to be that very thing—and it is still doing that today, I am sure.

As life changes, so do houses. We sold the house in 1972 when we were transferred to Colorado. We knew we would not be moving back to Gering, Nebraska. We sold it to a family that had six children and I wondered if it would survive another family’s adventures. It did and it is still standing, strong as ever, it was built to weather all kinds of storms. In my mind it will always be the house it was when I lived there. It was an important part of my life and I remember it as it was then. It was a good friend. Almost all of the people that lived there are gone now, but they live in my memory of when they lived at 1240 M Street, Gering , Nebraska

1 comment:

TucsonBrowns said...

Aunt Pat,

I always enjoy reading your blog entries. You have a great way of telling the stories that make them come alive. Thanks for writing them, they are very interesting and bring a feeling of gratitude.

Nelson Brown