By Norman V. Kelly
Most folks that read LIFESTYLES in a local newspaper are treated to beautiful pictures and descriptions of large incredibly furnished and decorated homes. Many of those houses are the envy of the neighborhood, and are truly part of the American dream.
Way back in 1937 I moved into a house that is still in my memory, forever etched there no matter how many years roll by. My house was located out in Peoria County in a brand new subdivision called El Vista. I was only five that terribly cold day when we moved in, all eleven kids, my mother and father. The small, cinder block house sat back at the rear of the lot because my dad always told us that someday he would build a much larger house on the front of the lot. Of course, that never happened, but it remained a part of our dreams.
It had two bedrooms, one for my parents and one for my three brothers. Up in the unfurnished attic was the bedroom for the rest of us. Located in the middle of the attic was a crooked chimney that separated the attic. My older sisters on one side my younger brother and sisters on the other. One lone 40- watt bulb hung down from a twisted wire on their side of the attic casting weird and often frightening shadows on our side. The place was not insulated so when the wind blew, and the snow flew, I remember waking up with fine snow on our blankets. When we first got out of bed, we hugged that crooked chimney for warmth.
Our kitchen had a cold water pipe that twisted up from the ground, allowing one faucet to be used over the small, kitchen sink. In the bitter winters that followed, that pipe spent most of its time pretty much frozen solid. Our bathroom wasn’t quite the luxurious facility I read about in Lifestyles. In fact we didn’t have one. We did have an outhouse that had its own air conditioner, courtesy of the cold, north wind. When the bitter winters gave way to summer, the hot days and nights caused a different kind of misery.
In the kitchen we had a cook stove fueled by coal and wood, and a coal- burning stove in the living room. I can still hear my mother cranking on that old stove early in the morning trying to get a fire going. We ate our meals in some kind of order around a large, circular table. I never considered that place a house, to me it was always home. It was home to my family, the neighbor kids, my friends, my sibling’s friends, and any stray dog that happened along. It was the place we all met to decide what we were going to do for fun. Down the road was a wonderful woods, winter and summer fun. Wading and swimming in the creeks, and living the life as only a kid can. There I learned that life is not what you have but whom you have, and we had more than our share.
Sadly that old house burned to the ground in 1950. The last actual image I had of it was when I walked up to see the dense smoke swirling around that old crooked chimney. Funny, the saddest moment of it all was when the volunteer firemen knocked it to the ground. Perhaps my childhood ended at that very moment.
Somehow sixty-two years have slipped away along with a lot of my family and friends. I cannot think of them without thinking of that old home in El Vista, my childhood, and what they all meant to me. Me and that old crooked chimney… of course.
Editor’s Note: Norm is an author and Peoria historian. Norm welcomes your comments. firstname.lastname@example.org