I would grow up living my parents post war American dreams.
Nothing personified that dream more than our suburban home where they lived for nearly 62 years. My foundation was entrenched in that home so it should be no surprise then that my interests are rooted in that time and place.
That suburban dream that had sprung up in a field of potatoes was their Promised Land, one that beckoned millions of post war pioneers including my parents.
Now it is time to let go of that house.
Last week I had the sad task of going back to the familiar house on Western Park Drive for the last time to bid farewell as my brother and I have sold the house.
After the closing today, it will belong to someone else.
As I walked from room to room weighted with melancholy I felt the enormous trajectory of my parents entire adult life, and of mine life lived in this house.
The house once bursting with vitality was disconcertingly quiet that day, say for the symphony of suburban sounds of leaf blowers and lawn mowers, a sound once reserved for weekend mornings.
Seeing the house barren, and bereft of the familiar and meaningful items that made it a home, was at first unnerving. But I soon began to see the unadorned, vacant house as it must have looked to my 28-year-old mother Betty the first time she gazed upon this newly built house and decided to make it her home six decades ago.
For the first time, I saw the house anew, as an empty canvas with potential for a dream.
Now standing in that same place in a different century that late afternoon, entrusted with this somber duty of selling that house and leaving forever, I felt myself transported back to early 1955 when a 30 something ex GI, and his very pregnant wife, first looked at this brand new house that would be their home for the rest of their lives.
Though technically I was there that day I was there in vitro, and it was a womb without a view.
I was the second tenant to take up temporary residency in Mom’s cozy uterus ( it was a bit of a fixer upper due to he ear and tear of its original tenant my restless older brother) but my family would be the first occupants to live in this brand new ranch house on a brand new block.
Scanning the empty rooms and bare walls this past Tuesday, I could imagine my mother Betty mentally installing furniture and decorating its rooms. This new house on Western Park Drive that would the beginning of the fulfillment of those post war dreams allowing them to envision the life they would lead with the family they were just beginning.
The house hunting process all began because of a bunch of wooden toy building blocks.
By February of 1955 they were the parents of a precocious 2-year-old, my brother Andy, and with a baby due soon, things were too darn cramped in their small apartment in Far Rockaway.
Dad had tripped over my Robert Moses-wanna-be brother Andy’s wooden triangles, square and rectangles one too many times. There wasn’t enough room for building a pretend superhighway and a new baby.
Like thousands of other young married apartment dwellers, they began the arduous task of house hunting. Every weekend they trudged out East to Long Island in their Chevy BelAire, making sure to “Fill ‘er up” at the local Texaco station. But not to worry ‘cause gasoline was the biggest bargain on Americas shopping list even if it had gone up to 29 cents a mile.
The roads were jammed with other young couples seeking the same dream, creating the first real traffic jams they had ever seen. In a few short years there would be great ‘superhighways” of the sort my parents had seen at the GM Futurama exhibit, of auto’s speeding down multi lane, limited access highways. The huge interstate highway system was just starting and would change the driving landscape of suburbia and America.
My grandmother fretted about a pregnant Betty taking such long car rides. Driving an automobile when my Nana Sadie was pregnant was definitely forbidden, and motoring in general had to be restricted especially on rough roads. But Mom smiled, remarking it was a new age. Settling into the roomy car as my brother jumped around the back seat, she lit a cigarette or two and waited out the traffic jams.
Criss crossing Nassau County, they’d been to so many new developments, traipsing from house to house; seen so many new models that they were totally confused.
Just as all the houses seemed to look the same so the other house hunting couples all seemed to mirror their own experience. Urbanites all, they were remarkably the same age, had fought in the same war, and were just beginning new families.
At last they settled on a town – West Hempstead- because it boasted large shopping centers, a sewer system installed, as well as paved roads, plenty of baseball diamonds for little league, goods schools, and only 40 minutes from the city.
My father Marvin got out of the car and stood on the little patch of newly seeded lawn in front of the model ranch style house sitting on a dusty plot of land broken into parceled lots that would be built into a paved street. The land which only a year or two ago belonged to Gutsky farm still had a stray chicken or two roaming around the lots.
The street would be called Western Park Drive, the name evoking the pioneer spirit they both felt. It was, Mom determined, an omen.
This new suburbia would be their own Disneyland, a combination of Frontierland and Tomorrowland.
Stepping inside the model home, Betty closed the front door behind her, and stood in the foyer looking around the spacious, sunny living room with the requisite large picture window. With her hands clasped, face radiant she whispered to Marvin: “It’s perfect. It’s different from any other house we’ve seen.” Dad smiled. He knew that eventually when all the houses were built one could walk 2 houses down and see another just like it. And 2 after that…
But she didn’t see a development, she saw a dream.
Betty walked from room to room, envisioning the life they would lead, the dinner parties she would host, the holidays they would celebrate, marveling at the carefree-new-as-tomorrow kitchen she had yearned for. Choosing the appropriate color schemes from the sparkling array of new color appliances for the kitchen would be frustrating. Should she go for prelude pink or tempo turquoise?
Pausing in the coziest, sunniest one of the 3 bedrooms, she lingered, imagining how perfect it would be for her- hoping-against-hope-please-let-it-be-a-girl new baby.
“It ought to be bright and gay with enchanting sheer pink organza curtains to let in lots of cheery light, a soft plush pink rug underfoot to crawl on, and most importantly, the walls would be covered entirely with gay pink wallpaper with loads of playful prancing, kittens and lambs gambling through the room.”
And in fact that is just how it was. Of course in time those prancing kittens and lambs would be replaced by posters of Bobby Sherman and Bobby Kennedy. But that lay far into the future.
“Only $20,000!” the realtor exclaimed interrupting her reverie. With only a few parcels left, she urged Marvin to leave a $10 deposit securing their legacy in suburbia.
So they bought the house, a sprawling ranch with a sprawling mortgage helped in part by the GI Bill . Betty may have come to buy a house, but she sold Marvin on a dream.
My parents established roots here and dug in, growing deeper and wider through the years. Unlike others, my parents never transplanted elsewhere. While many seniors headed south they dug in, preferring south shore of Long Island. This is where they chose to stay. These were their roots.
These are my roots too and they always will be, no matter who lives there.
Though others will now soon live there my memories will never be uprooted.
My imprint on the house, like the image of the shadow on the tree is there forever.
As I prepared to say goodby to my childhood home of 63 years, I knew I needed to leave something of myself behind.
As a lover of history and a self-confessed pop culture junkie, it seemed only right that I bury a metal time capsule filled with photos and artifacts spanning 6 decades, explaining who these first residents were who settled into a brand new ranch house in a suburban development that sprung up out of a potato field in 1955.
Digging in the warming earth, the same soil I dug in as a 5-year-old I planted it deeply next to the foundation, beneath my parents bedroom window.
This seems just right.
Along with the time capsule there needed synchronicity and I found one that was perfect.
As a child I loved digging in the dirt and was always discovering shards of old pottery which we said was from the Dutch settlers. (more likely farmers from the 1900s) My niece and nephew Jessie and Sam carried on the fascination and we would always go hunting for pieces of pottery excited by the finds and creating stories around them on our weekly Sunday visits. This continued until even a year and a half ago. So it makes sense for me to bury shards of my family’s pottery and China for another generation to discover.
It’s also burying the broken shards of my heart.
Copyright (©) 20018 Sally Edelstein Envisioning the American Dream All Rights Reserved
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