Outside all of our trees and bushes are blooming, and my number six son — that’s what I call Doug’s good friend Rick — is still shoveling out the snow from the front of his home in Ambler, Pa. Hard to imagine, isn’t it?
The weather forecasts today are wonderful when you consider how weather reports were handled back in my younger days. People died because terrible storms were about to arrive but there were no warning. I remember friends talking about living in Florida when a hurricane arrived. As the eye of the storm passed, hundreds tried to get out of Miami on a bridge. The storm arrived to finish its terrible journey, and they were swept away into the ocean.
My son Doug and I began talking about Ambler again, and that old house we had called home before heading west. When I think about buying that house I realize, now of course, that it was a terrible investment. Edison himself had no doubt put in the electricity. And not too many weeks after we moved in — just a day after the youngest, Danny was born — the oil burner went out.
We had no heat. I slept, that first night, with that tiny baby on my chest to keep him warm and alive. Then the surprise that we found out later happened; one of life’s little coincidences. Years later I remarried my Marine Van, who was born in Mantua, New Jersey just about 10 miles east over the Delaware River from where I’d been born in South Philly.
I got to meet his family including his nephew, who kept giving me a funny stare.
“You were from Ambler?” he asked. When I said yes he laughed. It was then he told me that he was the man who’d come to our home in Ambler that cold winter’s day and fixed that oil burner.
If I had a way to meet anybody from back” in the day” it would be the man — then a boy — who came to our front door in tears. He was a student at the Forest Avenue school next door and while playing ball had broken one of our small laundry room windows. It happened a lot, so I wasn’t surprised. He stood there shaking, teary eyed and frightened and I asked him first if he had gotten his ball.
He looked surprised. We went and retrieved it and when I asked if he had done it on purpose he said no. When I told him that he could pay for the window by coming after school and sweeping our sidewalk his eyes got as big as saucers. The episode ended with him doing his chore and having cookies and milk with my younger sons and me. We became fast friends. He would be in his sixties now, I guess.
When we lived, previous to our move to Ambler, in the new house in Roslyn my husband, Don Sr. was willing to do just about anything to make the homestead nice. He built a shed for the lawnmower — a cute little house and the boys used it for a playhouse — and he put in a nice patio, planted trees and enlarged out kitchen. And then we moved to Ambler.
For some reason, I never quite understood, he wouldn’t do a thing he didn’t absolutely have to do. I needed help putting up curtain rods on about a couple dozen windows and ended up doing all of the work myself. The list went on. A father whose only activities were absolutely predictable had raised Don. He went to work, came home to eat, went to church on Sunday, attended as many sporting events as he could, but did nothing else.
My husband wanted to live the same exact way. Of course, there was more but basically it was why one day in 1964 the boys and I got in an old VW bus and left that house in Ambler forever. Years later I visited Ambler to see my mother and sister. Jeanne. Mother, Jeanne and I were all widows now. One afternoon I went to the store to get dinner supplies.
I drove by where the house on Spring Garden Street had stood. The school next door had torn it down for playground expansion. There was nothing there now. I sat there for a minute alone. It brought back so many memories. I have to admit I let a tear pass over my cheek.
Edna Van Leuven is a Churchill County writer and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.