Sunday, February 5, 2012

The House

My parents bought a small lot on Scotten Road in Brighton Beach in the early 50's.  The lot cost only $200 and was right next door to where we were renting a house from Dad's sister Velma.  Dad built the house himself.  I remember watching him through the old fashioned chain link fence (painted with silver paint - probably toxic and deemed environmentally unsafe nowadays.)   He dug the foundation by hand, mixed and poured the cement footings and laid the cement blocks.  Sometimes a buddy would come and help him with some of the work, most times he was over there by himself.

The house was really small - it was meant to be temporary.  There were only six rooms in total, counting the bathroom, for a family of five.  There were two bedrooms, a bathroom (that took several years to have the plumbing installed and hooked up), a living room, a kitchen and a utility room with only a crawl space underneath - no basement.  It was pretty tight quarters.  When we moved in, the floors were plywood, the walls were just the studs, no drywall (or gyp-rock as they called it back then) and the water supply consisted only of a pipe that stuck out of the laundry room floor.  From that pipe in the laundry room, cold water was put into a kettle or a large pot and carried into the kitchen for cooking and to wash dishes.  Those first few years, us kids were bathed in a galvanized tub that was about 2 and a half feet square, and sat on top of a folding "wash stand" as we called it, that was made from 2 inch wide slats of hardwood.  I hated how it felt when my toenails, or fingernails made contact with the galvanized iron sides of the tub and I get shivers up my spine to this day thinking about it.

After getting out of the tub I would be subjected to the agony of having the "rats nests" brushed out of my freshly washed hair, after which it was plaited into tight braids  My mother put up with my complaints for a few years, but no-one was happier than I when she finally let my get my hair "bobbed" and the daily nightmare of being brushed and braided was over.  I remember Mom telling the hair dresser to give me a "Pixie Cut" which must have been something like Mary Martin's who starred as Tinkerbelle in the stage version of Peter Pan back then.

The kitchen cubboards were home made - the table was a built-in in the corner, with benches that were attached permanently to the wall on two sides of the table.  It was angled on one side, to give more room to whoever was cooking in the kitchen.  The table had a yellow plastic cover that was wrapped around the top and probably staple-gunned underneath to keep it in place.  That was where we were subjected to the torture of "eating everything that is on your plates before you can leave the table".  Sometimes, if there were green beans, for instance, I would still be sitting there at 9 o'clock, when my Dad would give up checking on me and I was able to sneak the offending beans into the garbage.  (He probably knew exactly what I was doing, but was too tired to play the enforcer any longer and just let it lie.)

Our sleeping arrangements varied, except that Brenda and I (my older sister by 30 months) always shared the back bedroom.  The other bedroom usually was occupied by my brother David (half way between Brenda and I -  He was 15 months older than me and 15 months younger than her.) but he always had to share it with someone else.  For a year or two my grandfather lived with us (Grandpa Saunders) and he and David shared the bedroom while my parent slept on the fold-out couch in the living room.  I'm sure those were difficult years for Mom especially.  When Grandpa moved on, David shared that room with my parents.  It was set up like a master bedroom, with their bedroom suite, but in the corner was tucked my brother's iron bed, with his possessions all tucked under the bed.  There were two closets in that room - in separate corners.  The larger closet held David's dresser and had both his and Dad's clothes hanging in it.  The other closet was mainly Mom's, but also used for storage.  Between the bedrooms in the ceiling was a very special attraction for us kids - the hatch that opened up into the attic where all kinds of wonderful things were stored - from broken toys to Christmas decorations to old clothes that might become useful again someday.  The fans went up there in the winter and were brought down for the sultry non-airconditioned days of the summer.  Our high chair, and some baby things were stored up there until finally some cousins came along on my mother's side and then everything was passed to them when I was about 10 years old.

The living room was painted "Wedgewood Blue" my dad's favourite colour of paint.  Not surprisingly, it was his taste which dominated the main room of the house.  The other furnishings were stark - though the couches changed a time or two, there were never any end tables in that room.  I remember well the day the Waddell's truck pulled up in front of our house and two delivery men carried in our first television set in 1960 . I was seven years old.

The exterior of the house was cedar clapboard.  The year we sold the house, Uncle Lawrie came up to help Dad burn off the peeling white paint with a propane torch, scrape the wood as clean as possible and apply a fresh coat of brilliant white paint.  The doors, front and back, were painted dark green.

It took Dad six or seven years to finish that little house.  He worked hard on it.  The porches were made from cement blocks and then capped.  Dad built the forms for the caps and then mixed the concrete and filled them.  I remember Grandpa Daub coming to help with the back porch;  I think Dad did the front porch himself.  He also built curbs to separate the gravel driveway from the flower gardens which surrounded it and poured cement sidewalks.  The double hung windows were built and glazed by hand.  Aluminum storm windows with screens were screwed to the outside.  The drywall was put up room by room and took years.  The floor was oak hardwood, laid, sanded and finished when us kids were away at the grandparents' for the summer.

When it was finally time to move up, the house was sold in 1960 for $6000.

1 comment:

  1. I just found this blog today....Jan.22, 2015. It is a wonderful record of our early days in the house that Hugh built. You remember a lot of things that I don't so I am very grateful for you filling in the gaps. I remember the day we got the T.V. as well. We sat on the bare plywood floor enraptured with the Mickey Mouse Club, the Friendly Giant and others which I don't recall. If that memory is correct, then the T.V. was delivered before 1960 because the floor was unfinished. I remember it being 1956-1957. The house was sold in 1963 because there is a photo of me in my grade 8 grad dress taken in the living room. There is also a photo of our 1963 Ford Falcon in the driveway at Scotten Road. I went to Forester for grade 9, then we sold the house in the summer and moved to Matchette? Road just before school started in the fall of 1964. I spent grade 10 at Forester and we moved to Sierra in the summer of 1965. I was 15 at the time so it was 1965. You and I together have a great memory!