A Portrait in Words
by C. K. Thomas
“Letters, we get letters. We get stacks and stacks of letters. Dear Perry, would you fill a request and sing the song I like best?” Perry Como took song requests on his television show in the late 50s, using this clever introduction. That little ditty keeps running through my head as I sort the letters I’ve saved and stuffed in file folders over the years. I’m astounded by how much of the significant past I’ve forgotten. What a treasure trove of memories these letters have unearthed!
My mother-in-law, Marjorie, tells a cute story about Perry Como. When a neighbor of her sister Shirley in Fort Wayne, Indiana, had a baby, she took a gift to the house. She carried her wrapped present up the steps to her neighbor’s front door, and who should answer her knock, but Perry Como. Shirley was so shocked, she just stood there dumbfounded. So Mr. Como kindly said, “Come right on in. I’m just Grandpa Como.”
I love family stories! In light of that fascination, I’m prepared to share a few of mine with you.
The best childhood years a girl could hope for rolled past way too fast at 501 Kingston Road. The backyard swing hanging from the outstretched arm of a sturdy elm, long breezy days filled with skates, bicycles and bare feet defined summer.
The white frame house at 501 had a red cement front porch with two steps. It was graced by white latticework my Daddy made in the garage. Mother planted blue morning glories on them every spring. On the right side of the porch, a black mailbox hung within reach of the front door that opened into the living room. The milkman left the milk on the porch floor directly below the house numbers, where anyone could see if we got whipping cream or an extra box of butter that week.
Visitors knocked or rang the doorbell that chimed in the hall next to my brother’s bedroom. A little rubber mallet inside a metal cover toggled back and forth to strike first one and then the other of the two tubes hanging down to within a couple of feet of the floor. One tube made a ding and the other a dong. Pushy visitors waiting on the front porch often walked right over and looked in the dining room window for a view clear through the dining room and the full length of the galley kitchen. There was a red booth at the end of the kitchen and a metal pedestal table with a shiny black Formica top. White knickknack shelves with scalloped edging hung over the booth next to the window that looked out to the backyard.
Everything important started on that red front porch. My brother Jack and I went off to school from those steps, and Easter Sunday pictures were posed there. The movie camera captured people coming and going from our front door on ordinary and special days. I wouldn’t even remember today what my Uncle Lawrence looked like if he’d chosen to leave from the back door where no picture was likely to be taken.
Standing on the porch, you could see both Kingston Road and Highland Avenue. Highland ended in front of our house and cut Kingston into its first two blocks. Sleds careened down the hill to the bottom of Highland in winter. In the summer the intersection of Highland and Kingston in front of 501 was the place to play ball or kick-the-can under the streetlight. My brother Jack used to tell me that the bats flying around under the streetlight at night would get in my hair and make a nest.
I offer these, and more word pictures of my past to come, in hopes future generations might know a little bit about how it was to grow up in the 1950s and 1960s. I hope you, too, are inspired to inscribe your own history on the hearts of those who come after you. Good luck!
C.K. Thomas lives in Phoenix, Arizona. Before retiring, she worked for Phoenix Newspapers while raising three children and later as communications editor for a large United Methodist Church. The Storm Women is her fourth novel and the third in the Arrowstar series about adventurous women of the desert Southwest. Follow her blog: We-Tired and Writing Blog.