Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Sunday Memory Drawer - Up in the Attic

Every year or so on one of my trips back east, I take a drive through my hometown of Mount Vernon, New York.   And that includes a little tour down South 15th Avenue.   It's now a pretty disheveled mess, but, back in the day, that was "my block."

In December, during one of these nostalgia tours, I lingered in front of the house I grew up in.   I noted, as you can see above, how many satellite dishes there are on the roof.   This in my home where my grandmother didn't even want a color television.

You don't see it in this photo but the driveway was loaded with about five cars.   It dawned on me that there must be multiple families living in there now.   Because, obviously, the very top floor appears to be an apartment now.   Back in the day, for me, the third floor was simply...

...the attic.

I look at that very top window and I see something that leads me to believe that the attic's use is now vastly different from my youthful days.  Again, there's another satellite dish on the ledge.  And a window air conditioner.  Could somebody actually be living up there???

When I was a kid, the route to the attic was a long one.  Up the stairs from my grandparents' residence on the first floor to where my folks and I lived on the second floor.  Then another series of winding stairs up to the attic, which was really nothing more than, well, an attic.  Dark, musty, and dusty. 

While my basement offered me an open space from which to craft my imaginary television shows, the attic was really very cramped and restricting.  Because of the sloping roof, there was limited place to walk.  And, if you got too close to the crawlspace near the roof, there were nails sticking out of the ceiling.  Ouch.

There were two basic areas in the attic where you could stand up tall.  The center of the attic in the front and the back.  The portion in the rear was used for storage of items that had seen better days when Eleanor Roosevelt was still the First Lady.  Old and imposing easy chairs covered with slipcovers that might have been first used when Edith Wilson was still the First Lady.   My grandmother had a huge wooden trunk up there, loaded with linens that were now buffet tables for moths.  I'd often ask why she kept this stuff.

"You don't throw anything out.  We might need this some day."

Really???  Just how poor do we have to get before we pull out this smelly quilt from 1923???

I found another interesting relic in my haunts of the attic.  An old-fashioned school desk.  If you looked closely, you could see initials carved in the top.  Perhaps my dad's.  Or maybe it's Warren G. Harding's.  It was hard to tell.  Who had used this before?  It certainly had never been in my room. 

When I opened the top of the desk, I always found the same things inside.  Loads and loads of movie magazines.  This smacked of my mom, who read regularly such gossip rags as "Photoplay" and "TV/Radio Mirror."  She had obviously shoved some back issues in here for no other reason than this was the only empty space she could find.  I remember opening up one of these magazines and I would see the same story every time.

"Liberace....Still Looking for the Special Young Lady."

Really??????  I didn't know any better when I was six. 

Now, the front portion of the attic had some promise.  Or so my dad had apparently thought.  On each side of the room were newly installed wood beams that were destined to hold up some plasterboard walls.   Those boards were there lying on the floor waiting to be nailed up.   There was a jamb just dying for a door to be attached.  And, in the center of the alleged room, there was a huge kick-ass billiard table from the early 1900s.

Here's the back story...

My dad and his older brother, more commonly known as Uncle Fritz, had decided to turn our attic into a big play area.  Or a pool hall.  I have a faint memory of the two of them, twisting and turning up that winding staircase with those plaster boards.  How the pool table got up there is anybody's guess.  It was allegedly pure granite or slate.  The tale I heard was that they had purchased the pool table in pieces and reconstructed it up in the attic.  I pretty much stayed away of all the goings-on up there.  I was clearly in the way.  All I knew was that our attic was going to be some dynamite recreation room.

Then, Uncle Fritz had some sort of a routine surgery, got an infection as a result, and died at the age of 45.

The attic project was over. 

My father rarely went up to the attic again.

Almost twenty years later, when the house was sold and we all vacated, the attic was relatively unchanged.  The wooden beams were still naked.  The door jamb was still empty.  And the plasterboards were still lying on the floor.  My dad was that affected by his brother's early departure.

Of course, the billiard table was alive and well.  It provided hours of untold pleasure for my older cousins who used to retire up there for some "8-ball" after holiday dinners.  But it was never ever the same for my father.

When I got a little older, the pool table was there for me, too.  Oh, I never became anything close to Minnesota Fats.  But, it was a diversion for me and my best neighborhood pal Leo to play some billiards.  Or whatever an eleven-year-old with a cue stick might play.

Of course, our matches frequently dissolved into sports that were completely different.  Billiards would become a version of air hockey with cue balls.  We'd fling them across the table with abandon.  Fingernails got bruised.  And, from time to time, a ball would fly off the table.  One wound down the crawlspace of the house and might have nestled somewhere just above the first floor.  Another flew out the very window you see in the photo above.  Hit the sidewalk, rolled down the street, and landed in the sewer drain on First Street.

Yeah, we could be deadly.

The hole in the window pane created a small problem.  In those days, fessing up to your evil deed was not an option.  I simply pulled down the shade so the smashed glass was hidden.  Given that an adult rarely climbed up to the attic, it wasn't discovered for months.  The mound of snow on the floor in December was a dead give-away.

In much later years, the plastic cover on the billiard table was rarely removed as well.  It, like virtually everything else in the attic, had reached its expiration date of utility.  The only time anybody ventured up there was to retrieve the Christmas decorations. 

We had an artificial tree that always sat on top of our TV set every holiday season.  Eventually, my folks even got tired of decorating that.  So, my dad grabbed a dry cleaning bag and came up with a novel time saver.  The tree would never be "taken down."  On January 2, he simply would put the plastic bag over the decorated tree and carry it up to the attic.  Every Christmas, we could have the house decorated in the space of ten minutes.

You'd go up to the attic in the middle of the summer.  There would be the pool table still ready for memories that would never ever be made.  And, smack in the middle of it, our Christmas tree waiting to be displayed again for one more year.

I think about this all every time I drive by the house now.   I am dying to knock on the door and see what it looks like now.

Except, in this neighborhood now, such an action would simply draw the cops.

Dinner last night:  Pot roast with vegetables.

No comments: