The Little House

(As begun July 18, 2001)
(The street address in 2001 is 72 Fennell Street.)

We lived in this little house from November 1, 1935, until the last day in April 1937.

November 1, 1935. I was in kindergarten. It was a fairly chilly day. Bob (Melvin) Brewer was hired to move us. I remember being with Lester and Alice crossing the railroad tracks almost directly across the street from 41 Fennell. We had Lester’s cart and had been assigned the task of transporting the things for that night’s supper. Among the items in the cart I clearly remember Mother’s large cast aluminum kettle, probably containing a stew or a pot roast prepared early in the morning before the stove was dismantled. At some point, either on moving day or a later day when we were all out of the house at school, Mother burned fumigation candles throughout the house because she was worried that the previous occupants had harbored bedbugs or some other sort of insect.

There were several things I remember that must have happened all within the first days.

I remember that when we arrived we still had the nanny goat that we had had at the McLaughlin house, but there was no place to shelter it and Father must have gotten rid of it almost immediately.

Lester and I burned most or all of the piano rolls, because the player part of our piano did not work and the rolls were apparently considered useless. Among them was one of "Scotland is Burning," and to someone my age it seemed very amusing that we were burning the roll.

As I was walking home from school for the first time after we had moved I encountered Billy Barron, then in first grade, at the corner of Austin Street and Jordan Street. He challenged me to a fight. "Do you want a fight?" "No." "Okay then, we’ll be friends."

Donald Merrill appeared in the back yard, looking like a little ragamuffin. He reminded Robert of the title character in a single-panel cartoon entitled "The Worry Wart" that appeared in either the Herald or Journal (both afternoon papers then), so Robert immediately dubbed him "The Worry Wart," almost certainly before he knew his actual name. The nickname has stuck as simply "Worry" to this day.

Not long thereafter, David Merrill came into the kitchen, climbed up on the kitchen cabinet, and, taking a piece of bread from the breadbox, said, "Don’t mind me, Mrs. Wooster."

Paul Barron delivered our afternoon paper.

Our immediate neighbors were Sarah and _____Stevens (with Sarah’s children from a first marriage, Tommy and Kathleen Hale) on one side and George, Florence, and Edna Mae Roberts on the other. Continuing on the same side going down the street past George Roberts were two vacanrt lots with cellar holes dug (They probably belonged to Dewitts. Later Scoop Baker bought both, combined the lots into one, and built a house there.), the Barrons, a large brick house (Nessincars), the Lansburys, Norman Drew, Dog Drew (in a small building near the sand bank), and Herbert Drew. Still further along was a McLaughlin house (Sister Antonio—Worry apparently thought an antonio was a musical instrument, because he ran after her one day to ask, "Sister, do you play the antonio?") and even further the Manillas and the blind man Jimmie Bartlett, who lived in a small building next to Manillas. In the other direction, beyond the Stevens were the (Roy) Gages at the corner of West Austin and Fennell. On West Austin Street were the (Charles, Dorothy, David, Donald, Janet) Merrills, Billy Wiseman (who always threatened to cut our ears off—and I believed him), Mrs. Rose Cullen (with daughters Louise and Millie), the (Hy, _____, Gordon) Henrys, another house, the (Steve, Marie, Dick, Donna) Malcolms, a vacant space, another house, and then St. Mary’s Church.

On the opposite side of Fennell Street, beginning at the second house from West Elizabeth Street were:

Lester Murphy (son Gerald—an infant then)

Impson (son Stanley)

Maine & Hunt barns (Hay bails in back barn and neighborhood kids played there, making tunnels, etc.)

Steve and Susie Weeks (Later Reese and June Pitman)

Town Yards

Clarksons

Space

Arlo and Daisy Drew (Don’t forget Daisy’s store.)

Frank Shepherd (Don’t forget milk from their cow.)

Large space—Shepherd’s pasture

"Fiddler Ben," who lived in a small shack on the other side of the creek across an old bridge. (My brother Lester knew his real name. He told me once, but I have forgotten. My sister Alice thinks his last name was Clemens, and I am inclined to think that she is correct.)

Sauerkraut Factory (probably belonged to Dewitts at that time—later during WWII belonged to Solomon Green. I remember that during the war Frank Van Holtz, Cooney Chappell, and Fiddler Ben worked there laying down the sauerkraut in large vats. My mother always claimed that they chewed tobacco and spat while on the job, but I never observed it. Later, if I remember, I will tell about the German POWs who worked there in 1944. Worry and I would visit and borrow their phrase books from them.)

Chappells (Ed, Mabel, Ted, and Ronnie, with Cooney living in a separate building behind the house.)

Space

Double house—Tripps on southern side and _______ and Florence Wheelock (Margie Tripp’s sister) on the other.

Beyond that were Mathew Wall, John (also Sweet and Ray) Dougherty, and Mrs Halleck.

 

John McLaughlin coming to door to collect back rent owed for our time at 15 Fennell Street.

Horseshoe court.

Flooded basement

Christmas with Lester and his "forts" and "mines"

Sleeping arrangements.

Pipeless furnace and standing over it in night dress.

My not wanting to go to school

Second Christmas (1936) there with sled.

Sledding on West Austin and in field behind Norman Drew’s house

Hearing about execution of Bruno Hauptmann on our old Atwater Kent radio in dining room after school.

I was aware of a war in China.

Homework in first grade.

Mother’s working as a nurse (kindergarten year) of Mary Denison and the coming of Maggie Gilbert.

Hobos at back door

Robert and Joe Lawton trapping skunks

Janet Merrill taking off clothes to swim in Weeks’ birdbath.

Steve Weeks moving to 35 Fennell Street and Reese and June Pitman moving in.

Lester going on milk rounds with Reese Pitman and Floyd Sweet (June Pitman’s brother)

Alice went to Edna Mae’s birthday party. It must have been late autumn, because it was a very chilly day. There was a large cake that was baked in the dishpan and consequently was not adequately baked. Also, the story went around among the kids that the scissors used to cut marshmallows for the cake were the same George used to cut his toenails. As a result all the guests threw their cake behind the piano. Meanwhile, I, not invited, was hanging around the front corner of our house. I saw Kelse Oakley go by with a load of coal. He was always black with coal dust, and so I was afraid of him. I remember running into the house. This aspect of the story makes me think that the party was in 1935 rather than 1936.

Definitely summer 1936

Teenage kids used to hang out under the streetlight at the corner of Fennell and west Austin in front of Gage’s.

July—Dad went to Florida with Dana, Lena, and Elwin. Dad went to help drive. They had Dana’s model A Ford coupe and were pulling a trailer in which to sleep. Grandfather had invested in a gas station, and Elwin was going there to help him run it.

July—This must be when Janet Merrill cut her finger in the lawnmower. I remember that my mother and I were taking a nap in the front bedroom when Mother heard her screaming.

July 9-11, 1936—While Dad, Lena, and Dana were gone we had the record hot nights—81 degrees was the low temperature for three nights in a row. This is the record for the warmest low anytime in Syracuse. Mother, Lester, and I set up Grandfather’s old tent in the backyard, hauled out an old set of springs and a mattress and slept there. Alice and Robert must have remained in the house.

It was probably almost immediately after he returned from Florida that Dad bought a dark green 1929 two door Chevrolet. I remember that it had folding seats in front—almost like jump seats—and the upholstery was green corduroy. I suspect that he used part of his WWI bonus to buy the car, and for some reason I think he bought it from Chuck Mather, who had a Chevrolet agency on Jordan Street in the place where there is in 2001 a photographer (McCarthy) and Mid-Lakes navigation. The car had a crack in the engine block that I think he did not know about when he bought it. Although I don’t remember this, Robert told me before he died about Dad and Mr. Stevens tipping the car up and attempting (unsuccessfully I suspect) to weld the crack.

August—We went to Massachusetts to visit. Mother had not been there since 1922(?), and she had seen only Elizabeth, who had visited in Skaneateles in 1930 while on a road trip with my cousin Margery who had only recently graduated from high school (1929, I think). We stopped briefly at Elizabeth’s, in Whitman, and then continued on to Kitty’s cottage on Keene Road in Humarock. While there we took a trip to West Roxbury to see Aunt Susie and Uncle Dick. Margery was married by then and was not living there. I do not remember my cousin Dick either, but while we were there my cousin Arthur (Bobby) came home from the county fair, sick, and went immediately to bed. We must have been in Humarock about a week, and in that time we also visited Plymouth to see the rock and drove along the Cape Cod Canal to watch the night boat from New York to Boston going through. Robert and Alice Hingston fought like cats and dogs, but Alice was mad about Lester and would not leave him alone. Lester slept in the back seat of our car at the side of the house. In order to get some privacy, he had covered the windows with newspapers and had rolled up the windows to secure the paper. Alice Hingston went out and ripped off all the pieces that were sticking out and littered the yard, thereby infuriating her father. Alice also got in trouble with her father when she appeared at table wearing lipstick. Somehow she thought that she could get away with it—maybe thinking her father would not make a scene in the presence of guests. She was wrong. I remember also a disagreement about clams. There were two buckets of them underneath the cottage. One of them was "ours" and we were going to bring it home I guess. Somehow either Allen or Lester got under the cottage and moved clams from one bucket to another. A disagreement between them followed, and in the end my father and John Hingston passed some heated words about the raising of children. Things were still a little tense when we were ready to leave the next morning. We had car difficulties and John had to go to a local junkyard to find either a fuel pump or a carburetor. This probably delayed our departure by a day. I am sure John and my father were glad to see the last of each other for a few years. Coming home we had a flat tire—or so they tell me. For some reason I have no recollection of that whatever. Fortunately, Mother had tucked away an extra $10 for emergencies. I do remember that as we got to Cazenovia and it was getting dark, my mother made my father detour in through Jamesville and Marcellus, because it was clear that the car was not capable of getting over the hills of Route 20 between Cazenovia and Skaneateles.

It must have been late in August when we got home, because it was then that Alice had her tonsils out and she missed the first day of school as a result.

I remember seeing the "President’s House" (41 Fennell) from the opposite side of the street shortly before we moved. To me it was very large and luxurious, and I found it incredible that we were moving there. Until very recently I thought that I had been mistaken in having heard that it was the president’s house. Only in 1999 did I discover that Sam Allen’s father had been president of the village (approximately 1875) ten years after he he built the house circa 1865. Since my father was a friend of Sam, he was probably aware of the fact and most likely had mentioned it within my hearing. As was frequently the case I was annoyed with David Merrill over something. (Usually when I got in a disagreement with my mother he played the role of "best little boy" and was right there to say in effect, "You are absolutely right, Mrs. Wooster." Infuriating!) I had the fantasy that I could move away without telling him where I was going. My Mother ratted on me, and David was soon visiting at the new house.

The man we hired to move us that time was Stanley(???) __________, who lived with Emily Prouten, next to Yurco’s and across from Impsons. We were supposed to move on May 1, 1937, Lester’s 12th birthday, but somehow I think we moved a day early, on Friday, April 30. I say this because it was a school day (May 1 was a Saturday in 1937.) and I remember coming home for lunch and going to the creek with Lester to sail his model boat on a string. I also remember the large kitchen range that had been left behind by the George McLaughlin family. I was impressed by the legs (a large sitting cat at each corner). When I arrived home after school in the afternoon, that stove had been replaced by my mother’s cast iron cookstove. I have always wondered where those four marvelous cats ended up. Probably the stove was broken up and taken to the dump.

NEXT: Prewar years (May 1, 1937---December 7, 1941) to include:

Bedroom assignments

Collecting tent-caterpillar eggs from apple trees with Gilbert Arthur and taking them to school—some sort of national campaign to control the pests.

Alice’s confirmation May 1937 (Ascension Day?? I always thought it was Whitmonday, but Alice says differently.)

Hindenburg May 1937 (same night as Alice’s confirmation)

Amelia Earhart July 1937

Apple crop the first year that we were there. Photos—the one we always kidded Mother that she looked like Eleanor Roosevelt.

Alice’s cat—Tom—she brought home from Onondaga St. when Isabel lived there.

Robert’s model T

Boat built in Lester’s bedroom

Berry picking in Lysander (once in Chevy, once in pickup borrowed from Harold Dando, and once with Hueys)

Scarlet fever in spring of 1939

Cutting my knee August 1939?

Radio reports of Graf Spee Dec 1939

1939 Christmas (picture taken at library)

Sailing with Lester (and summer storm)

State Fair (at least twice[??] in old Chevy—must have been 1937 and 1938. Mother would pack a lunch and we would park in the infield. Mother and I went once with Barney Roberts 1940 or 1941)

Dad’s little fishing boat

Backyard cookouts with the Drews—also their place on lake in Mandana

Old gentleman roomer

Rockers renting space 1938-1939??

Moshers (Earl and Winnie) renting space 1939-1940??

Snow fort (probably the spring of 1940)

First visit by John Macgregor and Aunt Ruby (Honeymoon? I think they were married in 1937.)

Second visit bringing Aunt Susie, Cousin Bobby, and Arthur. (1938or 1939?—certainly before Susie’s death) Aunt Susie had my room. I slept in a single bed in Lester’s room, while Bobby and Arthur slept together also in Lester’s room. Lester probably slept in Robert’s room or in the barn. The MacGregors were downstairs on the couch that converted to a bed.