1971 in a Small Town

It was 1971. I was twelve years old. My parents had moved to a small town in the Susquehanna River Valley in Pennsylvania known as Sunbury. It’s a third class city. It’s located in Northumberland County, and is the county seat. It sits on the east bank of the Susquehanna River, just downstream from the confluence of the North and West Branches of the River. It dates to the early 18th century. Interestingly, it was most likely Shawnee Indian migrants who first settled here. The city and state struggle economically, and are part of America’s Rust Belt.

Dad bought a double home on North Fourth Street, just two blocks off Market Street, where the main business district is located. The home had a large side and a smaller side. We moved in to the larger side and rented out the small side. We also owned a large five-car garage complex at the back of the property, accessible by an alley. Dad put the family car in one of the garages and rented out the others to people in the neighborhood. I thought it was kind of cool that Dad was a landlord. Up to this point, we hadn’t had much money or property.

Our house was quite spacious. We had a large front porch. The front door was original. It was solid oak with a huge piece of beveled glass. There were stained glass windows on both sides of the door. We had an old-fashioned solid brass mail slot. The main entrance opened up into a wide hallway. The staircase to the second floor was made of beautiful dark wood treads and a banister that winded around at the top. There was a set of french doors that opened in to the living room. There was original hardware on the doors, complete with pull chains to release the latches and open them. Our living room was huge, and had three big windows.

There was a family room between the living room and the kitchen. Dad had laid bricks on the floor against the back wall and installed a wood-burning Franklin stove. On most winter nights, we had a nice little fire going in the stove. It was easily the most cozy room in the house. Old-style swinging doors with glass push plates separated the family room and the kitchen. We had a pantry/laundry room combination to the right of the kitchen. This room also served as a mud room, with a door leading out to the back yard. The back porch had a feature I found to be particularly cool. Part of the porch floor was a trap door leading to the cellar. Half of the basement was usable, and the rest was a stone wall dirt filled crawl space. My siblings and I considered this to be the spooky part of the basement.

The upstairs consisted of three bedrooms, a small “office” off the master bedroom, and a very large bathroom. We had a claw foot ceramic tub with a cool drain plug in the form of a long metal tube that we would pull up to let the water out. There was a ceramic knob on the top that had the word “waste” written on it. The bathroom floor was original mosaic tile. There were ceramic tiles part way up the walls, and the top half of the walls were painted. We had a big bathroom window that opened in on hinges. Dad installed a screen on the outside so we could open the window on hot summer nights. The window looked out over a second-floor balcony onto the back yard. There was a nice cherry tree in the middle of the yard. My brother Mike and I would often climb the tree and sit there eating cherries. Mom would come out on the porch and warn us that we’d get a belly ache.

I recently moved back to my home town, and I drive by the old house several times a week. The hedges and the back yard are looking a bit scrawny. The garage building is starting to collapse. The cherry tree has been cut down. There are no longer any young kids running through the neighborhood laughing and playing. One of my Dad’s garage tenants, a retired high school teacher, moved out of her home across the street from our old house, and it’s now occupied by a woman and about seven children. The front porch is cluttered with trash and boxes, and the once-beautiful antique wooden front door was all but destroyed. Ernie Conrad’s Barber Shop has been torn down. My childhood sweetheart, Toni, and her parents have moved on. The auto parts store at the end of our alley has gone out of business.

I considered buying the old house and renovating it, then moving in. It has a lot of potential. Mom could move back. My sister lives across the river. Unfortunately, there is nothing remotely attractive about the old neighborhood. I’m reminded about the lyrics from Billy Joel’s “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant:”

Then the king and the queen went
Back to the green
But you can never go back
There again.

I’m just content to take this opportunity, through the Writing 101 blogging prompt assignment, to take a trip down memory lane, closing my eyes and seeing those hot summer days in 1971 when I was twelve years old. I’m convince that life will never be like that again.

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