By Mary L. Kenny
I will try to wiggle out this story, as if it’s a youngster’s tooth being detached from its nurturing gum. I’m not afraid of the bleeding, pain, pulling , twist or turning . I anticipate relief of its’ presence within me and the unfamiliar, perhaps unwanted , space that it will leave. Like everything else in my life… “I will get used to it”.
Sitting here on my front porch, in Hampton Bays, I am surrounded and nourished by memories of my childhood. This, after all, is the house that my beloved Uncle Ray built for Mae, the love of his life and later he left it to me.
At one time we all lived together in Jackson Heights, New York, which is called a bedroom
community to The City . The City is like The Park. If you have to ask “which one”,
you’re not a New Yorker. Our two story clap board dwelling, in Jackson Heights, had
been a wedding gift from my grandfather to his wife , Mary, around1910. Inlater years Uncle Ray and
Aunt Mae lived downstairs while my parents, sister, and I lived a floor above. Both levels had
screened in porches which may have been my first awareness of air conditioning! From
that view, my young brown eyes would look out at the people passing by. I saw airline
stewardesses on route to La Guardia Airport ,while nurses carrying a white “Cap” in a
clear plastic case rushed towards the old Physicians Hospital , on the north side of 35th avenue and 73rd street. My Grandma had once told me that nurses do “important work”. ( I would later join them in
that professional endeavor.)
Front the vantage point of the porch I gazed upon the change of seasons in all its many costumes. A holly tree bedecked in ruby red “jewels”, snowmen with wooly hats and coal laden faces, summers hydrangeas wearing pale pink lace danced about in an occasional breeze. For the finale there was an artist palette of brightly colored leaves. They all assembled, over time, on our front lawn like a never ending Broadway play. An offspring of the holly tree was later transplanted to its present home here off Ponquogue Avenue, in Hampton Bays. A contractor once gave it a scalping as he struggled to put vinyl siding over the asbestos shingled house. “Sorry it was in the way” he told me. The tree forgave him and in defiance grew more verdant than ever before.
I will call a house a home when it can claim the right to be that. It must be occupied by the people and things that you love. It must feel good…comfortable. This home stands off center of two building lots. It’s bright, cozy , “lived in” place. No manicured lawn here. Eleven grandchildren, over time, have left their testimony to a playful childhood both within its walls and out side. An old tire swing still hangs from a tall Oak tree in the front yard.
A shillelagh is mounted in the hallway above the front door. It was my gift to Uncle Ray, then 90 years old, on my return from Ireland. Though six feet tall, physically strong, and mentally agile he was never- the -less self conscious about his hearing loss. One day he said to me “The two most treasured possessions that I have are Barney ( an old Springer Spaniel ) and my walking bopping stick . You know if an intruder tried to get in here I can knock his block off with that”. He never had to use it .Thank God!
It’s been eighteen years since they died. Mae left first, followed by Ray a few years later. They are both here, in two marble urns in the home that they loved.
In so many ways this childless couple influenced my life. Uncle Ray would pack a lunch for he and I and off we’d go in his old Chevy station wagon. You know, the one that had the real wood side panels Together we would head, East into the rising morning sun. He’d point out all of the different license plates along the highway often repeating them as if saying a litany. I would try to train my young mind to remember them as I knew there would be a quiz on the trip home to Jackson Heights.