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.

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