Embracing My Roots

Photo Sally Edelstein 1956 Suburbia

Embracing my suburban roots

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.

photo sally edelstein empty home

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.

Vintage ad suburban couple and suburban house

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.

Her dream.

August 1955 in our new home.

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.

Suburbia Beckons

suburban developments 1950s

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.

Vintage 1950s cartoon suburbia Ahead

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.

Building Blocks

Vintage illustration family house hunting in suburbia

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.

Manifest Destiny

personal photo of sally edelstein suburbia 1950s

My brother in the potato farm in our backyard 1956, still undeveloped. In a few years it would be filled with split levels.

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.

vintage Blueprint for suburban home 1955

Blueprint to the parcel of land that would be our new home. 1955

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.

personal family photo 1950s family

1957 Suburban family

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.

Deposit For a New House Vintage document

Receipt for deposit to the new house… $10!

“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.

Roots

personal photo Sally Edelstein Shadow on tree

I took this picture as I left for the last time of the large sycamore tree in front of my house that like me began life there as a little spindly sapling and now we are both grown up…literally.

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.

Post Script

personal photo sally Edelstein

Burying a time capsule at my parents home May 2018

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.

personal photo Sally Edelstein 1958 suburbia

Incorporating the pioneer Western spirit, I sported a Davy Crockett shirt 1958 in front of my house on Western Park Drive, where 60 years later I buried mementos

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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15 comments

  1. Not only is this sweetly sentimental and so from the depth of your heart, it also is an artifact — your continuing story of life in America based on real days, real events, real dreams and real spirit. Thank you, Sally.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. airclowns

    Hi Sally, thank you for sharing your memories. We are kindred spirits, I am just a few years older than you but grew up on the West Coast. I have very similar experiences in the suburbs of Los Angeles, where my father was an illustrator in the advertising business, a “Mad Man” on the west coast (I tell people when Don Draper got off the plane in L.A., my Dad was already working there). I have wonderful memories of my childhood there, but they sold the house when I was 14 and it broke my heart to move away. As an adult, I drove by the house one day and it was for sale. I called the realtor and arranged a showing, and I pretended to be an interested house-hunter as I took the bittersweet tour through my childhood home. I saw how small the rooms became, and I noted on the wall of my bedroom that there were still the impressions of the screws that held shelves over my bed holding my dreams up as I slept beneath them. I played the part of potential buyer well until I went into the garage and saw something on the wall. It was a vacuum cleaner canister that had been built into the house, you could plug in a hose to the wall in every room to vacuum. The realtor said, “I bet that’s something you’ve never seen before!” I blurted out the truth to the disappointed realtor, that it had been the home where I grew up, where I fretted over the Cold War, where I loved a girl for the first time, where I marveled over the mysteries I encountered as a child. Thanks always for sharing, you express a lot of my feelings about the past and the current state of our country. May we find a way out of our twisted reality today.

    Jeff Thompson

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Jeff for sharing your own memories and we do sound like kindred spirits. I loved he story of your visit to that home and was secretly hoping the end of the story might well be that you decided to purchase your former childhood home. Those places are densely filled with our histories and the history of our times making for potent memories. In an overloaded media circus, thanks for taking the time to stop by my site.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. airclowns

    P.S.- my home was also brand new when we moved in, my school was one block away, my mother’s name was Betty, and it was 1955 when we moved in, the year Disneyland opened. You got a good deal, our house cost $26,000. It’s worth millions now.
    Jeff

    Liked by 2 people

    • I love that your Dad was a Mad Men era illustrator as that is what I aspired to as a child where I pretended to run my own advertising agency. And speaking of Mad Men, although we both had a Betty as mothers. I beat you by one by being a Sally Beth as a daughter

      Liked by 2 people

  4. airclowns

    Wow! that is amazing, you had the same name as a Draper… that is so funny that you pretended to run your own ad agency. You’ve come close, even better because you are a great communicator, also love your collage work.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. airclowns

    You may enjoy my site Vintagetvart.com. When my dad passed away, he left hundreds of prints illustrations of work he did for television shows. He worked for a syndicator in New York, and his work was distributed to newspapers across the country. We do limited edition art reprints of many of them. I write all the copy for those pieces.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Love the work! How great of you that you are keeping it alive. As a collector of a great deal of TV ephemera and illustration I will say its a safe bet I may have some of your Dads printed work in my vast collection. I am going to be in Northern Cal. this summer for an art show, but I see you are in Southern CA. or I would love to meet for a drink.

      Like

  6. I would be very interested to visit your site, which sounds up my alley. Thanks for letting me know

    Like

  7. Laura B.

    Of all your writing Sally, this is my favourite. I love the way you were able to see your home through your mother’s eyes – I think it is a very appropriate send-off and I like to think your mother is happy about that.

    The time capsule is a beautiful idea and gives a new sense of hope to the house’s future.

    Bravo, Sally, and thank you so much for sharing your journey with us.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I read your comment on the car ride home from the closing and your meaningful words went straight to my heart. Thank you for your kindness and it is always my hope that my mother sees and hears the love that I send her way. Thank you for joining me on this journey and lending your support

      Like

  8. blumrosen

    Sally – Once again you have taken the words from my thoughts and put them in bits and bytes I can see. Thank you.

    My dad had an apartment in NYC. He passed away July, 2015 and our listing agent just found a buyer (we hope). It was well-lived-in for the 30 years we were there.

    I have visited other homes in which I have lived. The one in a suburb outside Newark, NJ, is where I spent a lot of elementary school. The rooms are smaller, now. I’m bigger.

    But, at the moment, I feel like the little person sitting on the floor in the picture you’ve shared with us. Big place filled with immense memories.

    Stuff worth sharing.
    Steven

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am glad that I could help evoke feelings for you Steven. Though locations and details vary, these feelings are all universal and it is good for all of us to know we are not alone with this. The memories can be overwhelming as they wash over you but absorb them, dont retreat from them, honor them and at the end of this journey there will be peace. We just closed on the house yesterday, and now in the quiet afterwards it has the the similar feeling after a loved one has passed away with the funeral and memorial behind you. The quiet brings up all the feelings again and that is only right. They are decades worth of memories after all. Keep me posted how the sale goes with your Dads apartment and I hope its a smooth transaction.

      Like

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