Friday, July 20, 2012

The Top Layer

Where I Lived ~ 1962 - 1967
Corner of Hickory Avenue & Baxter Street Road ~ Neosho, Missouri
Photographed by Rebecca Sprigg ~ my childhood friend and neighbor
[for more on my childhood home see
"Dream Road" & "The Days Were Long"]

"Our moments have blotted out theirs.
Maybe this is a necessary element of domestic living --
maybe it's the only way we can co - exist comfortably
with each other's past lives, each other's ghosts. . . .
it's not really our house at all is it . . .
It's like we're just the top layer.
And one day there'll be another layer right on top of us, squashing us down. . . . There are whole pieces of the past that lie just around the last corner,
closer perhaps then we'd like to think.
We may choose to forget this, but the house doesn't.
The house has seen it, done it, felt it all before."

Home: The Story of Everyone Who Ever Lived in Our House
(23, 16, 46)
by Julie Myerson

A few weeks ago(scroll down / or click "Our Island Home"), while writing a bit about Myerson's fascinating book, I was reminded of a couple of books that we used to check out from the Kingsessing Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia back when Ben and Sam were little: Since 1920 (1992) by Alexandra Wallner (b 1946) and Our House: The Stories of Levittown (1995) by Pam Conrad (1947 - 1996) . Like Myerson, these two authors,and describe historical quests, similar for the under layers of history beneath their current dwellings.

Wallner, writer, home renovator and researcher, is "fascinated by the history and romance connected with old houses." Her book illustrates the changing street scape of a fictional village, starting in 1920 with a farmhouse and a barn raising on a private country road. Next come a a blacksmith shop, a bakery, and electricity; followed by more houses and paved side streets, a grocery store, and business after business . . . replaced, sadly, over the years by "Going Out of Business" signs and fire damage, leaving the old houses abandoned and dilapidated . . . until, at last, two decades of neglect are displaced by home renovation, public parks, and new families!

Conrad also blends fact and fiction, capturing "the families, the memories, the hard times, the good times," as children from the 1940s thru the 1990s narrate their experiences of growing up in the houses of Levittown, New York. Conrad's book is illustrated by Brian Selznick (of recent Hugo Cabret fame) and also includes a classic aerial photograph of Levittown in 1947, entitled "Moving Day."

In conclusion, Conrad observes that
"no matter where you are right now . . . right in the spot where your are standing, there used to be someone else, that at some other point in time, someone stood where you are standing, thinking their own thoughts. And someday in the future someone will stand there and wonder about you, wonder if there was ever anybody else.

Keep in mind that you are making memories.

Consider that something you take for granted today may be the one thing you might pine for someday, and there might not be any more of it left, but you'll remember its sweetness. Remember the curve of the sun in your bedroom window late in the day
. . .

Make sure you notice if the trees meet in an arch over your street . . . Take note of those people who are so familiar to you, and consider memorizing them for a time when they are gone.

And know that if anyone ever says to you, 'What will you always remember about this place?' you will know just exactly which story it is that you would tell them. . . .

'I believe in neighborhood . . . A place where families own their homes, where they work, play, make mistakes and celebrate their lives. I think it must have been wonderful to be a child in Levittown. . . . I had never lived in Levittown when I began this book, but now, surely, I have lived there in my heart' "
(64 - 67).

[Pam Conrad's observations ring especially true and sad,
knowing that she died of cancer the very next year at age 48. RIP.]


  1. You've done it again. Now I'm taking a walk through all my old neighborhoods, bike rides, and childhood haunts. And each visit is taking place telepathically from the Lake of the Ozarks. ;)

    These kind of things always throw me into reminiscing. Thank you, Kitty.

  2. Thanks Paula! I'm a big fan of the telepathic visits to former haunts!