Chapter 25

We Move to 826 Mechanic St.

In the early spring of 1946, Augustus Ashley informed us that his son, Chester, was about to be released from the service, and he asked us to vacate the house we were in so he could give it to his son. Since the War Housing Act was still in effect, we were not required to do so, but out of courtesy we agreed to it.

Housing was hard to find in those days, but my father-in-law, Eddie Cayen, had a large circle of friends, and he heard of a place for sale belonging to Joe Ashley. At that time Joe was a landlord, but he was later to found a lumber company. Eddie contacted Joe Ashley and he in turn took us around to show us the place. It turned out that there were two houses on the same lot, a block and a half down on the same street. Since he refused to sell one of them, we had to buy both. Since both houses were occupied, and Ashley was not inclined to disturb the occupants, we bought them with no idea of the condition of the insides. Since there were few places other than these, we had little choice.

One of the houses was occupied by Lottie Compo and her husband, and the one we were to live in was occupied by Harold Dishaw, whose parents lived on the next lot. Harold was somewhat peeved, since he had planned to buy these houses himself, but he courteously agreed to vacate in a month. We bought both of these houses for $3,500 on a fifteen year note at 4 percent interest, the mortgage being guaranteed under a GI loan.

 Digging the Cellar

After Betty had scrubbed the old place spotless, we moved into our new place sometime in June. Like all new homeowners, I explored the place and a lot of possibilities appeared to me. It had been heated by wood and coal stoves. But since our former place had a furnace, I would be satisfied with nothing else.

The difficulty with this is that there was very little cellar in the place. The walls of the foundation had been poured in trenches and the cellar had a dirt floor, with about four feet of clearance from the joists at the front, tapering to about two feet at the back. I spent the summer digging this dirt out and down to depth of about six and a half feet. Everyone dumped the ashes of their stoves in the back yards in those days, so the back yard was full of ashes, with bed springs and other items sticking out of them. I cleaned out the yard as best I could, and spread the dirt on top as I dug the cellar out. I bought some grass seed and spread it around on top and planted some elms around the yard. All yards were typical of mine with ashes and weeks in back, and truly, I was the first one in the neighborhood with a lawn in my back yard. The rest of the neighbors subsequently cleaned up their yards and most maintain them to this day.

While digging the cellar, I found that my projected floor was below the foundation wall. So I left a couple of feet from the walls for my floor, and proceeded to pour concrete as a base for the furnace. I used a much richer mix than usual, and the concrete turned out like rock. Since the war was lately over there were no furnaces on the market, but Eddie called his relatives in Syracuse who found a second hand one. They shipped it up to us by tractor trailer, and Ed and I set it up. By this time it was late fall, and Betty was pregnant with Ted and there was still no heat in the house. I found a large register in a junkyard, cut a hole in the floor to fit it, and found some junk sheet metal to fit it to the hood on the furnace. By this time Ted had been born and Betty was due back in a few days. I still had to enlarge the stovepipe holes in the walls and buy eight-inch furnace flue pipe.

 Heat, But Soggy Floors

On the very day she was to return from the hospital, I started to put the pipe up alone. If you have ever done this, you will realize that it is a two-man job. The pipe ran across the top of the kitchen from a corner and thence up over the sink to the chimney.

While trying to fit the pipe upstairs, a section fell through the hole over the sink, but I kept on with my fitting, intending to go back down and attach it after. As it happened, when the pipe fell through, it turned on the faucet, then jammed itself against the faucet while the other end pointed at the floor. When I came downstairs, there was about two inches of water on the floor and Betty was due home in another hour with the baby. I let the water be while I finished with the pipe, then ran down to the furnace and started a fire. Then I ran upstairs, grabbed a broom, opened both doors, and swept the water out. This was around the last of October. It was quite cold and Betty's mother kept the kids with her until Betty came home. When she walked in the house was warm as toast, although the floor was somewhat damp.

The following Spring, Eddie was planning a trip down to Syracuse, so he offered to drop us off at Utica at my mother's, and would pick us up on his way back, while he and his wife went on. We planned the trip well, and just before we left we gave the keys to our house to Betty's sister, Fanny, so she could come down and feed the cat. Betty was in the front seat with her mother and father, while I was in the back seat with the three older kids. When we got on the other side of Governeur going toward Watertown, Betty turned around and told me to hand her the baby, since it was time he was fed. I told her I did not have the baby, I though she had him. We had to drive all the way back to Ogdensburg, get the key from Fanny, go to our house, and there was Ted, sleeping away in the basinette. We used to laugh at this in later years, but at the time it was hardly amusing.

 A Lasting Tribute

I continued to work on the cellar. Since the floor was under the walls, this was quite a problem. I had to dig partly under the walls, then pour concrete partly under the wall and key it to the floor. While pouring a curb on the back part, we put the prints of both hands and feet of Dick, Kate and Chris. When I finally finished, we put the prints of Ted and Tim, who was then a baby, on the curb toward the front of the house.

As is usual in some marriages, Dick was an accident. Then we planned for a girl, but Chris came along, so we tried again, and Kate was born. We were then content with our small family, and planned no more. But such was not to be. One or the other of us was amazingly fertile, and in spite of all our precautions, another nine came along. Since we both loved kids, we were not unduly disappointed. Of the twelve, only Chris and Kate were planned, but since I came from a large family, I remembered that a large family was more fun than a barrel of monkeys. I believe that most of my kids, looking back, would agree with me.

There was always the possibility that we might lose one, and I am continually astonished and thankful that all of them reached adulthood. The odds against this happening to a comparable family must be astronomical. The sad part is that if one were to lose a child, no number of additional children could replace him, since each one is unique as is the one lost, but none would be as original as the original.

This, in fact, was what delighted me about all my children their diversity and the fact that they were above average in health, intelligence and morality. They are the only legacy I have left to the world, and I am very proud of them.

                                                The End