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You Can Go Home Again. - For a Short Visit.

Updated on December 2, 2015

The House With No Electricity: by Bill Russo

It stood on an old road in an ancient New England town. From the sidewalk, if you did not look closely, it looked like all the other houses.

It was white with gray trim, four rooms in a single story, supported by a foundation of stone and mortar. Though the outward differences were few, a close inspection would reveal that there were no wires leading to the weathered home. No telephone connection. No shiny strands to illuminate Edison’s bulbs or to warm up the tubes of a radio.

In a town bustling with post-war prosperity, everyone (except us) had electricity. Every living room boasted a radio of some sort. There were Zenith floor model radios for the rich, and RCA sets for most people, and Sears (Silvertone) receivers for those who bought from the “Wishbook”.

The trolley tracks that ran down the street were being paved over; because Detroit and Washington had made a deal that rails of all sorts, had to step aside in favor of the new crop of 1949 automobiles.

Chevy made a nice little six cylinder car. So did Dodge, Hudson, Packard and Studebaker, but the flathead v-8 from Ford was perhaps the most prized car of the year.

In the house with no electricity, there was no garage. That was not a problem because the man who owned the house had no car. He walked to his job in the shoe factory. His wife stayed home as she had nowhere to go. And their nine year old boy, me, walked to the Hardy School which was less than a half-mile away.

I liked the walk because it helped to get the smell of wood smoke off my clothes.
Most modern people heated with coal. It gave lots of warmth and was easy to take care of. On 'Ashday', every Wednesday, the coal people put their cans out. Except if it was snowing, then they spread the ashes over the sidewalks.

We heated our house with a combination of two wood-burning units. In the kitchen, at the front of the house, was the stove. It served as the cook stove, but also was a heat source. In the back of the home, was a Franklin stove. The middle of the house was divided into two rooms. My parents bedroom was on one side and mine was on the other.

In wintertime, we would load up the two stoves and open the bedroom doors so the heat would flow through all four rooms. It worked well and we were warm, but I always smelled of charred embers.

By the time I got to school, my walk had freshened me and I didn’t smell any different than anyone else. I had friends at school, but no close ones. I did not want to get so chummy that I would have to have dinner at their house, and they at mine. I didn’t want anyone to know that I lived in the house without electricity.

I kept up with all the latest radio shows by listening to my classmates. During recess and break times they often discussed the exploits of the Lone Ranger or the Shadow.

In summertime, I could even hear parts of the great radio series by listening at the open windows of neighbors’ houses.

Don’t get the idea that I felt poor. My Mum gave me five cents for every recess. That was my favorite time at school. The teacher would bring out two huge boxes, the size of milk crates. In one would be 'Cheeze-its'. We could buy six of them for a penny. Nabisco’s greatest creation, ‘Nuggets’, were in the other box. They were round, about the size of a silver dollar and were loaded with chocolate bits. For one cent, you got two Nuggets. I always bought a penny’s worth of Cheeze-its and a penny’s worth of Nuggets. A carton of milk for three cents, completed my snack.

I loved school. I relished being able to snap a switch and watch the light bulb instantly burst into brightness; with no stink of kerosene. I also cherished the toilets. I would sit on them and luxuriate even when I didn’t have to go. I enjoyed flushing them and hearing the water swirl around.

There were no toilets in the house without electricity. We had an attached shed and at the back of the shed was a 'two-holer'. It was two round openings cut in wood and you sat down and did your business, and everything plopped to the ground below.

Papa put lime on the droppings at regular intervals so the smell wouldn’t get too bad. In the wintertime the 'two-holer' was freezing, so I would try to ’hold it’ until I got to school.

“Papa,” I said one frosty morning, “why can’t we have a real bathroom? It’s too cold to use the two-holer.”

“What are you complaining about?,” he said, “In my day, we only had a 'one-holer'. If two people had to go at once, somebody was out of luck! And also, back then, our 'one-holer' was about two hundred feet away from the house.. How’d you like to have something like that in the middle of a blizzard? You should appreciate our fine two-holer".

I should have appreciated our fine well water too. Except I lost enthusiasm for drinking from that well when I saw Papa, more than once, bring up the bucket only to have it half filled with water and the other half with some dead & rotting varmint.

I should have appreciated all the fine chicken meals Mama used to make too. She always made tomato sauce with delicious meat in it.

“What’s the meat in this sauce Mama? It’s great!”
“That’s chicken, Billy. I’m glad you like it,” Mama answered.
Her meals did taste good, but I lost much of my appetite when I found out that ‘chicken’ was a generic term for whatever Papa gave her to cook.

After work, he used to feed the neighborhood pigeons . The birds loved him. He’d spread breadcrumbs around and they joyously pecked away at them. The pigeons would walk right into his hand to get the best crumbs.

Then Papa would close his fist. That afternoon’s pigeon, became the evening’s ‘chicken’.
I can only speculate at what other kinds of 'chicken' I've eaten. I like to think that the list is limited to rabbits and squirrels.

The 1950s arrived and so did television. Everybody saved their money so that they could be the first on the block to have one.

The ‘next-door people’ got a set and they told me that I was welcome to look at it. I could stand outside and peer through their window anytime I wanted to. I watched fairly often, and they always lifted the sill a few inches so that I was able to hear the sound. I enjoyed television, but not as much as radio.

Dramatic radio back then, and even now, was a much more fascinating and stimulating experience. If you have ever heard the original “War of the Worlds”, or “Sorry Wrong Number”, or Escape’s “Three Skeleton Key”; then you might understand.

At sixteen, I left the house without electricity, got a job washing dishes at the Rose Restaurant, and rented an apartment with two friends. The home was owned by the brother of one of my pals.

I had my own room. The house had electricity. It had a real bathroom. I would spend many happy moments simply snapping on and off the lights. There was a common TV in the living room, but I hardly watched it. I had my own radio in my room.

It was 1959. Jack Benny was off the air - he went to television. So did George Burns and Gracie Allen, and Milton Berle. But 'Gunsmoke' had taken over the radio airwaves, along with 'Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar'. 'Escape' was still on and so was 'Lux Radio theater'.

Life was great. I lived in a house with electricity, light bulbs and a radio.
Now, more than fifty years later, I still live in a house with electricity. I have a giant flat screen television. It is internet equipped and is tied into a magic box called Roku.

With Roku you can watch nearly any TV show that was ever produced. You can select from tens of thousands of movies. You can watch films from the silent era right up to the hits of today!

There’s something else you can do with Roku. You can hear old time radio shows. You can listen to any radio show broadcast during the golden age; or you can even listen to the best of today’s offerings, like Prairie Home Companion.

Picture this. I turn on my state of the art HD flat screen TV from 2015;equipped with Roku, Netflix, Crackle and more; and I tune into The Fred Allen Show from 1949.

I turn out the lights and listen to Fred, walking down Allen’s Alley talking with Senator Claghorn; and for a few moments it is 1949 again.

Listen in for a few seconds as the brash old time politician brags to Fred about his favorite topic, the South..........

“I’m from the South son,” Claghorn tells Fred. “I love the South son. Why, when I am in New York, I won’t even go to Yankee Stadium. And you know South Carolina? Do you know what’s above it? Upper South Carolina!!!!!!. That’s a joke son.”

As I listen, once again I am living in the house with no electricity. I am still nine years old. Mama’s making sauce with faux chicken and Papa’s chopping and stacking wood.
It wasn’t much, the house with no electricity. But it was home.
And though it’s true you can’t go home again; you can go back for a visit.


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    • Billrrrr profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Russo 

      3 years ago from Cape Cod

      Thanks Genna for reading and for a wonderful comment. So many of the things we had in the past were not as terrific as our memories make them seem. The new inventions are always better. I keep telling myself this and I do tend to believe it, at least until I have another dropped call on the %$#$#%^^ cellphone that costs more for a month than a full year of service for the trusty landlines of yesteryear - which worked even when the power went out ! !! !!!

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 

      3 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      A beautiful reminiscence, recalling times of not so long ago. Memories can take us back for a visit to those days before modern technology, by using modern technology. I wonder what our children and their children will say years hence, when they think of the "old days" of classic IPhones and HD flats. It's a landscape I'm not sure I'd want to live in; but to each time, there is a time. And so be it, my friend. :-) Beautiful story.

    • Billrrrr profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Russo 

      3 years ago from Cape Cod

      Thanks for the wonderful comment pstraubie48. This hub is like historical fiction in that parts of it are drawn from from real life and other sections are the writing equivalent of dropping the reins and letting your horse pick its own way through the forest. Your account of your youth and going back home again was fascinating. Since graduating from high school in 1961, I have been to one reunion - the 40th. After the death of my parents, one year apart, I never again returned to the old home town because I think I would have the same experience you did when you went back. Keep up the wonderful work.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 

      3 years ago from sunny Florida

      Thanks Bill for taking us on a journey into your 'house of yesteryear.'

      It seems you traversed the waters of your youth and have come to 2015 many who were poor use that as an excuse to explain why they grew up to do this or that; and some use it as an excuse to be stuck in 'being poor.'

      I digress though, sorry.

      We had a coal stove which went cold in the wee hours but my Daddy was always up early, got it going well, and we would hang our clothes on the metal sides of the stove to warm them before we dressed. In our kitchen, beside our stove, we had a wood stove where my Daddy made some of the best breakfasts this side of heaven...

      We were poorer than many of my friends but not the poorest in our tiny town. But you know what? I did not feel different from them. Sometimes I did long for some of the 'things' my friends had, I do admit that. But their homes could not have had more love and caring than ours did..and I carry that with me today even though my parents have been gone for over 30 years.

      I wrote, when I was a senior in high school, 1966, a story for my Advanced Journalism class, can't go home again. So your title struck a chord with me.

      My senior year I went to live with my sister in Pennsylvania as a way to transition from a very rural life to a more city life. It was a grand year. But I went home to visit once. And I just did not fit in. My friends with whom I had been friends since birth had moved on. They had jokes and experiences that no longer were part of my frame of reference so it was a rude awakening of sorts.

      But it was okay. Because I realized that I too had moved friends, new experiences, new life goals.

      I visited my old home place in 198 7 many years later or I should say the grounds on which my old home place stood on for the home I grew up in no longer stands. But the memories that were made there live on.

      Thank you for sharing this episode of your life with us.

      Angels are on the way to you this morning ps

    • Billrrrr profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Russo 

      3 years ago from Cape Cod

      Ah Northern New England. I have spent a good deal of time there, ahorseback, and I love it. From Caribou and Presque Isle in The County, to Portland and Bangor, I have spent sunny summer days and frozen winter nights all through Maine. In New Hampshire, I have lived and vacationed in places like Conway, New Boston, and Kingston. In Barre, Vermont I was rejected for my first radio DJ job, so I went on up to Madawaska and stayed for quite a while. The home that I used for this story was actually an old farm house on 90 acres in New Hampshire that my Dad and his brothers purchased in the 1950s. The home was rustic and delightful for a stay of a few days or a few weeks, but I did not have to live in it. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • Billrrrr profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Russo 

      3 years ago from Cape Cod

      Thanks John once again for a wonderful comment that has me again searching for some new, old things. Bluebottle. I had forgotten that one. It was Peter Sellers playing the part of Bluebottle on the 1950s British radio program, The Goon Show. The Greenbottle is new to me. I think that it was an Australian comedy program, perhaps similar to the Goon Show. I am going to have to search around a bit for more info. Thanks for telling me about the coke stove and the thunder box. The story is a verbal salad made up of a composite of child hood memories including quite a few nights in a hunting lodge that was the inspiration for this story. I have made a recording of my reading of this tale, with myself in ukulele accompaniment. I think it came out pretty good. The style, if I may allow myself a compliment, is very close to Garrison Keillor who has one of the most popular radio programs in the U.S. It's a two hour variety show on Public Radio. He has millions of listeners and the weekly highlight is a nostalgic monologue about his mythical childhood in an imagined town called Lake Wobegone. I hope to make a professional recording of my narration of this story and make it available on Youtube. Thanks again for your great response and for Christmas, my wish for you is that they expand full internet to your area so that you can have fuller access.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      There is a lot of Americana and a lot of history packed into this wonderful story about a time long gone now....I could smell the smoke too...the crispness of the air....great story, Bill.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Holly cow ! I just realized , in northern new England where I grew up in the fifties and sixties as a child , how similar this story is ! I'm sure we have "forgotten" the worst and romanticized the rest though . some memories I don't even want to recall . But , we owe an honor to our parents for that don't we . ........thank you for this and the memories .

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      3 years ago from Queensland Australia

      ...or was that radio show called "Bluebottle??"

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      3 years ago from Queensland Australia

      This was quite a nostalgic read Bill. I am a little younger than you and in my earliest memories we did have electricity at our house, though we had an outdoor lavatory called a "thunder box" here and also an icebox instead of a refrigerator. Men came to empty the thunder box each week, and another brought ice. We did not have a TV immediately they were introduced to Australia, but the neighbours got one and invited me (then about six years old)over to watch it when I wanted.

      We had radios, or wirelesses actually, and I remember listening to "Green Bottle", "The Lone Ranger", By the time we purchased a TV my favourite shows were things like "Twilight Zone" and "The Outer Limits" and cartoons. We did have a coke stove and a copper for boiling water.

      Even today I do not have the latest technology, no Internet TV, Netflix or

      Roku, because we only have Satellite Internet and we don't have enough download allowance to watch movies or streaming TV. I enjoyed this hub and reminiscing.


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