I spent the first 18 years of my life in the same house, at 5 Gaines Street in Binghamton, NY. Gaines was a very short street between Oak Street and Front Street, with only 16 possible addresses, and actually fewer buildings than that.
At the corner of Gaines and Front was O’Leary’s convenience store. I went there and bought packs of baseball cards, but I also had to buy my father’s Winston cigarettes, which irritated me greatly.
In the yard at 1 Gaines Street was a huge gnarled tree which terrified me. It looked just one of those angry apple trees from the movie The Wizard of Oz. At some point, the family that had moved in there decided to take it down. My father told the owner that the way they were cutting the tree, it was going to crash into their house. The guy told my father to shut up and mind his own business; the tree crashed into their house, doing considerable damage to the roof.
The folks at 11 Gaines had an extra large lot with a huge garden, and chickens. When a foul ball would fall into that yard, the fence was too high, yet too wobbly to climb, and we had to wait for someone to throw the ball back.
The family at 13 Gaines was named Greene. We often got their mail, and vice versa.
There was a factory across from our house, but I never knew what was made there. It changed hands several times.
We had our tiny lot at 5 Gaines, where I played kickball with my sisters. Our house was actually green, asbestos on the exterior. There was a lilac bush right next to the house; it didn’t look very impressive, but it smelled wonderful. Still the single smell that reminds me most of growing up.
When I was born, we lived upstairs in the two-family dwelling, but by the following year, when my first sister was born, we had moved downstairs, and my paternal grandparents had moved upstairs.
Our half of the house was quite small. When my second sister was born, my room was carved out of what was essentially a large hallway. But it was OK. My father painted the solar system on my ceiling, with the proportions from an encyclopedia entry I found.
Dad was always painting on the walls; I don’t mean painting the walls. In the living room, on one wall, were snow-peaked mountains. On another was a scene in the tradition of a busy Western European marketplace; I assume he tried to recreate an existing painting, but don’t know which one.
I’d go up and visit my grandparents often. One time, when I was about three, I fell down the steps. To this day, I have a bump just below my lower lip where I cannot grow facial hair.
Our Christmas decorations were kept upstairs, “under the house,” which is to say in the room off the kitchen where the roof slanted so that an adult could not stand.
When I was born, our church, Trinity A.M. E. Zion was downtown. But when that street was turned into a city park, the church moved to within two blocks of our house, at Oak Street and Lydia Street. (Hmm – I wonder if the naming of my daughter was affected by the street on which I spent a LOT of time.)
Enough about me for this week.
The guy in the middle is my father; the woman on the right is his mom. Not sure who the others are, though I suspect the boy is a cousin of dad’s; he has the Walker “look.”