Saturday, January 30, 2016


Amy Chua’s recent (2010) book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, set off a fervent discussion of the degree to which Asian American parenting styles, especially their investment in their children’s education, was important in producing the observed above-average performance of these children subsequent to their schooling.

In March 2014, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics produced an analytical report related to this issue, “Investment in Higher Education by Race and Ethnicity,” written by Tian Luo and Richard J Holden. They showed that, compared to white parents, African-American parents invested less and Asian-American parents invested more in their children’s education, with Hispanics not being statistically significantly different from other whites in this regard. [The authors controlled for several of the most likely confounding variables in their analysis.]

Different degrees of investment in their offspring are found throughout the entire range of the animal kingdom. In fact, those who study such things have a term for the two extreme cases of parental in fact inspect investment, “R and K strategies,” the terms derived from the equations generally used in the field to model the outcomes of the two strategies:

A short article (by Jared Reser) posted on the Internet by the Organization for the Advancement of Interdisciplinary Learning [] described the two extremes:
·   “R-strategists usually create an abundance of offspring in the hopes that a few will make it. The species usually have a very short maturation time, often breed at a very young age, have a short lifespan, produce many offspring very quickly, have young with high mortality rates, and invest relatively little in parental care. The parents do not focus on passing down memes, units of cultural information, to their young. Instead the behavior of the young is determined by their genes. The young are precocial, meaning that they often can make it on their own without any instruction from their parents. Examples of r-selected species include bacteria, insects, and fish.”
·   “K-strategists are very different in that they attempt to ensure the survival of their offspring by investing time in them, instead of investing in lots of them. It is a reproductive strategy that focuses on quality over quantity. K-strategists have relatively few offspring and make an effort at being good parents. Their young are altricial meaning that they cannot survive on their own until they reach adulthood. This extended period of maturation is used for mimetic transference – the parents teach the young so that they can go on to reproduce themselves. K strategists are known to have a relatively long life span, produce relatively few offspring; the offspring have lower mortality rates and parents provide extensive parental care. The offspring are also relatively intelligent so that they can internalize the lessons from their parents. K-selected species include elephants, apes and whales. Humans are perhaps the most K selected….”
The same source produced the following ordering of organism types, from the R-strategists to the K-strategists, or quantity versus quality strategy: bacteria, mollusks, insects, fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, apes, humans…an ordering that resembles that of evolution, from the least to the most advanced species.

An article posed by the University of Miami [] entitled “r and K selection,” based on evolutionary considerations, notes
·   “Organisms that live in stable environments tend to make few, ‘expensive’ offspring. Organisms that live in unstable environments tend to make many, ‘cheap’ offspring.” When investment is risky, it is wise to invest little.
·   It makes more sense to invest when the life spans are longer, to give time for the investment to pay off.
·   If you plot the fraction who survive versus the age of the organism, the r (quantity) species (bacteria, oysters) tend to lose a far larger fraction at young ages compared to their maximum life spans than do the K (quality) species (whales, humans) compared to their maximum lifespans. Which is cause and which is effect? Do they die young because of a lack of investment? Do they live longer because of the investment? Ecologists study this kind of issue, often related to the “carrying capacity” of the environment, related to the number the environment could handle if they lived to the maximum lifetime.

When applied to the global situation for humans, this theory indicates that in dangerous parts of the world and in dangerous times, having many children is a strategy that may maximize the chance that some survive. In the less hazardous, developed part of the world during peaceful times, having fewer children and giving them more input is advantageous for those who seek to pass on their genes and ideas. Thus, ethnic groups and races that traditionally have had large families are generally expected to have fewer children as their safety improves. Of course, culture and religion can work to over-ride this tendency.

Anecdotally, I have seen this investment in education by my Chinese American in-laws: eldest child, daughter Irene, went to Cornell on a scholarship and eventually became an orthodontist; middle daughter, Tina, went to Cornell on a scholarship and eventually became an Asian Studies scholar who worked for the Encyclopedia Britannica; youngest child, son Eugene, went to a private high school and then on to Brown and became a rheumatologist. The girls would have preferred other schools but family resources were saved to facilitate Eugene’s becoming an M.D. Furthermore, these parents themselves were the products of intensive educational investment, the mother having gotten her degree with a major in chemistry at China’s pre-eminent Tsinghua University, where she met their father, who went on to get his Sc.D. degree at America’s Massachusetts Institute of Technology on a scholarship he won in a nation-wide competition in China back in the 1930s.

According to a research paper entitled “The Rise of Asian Americans,” published in June 2012 and updated in April of 2013 by the Pew Research Center [], the median family incomes---which might be taken as a measure of success---of groups in America are in almost the same order as the percentages holding bachelor’s degrees or more among those who are 25 and older and in those groups. Specifically, 49% of Asians, 31% of whites, 18% of blacks, and 13% of Hispanics hold a bachelor’s degree or more among the population 25 and older in 2010. Similarly, the median household incomes in 2010 were: for Asians $66,000; for whites $54,000; for Hispanics $40,000; and for blacks $33,300. Some Asian subgroups have higher poverty levels than the U.S. average, some lower, however.

Granted, there is always some question about which is the cause and which is the effect when looking at correlations. Conceivably, this order might due to the greater availability of college to groups that have greater incomes, but it seems more likely that it reflects the greater probability for financial success of groups that have a higher percentage of their population with college degrees. In other words, investment in advanced education has paid off in terms of relative incomes, whether or not it was financially sound.

The same Pew report noted that 2/3 of Asians believed having a successful marriage is one of the most important things in life, whereas only 50% of other Americans agreed with this. Their newborns are less likely than those of other Americans to have an unmarried mother (16% vs. 41%), although that figure is higher (31%) for women of Asian ancestry born in the U.S.

         The Pew report describes the arc of Asian ascension the U.S.: “A century ago, most Asian Americans were low-skilled., low-wage laborers crowded into ethnic enclaves and targets of official discrimination. Today they are the most likely of any major racial or ethnic group in America to live in mixed neighborhoods and to marry across racial lines. When newly minted medical school graduate Priscilla Chan married Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg last month, she joined the 37% of all recent Asian American brides who wed a non-Asian groom.”


Dr. Cooper (, a retired scientist, is now an author, editor, and writing coach. His first book, Ting and I: A Memoir of Love, Courage and Devotion, was published by Outskirts Press in 2011. Also available from online booksellers are two memoirs he co-authored, The Shield of Gold and Kidnapped Twice, and three memoirs he edited: High Shoes and Bloomers and But…at What Cost and Home is Where the Story Begins. With Adria Goldman Gross, he recently co-authored Solved! Curing Your Medical Insurance Problems. His latest book is Write Your Book with Me. On Twitter, he is @douglaswcooper. His writing, editing, coaching site is

Sunday, January 24, 2016

"Clothes," from HOME IS WHERE...

         We weren't rich, but we had everything we wanted; we were the Blake girls, and people thought we were rich. I remember being in homeroom and a boy sitting behind me said, "You must be rich. All your clothes match."

         Shopping for school clothes in August, we bought winter and fall things: sweaters, wool skirts, long-sleeve blouses, and wool jumpers. We didn't plan on its perhaps being hot,  and even if it was, we didn't care. We wore these clothes anyway. It amazes me when I think that we wore high heels all day in high school.

         One year, Doreen had this sleeveless dress with matching heels and a pocketbook. I couldn't wait to wear it. When I did, I felt as if everyone was looking at me. Doreen had a friend, Pat Kimbler, who told me once, "you are the prettiest of you three sisters." I thought of that often.

         We got new clothes for school and for summer. We got at least three outfits to start school, and as Doreen and I grew up being close to the same size, we would match our clothes up, getting more outfits by doing this. The first one up in the morning got the first pick of our clothes, along with many an argument when Doreen arrived at the morning bus stop to see me wearing what she was going to wear. I think I invented the phrase, "you snooze, you lose."

         Dad had a brother, Uncle Wes, who had two girls: Cheree, who was three years older than Doreen, and Pat, who was two years older than Cheree. Every so often, Uncle Wes would bring boxes of clothes they had grown out of, and we would dig in to find something new to wear. We looked forward to these boxes.

         Back when we went to school, you couldn't wear pants, only dresses and skirts…in only the latest fashion. We were hot stuff.

         As we became teenagers, we each had our own style. Doreen would sit in the chair in the living room every morning spraying and teasing her hair until it was huge. This was the style of the 1960s.

         My hair was short, a little teased into the style known as “the artichoke.” I wore it this way all through high school. We also had eye shadow---the bluer, the better---and of course, lipstick, in pink and almost white.

         I remember when we were allowed to wear straight skirts. That was a big event. I was in the eighth grade when I got my first straight skirt, gray. I loved it.

         When we started to baby-sit and earn our own money, we started to shop without Mom. Doreen and I would go to Newburgh when she got her driver’s license.

         I had three families I baby-sat for on a regular basis. Doreen didn't do baby-sitting much, because at 16 she got a part-time job as a cashier in the same local store, Chaffee’s, our mom worked at. In years to come, so did Nancy and I.

         Doreen and I went shopping for our prom dresses. It was her Junior Prom, and my date, Kenny, was a junior, too. Our dresses came from Hollywood Togs on Water Street. This was the shop to go to.

         The day of the Prom, Doreen and I went to Newburgh to Fred and George's Salon. Everyone went there---and the bigger, the better for your hair-do. It was so stiff!

         Nancy and I would watch on television in the morning Miss Frances and Ding Dong School. She would show us how to care for our babies---our dolls---bathing, powdering, and changing them. We did a great job caring for them, except when I left mine in the basement; when I found it, some of the fingers had been chewed off by a mouse. I felt terrible for Tiny Tears. I had left her alone with this creature.

         Thinking of clothes for our dolls reminded me of, I believe it was the winter, of first grade: I wore a corduroy skirt, with a crinoline and a slip under it. This was a very cold and windy day, and my legs were frozen, and that slip scratched the inside of my legs so badly that by the end of the day I was in tears, vowing never again to wear that slip on a cold day.

         The material of this slip was like a netting, and it reminds me that many years later Nancy became friends with a girl across the street from her in Walden; we call her “FiFi,” but her name is really Claudette.  We have all gone out to eat together or she has been invited to a party at Nancy's house or at Claudine‘s. She is a dear soul, funny and very easy to get to know, but a real fashion designer in her own right. Many times she has been in some outfit wrapped in the same kind of netting material as my slip, but she has many colors of it.

         In my mother's bedroom, there was a cabinet in the corner and there were two brown corduroy jackets and matching hats. I remember wearing this jacket and hat. I love that outfit. It looked so cute!


                 We are serializing Kathleen Blake Shields's heart-warming book, Home is Where the Story Begins: Memoir of a Happy Childhood.  Published last fall, it is available from Outskirts Press and from online booksellers like and I'm proud to have coached Kathy and edited her book. My web site is


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

"School Daze," from HOME IS WHERE...

         Thinking back about school: one building originally held the kindergarten through twelfth grade, but as the town got bigger, the school became over-crowded, and we started going to the firehouse for fifth grade, the church basement for sixth grade, back up to the big school for seventh grade, and then into the new school. Our school had been up the hill, kindergarten through 12th grade, until 1959 when Valley Central School opened, combining Maybrook, Walden, and Montgomery.

         I started at Valley Central in 1962 in eighth grade. It was different: there were dances, basketball games, and many new friends.

         When we were in the old school, and had no car, the school bookkeeper-nurse would bring us home if we were sick. Even the town doctor would come to the school to give us shots. That was a scary day for all of us.

         Mom must have had something with hair and us, because for probably three years each summer, we had to go uptown to Theresa  Falcon’s for poodle perms. We both went for a whole Saturday afternoon. These old-fashioned perms stank awfully, and you couldn't wash your hair for weeks.

         After one of these perms, I entered fourth grade. My hair grew a little before school, but photos still show it to be curly.
In line waiting my turn to have my picture taken, I had stood right next to the water fountain, and a sudden idea entered my head, so I stuck my head under the faucet and wetted it, using no comb just my fingers, and then it became my turn. Some weeks later, the photos came back for us to take home. As they were passed out, our teacher, Mrs. Resiert, decided to hold mine up as an example of what not to do. I was so embarrassed, I never forgot this.

         Other than this incident, we loved elementary school. Every Christmas we had a school program, the Nutcracker and Christmas Around the World. We always had the proper outfits. One mother we knew would sew these for us, or Mom would get us what we needed. We would get a ride with another family to and from the play because we had no car.

         We had this head of the school (Mr. Farren) who was so loud and mean he scared you to death.  On sunny days we were stuck in the gym after lunch, no talking. Mr.  Farren would yell, “I don’t want to hear a pin drop.”  He didn’t last long.

         For a few months we had a school bus driver, Earl, who had a sick sense of humor. One rainy spring day, I wore a white wrap-around skirt, and---being the last ones to get on the bus---there were no seats left. This day it was raining, so I had an umbrella, and in the aisle there were Elizabeth, me, Artie, and---right by the driver--- Barbara. Earl started the bus moving, sped up, and then slammed on the brakes, so down we all went: Barbara, Artie, and I, with Elizabeth on top of me. My skirt was mired and my umbrella was bent in half. Earl must have thought that this was funny, but he must have also known that his career as a driver was over. It was.

         A boy who lived across the street from us, Charlie De Angeles, decided at least two times a week who was his new girlfriend, so in tenth grade---in between Kenny and Tom--- Charlie said to me as we passed in the hall, "Now, you are my girlfriend." Of course, this was the same guy who growing up was a big brat. He had shot my pet pigeon and done a few more horrible things to Nancy and me.

         We had a few bullies in class: Billy Mays, Charlie, and Billy Edmonton. They were the bane of the teacher's workday. In seventh grade we had an English teacher, Mrs. Vargas, who lasted a very short time because of Billy and Charlie. One morning she was calling names for attendance when theirs were called, they stood up and dropped their pants. She quit right after that, and they were expelled. During her short time, she did make Doreen a pretty mohair sweater; this was one thing I got to put on for a school day by racing to the closet ahead of her.

         One thing we hated were the photos from the yearbook in high school. I made it to maybe one out of three. Being short, I was always up front. The other thing we hated were those gym suits we had to wear, mostly if we went outside for baseball or running. It felt like all eyes were on you from the classrooms.


We are serializing here Kathleen Blake Shields's recently published book, Home is Where the Story Begins: Memoir of a Happy Childhood. Published by Outskirts Press and available from OP and from online booksellers like and, this memoir is exceptional in that it presents an upbeat story of a working-class family successfully bringing up three girls in the 1950s and 1960s in a tiny town in central New York State.

I am proud to have coached Kathy and edited her book. My web site is

Monday, January 11, 2016

"Neighbors" from HOME IS WHERE...

         One February, Mom’s friend Vivian got a brand-new convertible, and even though it was cold and windy, she insisted the top be put down as she drove it around. Nancy and I were in the back seat. We froze to death. We went all the way to Bullville and back and then got ice cream. Cold!

         Vivian lived up the street from us, and Mom would go visit her for coffee and drag me along.

         One day I went with her. Vivian had two big dogs, a St. Bernard and a German Shepherd, and while I was there, I got comfortable at the kitchen table. What I didn't know was that while I was having a piece of cake and some coffee, Max, the St. Bernard, was eating my shoes, so when it was time to go, I looked all over for my shoes. All that was left was the heel. I walked home barefoot.

         Vivian and her husband, Lance, had a very, very small house, with a small kitchen, sewing room, one bedroom, and a bathroom. She got an idea to have Nancy and me clean the house, starting in the living room. Wow, what a project! She had stuff all over, plus furniture and a big piano. We tried our best, always being interrupted by Vivian’s sitting at the piano, playing and singing show tunes, and of course we had to join in, so hardly any cleaning got done, but we both got paid five dollars. I believe Vivian was the first hoarder I knew. She had a collection of patterns that filled the little room.

         Vivian’s husband was a car mechanic and helped my mom find her first used car. Vivian worked for the railroad in the office.

         During our childhood, new people moved in around us and we usually became friends. One family with three children moved into the house across the street. The father was in the Air Force at the Stewart Air Force Base in Newburgh.

         After they moved on, another family moved into the same house. They had three children, with one boy, and their last name was Store. The youngest girl's first name was Candy. We thought that it was so funny. They were not friendly, and they stayed in their own yard. They were not around long, either.

         Next came an even stranger family. They found an old cabin in the woods, and their dad would take kids up there to play games. Nancy and I never went, but we did play over in their yard; one night after supper, we went over to play. I had to go to the bathroom, so I asked if I could use theirs.

         “Okay,” their dad said, and in I went.

         He was in the kitchen sitting at the table, and as I passed to go out, he grabbed me and set me on his lap. He would not let me go. Nancy saw my face and ran home for Daddy. He came running and sent me home. A few days later, the cops came and took us to the police station, where we told our story, as did many children. He went to jail, and the family moved.

         A few years later, a mother, son, and a daughter moved down the street. The girl, Paula Miller, was my age, and we became good friends. I was sad when they moved away and so was Doreen. Their brother was very cute, about two years older and very tall. All the girls were crazy about him. This is the last of the new families we got close to.

         A few others moved into town but no one we became friends with. Across the street lived a boy who was a real brat. His grandmother would visit us, and we would go over to see her. She even made us clothes for our Amos and Andy dolls.

         In town we had one doctor: Dr. Rakov had office hours six days a week from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m., and the waiting room was always crowded with familiar faces. He charged only five dollars, with a shot or some medicine or both. He was very fast, but he knew his business. He also made house calls. I remember him being at the house when I was sick with a high fever and throwing up, and he called me "carrot top."

         Dr. Rakov delivered all of us.  Mom went into labor on her wedding anniversary, April 11, and she wanted me to be born that day. She kept saying, "Is she coming?" while watching the clock.

         I guess she must have been annoying, because Dr. Rakov answered by saying, "If you’d shut up and push, she might be."

         Well, I was born on April 12 at 12:03 a.m.. I'm glad I have my own special birthday.

         Another person in town who played a part in our lives was John Bodle, the drug store ice cream counter man, who made us sundaes, cones, lime rickeys, egg creams, and little cans of spaghetti for lunch. Mr. Watts was the drug store owner and the druggist. The local boys would sit in the store and read the comics, and he let them.

         Then there was Mr. Guidio, who had a shoe repair shop right next to the drugstore; when I was in first grade, I broke the buckle on my shoe and had to wear something else until that pair was fixed.

         The small post office was across the street. The postmaster scared us to death because he was a real grump, and we avoided him like death if we could.

         Next to the post office was a TV sales and repair shop. Its owner, Mr. Thompson, made house calls, and you hoped the TV didn't have to go back to the shop.

         On Tower Avenue, was Pepe‘s, a small store and deli. They were open from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday as well as during the week; being the only store open on Sunday, it was there one could see my father, who would go there for his bottle of Ballantine beer.

         The Maybrook National Bank was also on Main Street. We would go there with Mom, and I can still remember the smell.

         On Halloween, we would paint the windows and have a party in Sweeney’s Hall until it burned down. I don't think I was much older than five when it burned, and after that happened, we had the parties at the school instead.

         Mr. Rosenberger ran the Y. M. C. A., where the railroad men would stay between trips. There was a counter to eat at, and they had a candy counter, too. He would joke with us and tease us. Mr. Rosenberger also went on the Y swimming trips with us. He was much fun.

         We had a hardware store where Daddy would get his garden seeds or nails, and it was on Main Street, as was Carroll's department store and an Italian restaurant run by Mrs. Bastiano. She had a very heavy accent. Mom and Dad took us there a few times for spaghetti and meatballs. It was a special treat.

         Dad took us to the firemen's parade, where we would get those red hats. When Mr. Chaffee built a strip mall next to his grocery, a shoe store moved in one year, and then we all got white bucks.

         Next to that store was Sabrina's, a clothing store. Just before the start of school one year I got sick, so Mom bought me my outfit for the first day. It was a green blouse with a green skirt with big green tomatoes on it. I wore it on the first day but not much more thereafter.

         I told you a bit about the stores we had in town: there was an old-fashioned department store, Carroll's, where Daddy did his gift shopping; Mommy always got underwear, and once in a while she would come home with a square package wrapped in green paper. We never knew what this was until years later, after we grew up. It was a woman's product for Mom. I guess Mrs. Carroll thought it was best to conceal it.

         Mrs. Bastiano had an Italian restaurant at the end of the street, and Uncle Bill told how he would ask her how she did all the cooking. In her heavy accent she answered, "Billy Mickey, I'd rather cooka then watcha kids."

         Next door to our house was The Rainbow, but later it was sold to the Shorts from New Jersey and became The Flamingo; they brought pizza to Maybrook. Daddy would bring pizza home every so often, and $.75 was the cost; because we had no car, we didn't go out to eat, but Uncle Bill and Aunt Toddy would bring us home-made rye and pumpernickel bread from a German place up in the mountains, and a friend of Mom’s, Vivian, would take us with Mom for a ride, and maybe we’d get ice cream.


         We are serializing Kathleen Blake Shields's new book, 
       Home Is Where the Story Begins: Memoir of a Happy Childhood. Published by Outskirts Press, it is available from OP as well as from other online booksellers, like and

       I am proud to have coached and edited for the preparation of Kathy's book. See my


Saturday, January 2, 2016

"Maybrook, NY" from HOME IS WHERE...


         The town we grew up in – Maybrook, New York – wasn't too big: a railroad running through it; one caution light on Main Street; a grocery store, Chaffee's; four bars; two barbershops; a TV repair shop; a bank; a drugstore; a shoe repair; one small deli and convenience store; four gas stations; one diner; and a Ben Franklin's five-and-ten-cents store.

         The Blakes were among the first settlers in Maybrook; the road going through Maybrook was originally called "Blake Road" until it became "Homestead" and then "Route 208.” Mom sold the house in 1983, and those people sold it in 2010.

         The railroad was almost in our backyard, and we would hear sounds coming from there 24 hours a day. Relatives and friends who stayed over would say, "How can you sleep with that noise?" but we didn't hear a thing. There was silence in 1970, when the railroad closed; my father knew it was coming a few years before; he was settled on this event and had retired several years before it happened. Uncle Bill worked a few years after Dad, but it was never the same, and the line eventually was taken over by Yellow Freight.

         The grocery store, Chaffee's, was where our mom worked, starting when Nancy began school; she worked in the meat department as a meat wrapper for 13 years. Then for the next owners, after Chaffee's closed in 1968, she worked there for about 16 years more. Doreen worked as a cashier, as did I, and Nancy worked in the meat department; we all worked for Mr. Chaffee; it was a busy store until others opened in Walden and Newburgh, when business dropped off badly. Mr. Chaffee also had the Maybrook Drive-in, a real hotspot for years.
         In 2011, my husband and I drove up North, and one day we went to see what was being done. It was going to become offices and an apartment. I noticed that the original front door was gone. I was told that it was in the dumpster. I brought it home, sanded it, put it up against the wall in my sewing room. It still has the doorknob and knocker. I was so gratified to have saved it.

         My sisters and I often wish we had taken things when Mom sold the house. There were many treasured items: Grandma's cane, hair combs, old sweaters she wore, Dad’s railroad clothes, dresses, books, Christmas ornaments, and much more.

         Nancy and I spent many good times going down to the railroad, walking the tracks and going to see the trains and, of course, our father. We would go to get money for the candy store or for the diner where we would get a hamburger, pie, and chocolate milk.

         When we asked Dad for the money for the diner, he would joke, "What would you want to go to that greasy spoon for? Yesterday, I went for lunch there, home-made chicken soup. I asked Pete, the owner, ‘Did the chicken walk through this with hip boots on?’" But we still went.

         The candy store was in the front of the gas station next to the diner. "Sandy‘s" it was called, and his wife ran the front, with all kinds of penny candy. She would become impatient while we made our choices: two cents worth of this, four cents of that, and so on, until we had no more money. One summer when they black-topped the main road through town, we sold lemonade. We made $0.88 – meaning  $0.44 apiece, and off we went to Sandy's for candy.

                 I would be remiss to leave out an important part of this story. Without this important part, there wouldn't be much of a story. This part of the story is The House, a main character.

                 Let me tell you its history: the house made of brick was built in 1794, and an addition was added on in 1842. They ran a creamery on the property. The House had 14 rooms, but most importantly, it was filled with love, happy sounds, happy times, and great memories. I spent 16 years in The House. I can still hear some of these sounds: the squeak in the floor when you went from the kitchen into the hall, Grandma whistling her hymns, American Bandstand, and the radio, with us waiting for the man to announce that due to bad weather our school was closed, Daddy coming home from work, Christmas morning, the hustle and bustle of Thanksgiving, and many more, too many to name them all.

         There were sounds throughout the house daily. I often think of one such noise: someone going into the kitchen, which was across the hall from my bedroom. Just as soon as someone stepped into the kitchen, the floor made a squeak. I can still hear it.  Another sound was of Dad's making the coffee and setting out the coffee cups. Dad was a whistler, which he did often, as he did his chores. One of his songs was "I Love a Parade."

         As you came in our front door, you walked to the end and there was a big door. If you opened it, there were two steps down to what they called “the back kitchen.” I guess before the kitchen in the main part of the house was built, all the cooking was done in the back kitchen. In the early 1960s, Mommy had the two back rooms paneled with knotty pine and got a ping-pong table for us. Daddy also re-opened the fireplace in the second room. It was a nice place for holiday gathering in the winter.

         Daddy also opened the fireplace in the living room for just one winter. I think it was a lot of work keeping it up. Grandma said at one time everyone was working. I wonder who got the wood. In the back kitchen there was a hook that held a large black pot of stew or soup.

         Another memory of our childhood was that of a hurricane that took the roof off the house. Uncle Bill came and got us, and we went to their house while Dad, Uncle Bill, and Uncle Wes put a new roof on. It was in the early 1950s. Nancy was a baby, so I was probably between two and three.

         I don’t know how old I was when we finally got running water, heat, and electricity. Before this, Dad would carry water from the well and heat it on the stove in the back kitchen for our baths and such. Heat came from pot-belly stoves. Every room had a fireplace, but they had been sealed up years before. It was an exciting day when the heat and running water were put in.

         The main reason Mom went to work was to upgrade the house. The upgrading included the heat, water, electric, plus carpeting in the living room and new living room furniture, along with a kitchen table and chairs.

         The house we lived in was brick with floor to ceiling windows in the living room and in our parents’ bedroom. There were dark green shades on all the windows and a large wooden front door with a big brass knocker. We never needed air-conditioning, as the windows were shut, shades pulled down tight, and it was always cool in there.

         It was the best house for playing hide and seek. It had many great places to hide. We didn't go in the attic. It was much too scary, and so was the basement.

         I remember Grandma with a large wash pot on the kitchen stove, boiling socks to wash and scrub them. She also had these wires that went down Dad's pants after they were washed to hold their shape while they dried down in the cellar.

         We had big radiators in the house: there was one big one in the hall, and Dad kept the heat at 78°. In the winter we would go out in the snow, come home soaked, and put our clothes on the heater to dry, then go back out. We spent many hours across the street sleigh riding and skating on the pond.

         There was no skating on the pond for me, however. I was afraid I would fall in. The first dog we had would follow us to the pond. One time he fell in, and some of the other kids helped get him out. We took him home, washed him and dried him off, and he never went up there again. Smart.

         I was speaking to Marge Thorpe recently. She is Linda’s and Paul's mother. She still lives across the street from where we lived. She told me she looks out the door and looks at our house and gets sad thinking of our times there and our bringing her and her mom---Nonie--- and sister-in-law---Ruthie---big bunches of lilacs and daffodils when they were in bloom.

         Grandma Blake used to have a huge flower bed of daffodils,  and in the yard she had many lilac trees. People would stop as they rode through town and ask if they could pick some, and, of course, Daddy said yes.

         We also had peonies, myrtle on the hill, and lots of irises. Grandma love flowers, so we would bring a small bunch to her bedroom.
         We didn't have indoor plumbing until I was maybe five years old. Until then, day or night, it was the outhouse; middle of the night, rain or snow, Daddy would take us in his bare feet, with no shirt and only boxer shorts.

         Mommy got us a pool about 2 feet deep. Dad put it under the big pine tree and filled it with well water; however, as it was in the shade, it didn't get warm for a long time.


We are serializing Home is Where the Story Begins: Memoir of a Happy Childhood, written by Kathleen Blake Shields, published last fall by Outskirts Press and available from OP and other online booksellers like and I coached the delightful Kathy and edited her book. See my site.