52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks, 2018; week 13 prompt: The Old Homestead.
Six-fifty-one Knickerbocker Street. The old homestead. Sigh. The first place in which I have recollections of being. In my mind it’s a grand place, that grandness only slightly diminished by seeing it in recent decades and realizing its smallness and complete lack of grandeur.
Below, how it was in 1948: barely visible, really, my tiny summer-born self the center of attention in this particular photo, but unfortunately this pic is all I have to remember the old homestead by photograph-wise.
And, how the old homestead looked more than six decades later, in 2015:
Initially I feel sobered by the 2015 image. Confused. My mouth opening in that “O.” This isn’t 651 Knickerbocker, my mind protests. Except it is.
But childhood memories win out: as the image above fades from my head, 1948-through-early-1950s ones rise to the surface triumphantly, too strong to be vanquished by a little reality.
See those four windows across the front of the 2015 pic? They didn’t used to be there. Behind them is a huge porch that for us was open wide. It contains my very earliest memory, in fact: “Why do I have this faint memory of sleeping in a baby stroller on the Knickerbocker front porch in the dead of winter?” I asked my father one day as an adult.
“Because you did,” he laughed. “Your Norwegian grandmother Rosalie was convinced it made babies hardy. No-one could talk her out of it. All you kids were set out on the porch for an hour or two for winter naps.” Talk about one’s mouth falling open in that “O.” (This is an actual custom in Scandinavian countries, I later learned.2)
The old homestead was the greatest place to play. See those three windows above the four lower, in the 2015 image? That was my and my two sisters’ bedroom. A vast, long room with sun streaming in from near all along the front and, one side. A play heaven.
Our yard out back of the old homestead was fenced in, our wonderful collie Mitzi always up for some playing; concord grapes for snacks climbing all over a wooden grape arbor with a bench to sit on underneath; an old-fashioned clothesline: the yard seemed to go on & on. Flowers dotted it, my mom being the gardener. Lots of old-fashioned types flourished, peonies and hollyhocks and such.
And right down the street from 651 Knickerbocker?! Oh my: a whole lake. A park to go along with it and, one edge of the university arboretum adjacent, where faeries were alleged to live in trees and, actual deer ran & grazed. A “wild place.” (What child doesn’t love, wild places? Especially a child whose first playmate is an older brother…)
Adorable, teeny tree frogs were abundant in those days right in one’s front yard, and, take a hike with an older brother into the swampy depths of the arboretum and there were BIG frogs, turtles — all sorts of interesting creatures, bugs and wonders.
Stroll UP Knickerbocker and, there were railroad tracks running behind the houses on Gregory Street. TRAINS — which I love to this day — made their wonderfully noisy way along the tracks several times daily. (These days, it’s a hiking path.)
To the west, maybe six short blocks away, sat the imposing building I would go to kindergarten in: Dudgeon Elementary School. The older kids called it “Dungeon,” but I thought it looked like a castle.
The world was different then, so I walked alone, to and from Dudgeon each day. (My brother now an attendee of Blessed Sacrament, my own next stop after kindergarten.)
In the wintertime, the Dudgeon School hill was the best sledding. Launching from off the small hill way top, we’d often be carried by the momentum clear to the bottom. The whole neighborhood came to sled there: big kids, little kids, grown-ups.
Nothing measuring up to fond memories, there will simply never be as grand a place to grow up in as, that old homestead… 😉
1 Family photos of the author’s.
2 “Why Norwegian Parents Let Their Kids Nap In Below-Freezing Temperatures,” at https://www.fatherly.com/health-science/why-norwegian-babies-sleep-outside/ , accessed Apr., 2018.
3 Dudgeon Elementary School, Madison, Dane, Wisconsin, USA: photo source, year taken, unknown.