Visiting Aunt Goldie in Parkersburg
The Old Climbing House
It seems as memories serve that we visited my aunt Goldie and Murl my grandfather who lived with her during the hottest times of the year. Well, it had to be summer because that is when we could take vacations. Goldie lived in Parkersburg, West Virginia where my father was born and raised. His mother; my grandmother I never knew, passed the year I was born.
The house; long gone now, was on Emerson…a busy thoroughfare. I always called her house a climbing house. It was a large wooden frame structure almost hanging over the street. We used to sit on the big covered front porch waving at passing semis trying to get them to respond to our gestures with a blast from their loud air horns.
There was a plethora of nooks and crannies in the house along with outdoor walkways that meandered through herb and flower gardens that shared their space with gigantic tree roots. There were lots of places for a kid to “climb” up on or in and around…a climbing house. We loved going to Goldie’s. I’d push open the heavy door of the beige and white Ford and run up to the side of the house. The wooden framed screen door would bang against its frame announcing our arrival as my sister and I ran inside to the hugs and kisses of our Goldie. The aroma of fried chicken would follow behind her as she came from the kitchen through the front room to greet us.
My parents would follow us in the door and almost immediately Goldie would send us upstairs for our “gift boxes” which I now realize was just a good way to get rid of the kids so the adults could get reacquainted in peace and quiet. Passing the only bathroom in the house we’d run up the long flight of stairs to the attic room that was where my Dad and I slept. Knowing exactly where the gift boxes were always hidden, we’d run in and attack them with glee. I guess my sister's had girlie things, dolls and dolly clothes and jacks…she always got jacks. Mine though held great things. Balsa gliders that would end up on the roof or in the big cherry tree, rubber bouncing balls and best of all…a roll of dimes for the pinball machines at the local amusement park!
The attic room was like no other room I’ve been in since that time. The storage area was a separate room lined with windows overlooking the street below. It had a shiny hardwood floor and lots of hidden cupboards. The main room had a bank of heavy framed windows that were so hard to open and close that they just always were open…the white curtains catching any breeze that they could find. I remember the pilot light for the heater used to burn a bluish white and hissed all the time…even in the summer. And I always like to push the buttons that turned the lights on and off. We didn’t have light switches like that at home.
With our toys in hand, we would run back downstairs. On the landing at the top of the stairs there was a dark little desk with a black telephone on it as well as a green lamp. My sister would carefully navigate the steep stairs while I would slide down on the paisley carpet on my rump. Thump, thump, thump.
The adults were usually gathered on the side, screened porch adjacent to the kitchen. I always loved that kitchen. Goldie would sneak soft drinks and candy to me and only to me in there. The tile flooring was bright red and the cabinets were painted bright white. In the corner screens had been wired together for a makeshift pen for Sandy, the Springer Spaniel who pretty much ignored us. A pantry at the far end of the kitchen was hidden behind tight fitting drapery. A big, round table sat right next to the door leading to the porch area.
Quickly bored with the conversation, my sister and I would run about to the backyard. The far corners were easily identified and were our boundaries. One corner had a giant cherry tree that I would climb while in the other corner was the trash incinerator…an old rusty drum where household trash was burned. It always was smoldering, wisps of smoke trickling skyward. I’d fly my gliders and my sister would sit under the cherry tree playing with her dolls soon to be joined by the neighbor’s daughter of about the same age.
As evening approached and dinner time was eminent, my grandfather would come home from working at the railroad where he was a brakeman. I always got a leg and we’d eat that good fried chicken, cornbread and I remember we always had pickles. Goldie liked to can pickles. There was no television as I recall so after dinner we would sit on the front porch. We weren’t allowed to go through the front living room to the porch. We got to it by going through the side porch and up the grey wooden stairs. The plank floor was the same gray color. A green awning could close the porch for privacy but we never saw it any way but in the open position. There was a metal glider that looked kind of like a sofa but it slid backwards and forward on rails … on one side while metal rocking chairs were haphazardly scattered around.
My father would often reminisce and repeat the stories we’d always heard. There was the time he shot an arrow into the air high over the highway which wasn’t a highway back then. The arrow landed next to a man working on a bill board and had it been a few inches to the right would have killed him. My Dad would throw giant “cracker balls” like the little colored ones we’d buy and throw on the big rock next to the porch giggling at the loud popping noise they made. The ones my Dad had were the size of a fifty cent piece and would nearly cause an accident. He thought that was funny. I wanted to buy some of those big cracker balls but never did.
Days were spent driving around Parkersburg past the many houses where my father had lived. Whatever the reason and thinking back I would have to say it was because my grandfather “drank is paycheck,” my father moved often because of financial hardships. We’d visit my Uncle Bill and Aunt Fran. They had a fun terrier named Frankie that we loved to play with in their lush green yard. And at least once during our stay we would go to the park where I played all the pinball machines with my roll of dimes and at night watch the fireworks display.
I don’t remember when Goldie died. Murl came to live with us and eventually was placed in a home where old people go to die. My father and I would go by after church to visit with him and listen to him gripe about the lousy food and complain about the gifts we took with us. I never cried at his funeral. I miss my Aunt Goldie, though. And I miss that great old climbing house.