Tuesday, March 14, 2023

This old house: after 50 plus years, I think I’m finally ready to move on

Can I share something a bit long, a bit odd?  Back in mid-February I’d written about going to visit my old apartment here in the city.  My friend Robin emailed me a day or so later and said that after reading my post, she had a dream where she got to revisit her childhood home.

I thanked her for passing that along, then thanked her for reminding me to do the same.  Y’see, since Google Maps began photographing the planet in February 2005, I’ve been waiting patiently for them to capture MY childhood home.  Every so often I’d go on to Google Maps, plug in the address—260 South Cumberland Street—nothing.

And then finally, after 17 years there it was.  That’s my childhood home on Cumberland Street at the top.  It’s weird to see the empty space on it’s left, when I was a child an old Polish woman named Katie lived in a gray tiled house right next to ours.  It was torn down 40+ years ago.

To our right was the Johnsons, and over the years I’ve seen it on sites like Howard Hanna being sold again & again!

Not our house though—the people who bought it and moved in after us are still the same owners. 

We left there the week before school began, in August 1970.  We moved “to the country” 7-8 miles outside of town.  It wasn’t really a farm, but at times we had a couple livestock and a giant vegetable garden.  We called it the farmhouse and made a lot of happy memories there. 

(I’ve talked about our farmhouse before, and after discovering an aerial photograph was taken of it in the 1970s, I shared it here.)

But before the farmhouse, we lived in town in a nice neighborhood that was my world.  One block down from us was a pair of sisters the same age as my sister Shawn & myself, Jackie & Sharon Howard.  One block down and to the right was a girl in my class, Heidi Sisler.  She lived with her parents & brother in an apartment above the bakery.

One block up and to the right was Jeff Tewell and his mountain of comics.  John Lacava. Chuck Zimmerman.  A girl my older brother was sweet on, Lynn Mancuso.  And one block up and to the left from our house was Waynesburg High School.  It’s where my parents attended school in the 1950s, and all my aunts and uncles, and where my Aunt Dena was an English teacher.  I was very excited to go to there someday.

Margaret Bell Miller High School, which is now a middle school 

We walked past here every day on our way to South Ward Elementary. 

And a block west of this school was Greg L.  He was also in my class, and liked to draw like me. 

He had a “Creepy Crawler Maker” where you heated colored goop and poured it into strange bug molds. 

I remember it getting really hot; I can’t imagine it being marketed to children today!

Anyway, that summer of 1970 I made a really big fuss about moving, I didn’t want to go.  But our sister Donda was 18 months old and outgrowing her crib which was in our parents bedroom.  Our sister Shawn’s room was too tiny for a second bed.

And Dad, who grew up on a farm, had recently learned of a larger house in the country (on one of the gas company’s wells too, meaning free natural gas). 

The last week of school, my teacher Mr. Porter had me stand in front of the class and tell them where I was going in the fall.  I told them I’d be attending Leprechaun School in the country. 

(It’s actual name was Lippencott School.  I don’t remember Mr. Porter correcting me!)

For years afterward I’d blame our move to the country everytime something went wrong.  If I was bullied in school, disliked a teacher, rejected by a girl, worried I didn’t have enough friends, I’d think “I’m not supposed to be here, my life was in Waynesburg, on Cumberland Street.”  

But with all things, I eventually stopped doing that and got on with my life. 


Shawn, Steve, myself, Duke & our sister Donda celebrating her first birthday on Cumberland St, Jan 30 1970.

Those feelings made a comeback of sorts, the spring of ‘78.  I was a junior at Jefferson-Morgan High School and it was time to take the SATs.  The exams were at Waynesburg College, in town.  After I arrived and got situated, a couple girls came up to me and said “Doug Morris?  Hey guys, look who’s here!”  

I was befriended by a group of childhood classmates I hadn’t seen in years, and it was such a warm experience it made my heart ache a little for what might’ve been. 

Anyway… I was always appreciative of our years growing up in the country.  And with 5 brothers & sisters, we weren’t lacking for company of other kids!  But I think this explains why I live where I do now, all these years later.  Once a townie, always a townie.       

And finally, a goofy but honest-to-God real story

In that house on Cumberland, there were 2 doors that faced one another directly outside the entrance to the kitchen.  The door on the left was the basement steps, the right was a shallow closet with shelves, our food pantry.

Below the bottom shelf in the pantry was a small square cut into the wall with a little loop of twine on the front.  I have no idea how or why it was there, but it’s where I hid my life savings, in a baby food jar.  And I can remember the exact amount in that jar, $2.06.

When I learned we were moving, I thought for sure I’d someday be back so I placed one of my friend Greg’s Creepy Crawlers in that hole to “guard my money”, and yanked off that loop of twine.

We never made it back to Cumberland Street of course, but over the years I sometimes wondered about that hidden treasure of mine.  Was it ever found?  If that house ever goes up for sale (in my lifetime) I’m going to make sure and get a tour of the old homestead—and check under that bottom shelf in the kitchen’s pantry.