I is for I

Lacking any INSPIRATION for topic, I defaulted to writing about me this week. It is I, during my significant birthday week. But what to write about that I haven’t addressed before?

I spent the first 18 years of my life in the same house, at 5 Gaines Street in Binghamton, NY. Gaines was a very short street between Oak Street and Front Street, with only 16 possible addresses, and actually fewer buildings than that.

At the corner of Gaines and Front was O’Leary’s convenience store. I went there and bought packs of baseball cards, but I also had to buy my father’s Winston cigarettes, which irritated me greatly.

In the yard at 1 Gaines Street was a huge gnarled tree which terrified me. It looked just one of those angry apple trees from the movie The Wizard of Oz. At some point, the family that had moved in there decided to take it down. My father told the owner that the way they were cutting the tree, it was going to crash into their house. The guy told my father to shut up and mind his own business; the tree crashed into their house, doing considerable damage to the roof.

The folks at 11 Gaines had an extra large lot with a huge garden, and chickens. When a foul ball would fall into that yard, the fence was too high, yet too wobbly to climb, and we had to wait for someone to throw the ball back.

The family at 13 Gaines was named Greene. We often got their mail, and vice versa.

There was a factory across from our house, but I never knew what was made there. It changed hands several times.

We had our tiny lot at 5 Gaines, where I played kickball with my sisters. Our house was actually green, asbestos on the exterior. There was a lilac bush right next to the house; it didn’t look very impressive, but it smelled wonderful. Still the single smell that reminds me most of growing up.

When I was born, we lived upstairs in the two-family dwelling, but by the following year, when my first sister was born, we had moved downstairs, and my paternal grandparents had moved upstairs.

Our half of the house was quite small. When my second sister was born, my room was carved out of what was essentially a large hallway. But it was OK. My father painted the solar system on my ceiling, with the proportions from an encyclopedia entry I found.

Dad was always painting on the walls; I don’t mean painting the walls. In the living room, on one wall, were snow-peaked mountains. On another was a scene in the tradition of a busy Western European marketplace; I assume he tried to recreate an existing painting, but don’t know which one.

I’d go up and visit my grandparents often. One time, when I was about three, I fell down the steps. To this day, I have a bump just below my lower lip where I cannot grow facial hair.

Our Christmas decorations were kept upstairs, “under the house,” which is to say in the room off the kitchen where the roof slanted so that an adult could not stand.

When I was born, our church, Trinity A.M. E. Zion was downtown. But when that street was turned into a city park, the church moved to within two blocks of our house, at Oak Street and Lydia Street. (Hmm – I wonder if the naming of my daughter was affected by the street on which I spent a LOT of time.)

Enough about me for this week.

The guy in the middle is my father; the woman on the right is his mom. Not sure who the others are, though I suspect the boy is a cousin of dad’s; he has the Walker “look.”

ABC Wednesday – Round 12

36 thoughts on “I is for I”

  1. What I walk away with is your dad’s scenic wall paintings. This blesses my day. So really, “I” must be for “I and Dad.” Just saying.


  2. Roger, gorgeous family. I have worshiped at Trinity AME Zion in Bing, and, wherever I go, I check out AME Zion, Full Gospel, and other Black churches, because I need that flat-out Holy Spirit rush. The music is often amazing. Once I burst a blood vessel in my hand from clapping. And nobody said anything about my race, they are always friendly.

    Did you know I lived in that big old place next to Central High, corner of Oak and Main? They tore it down to make way for an annex to the school. Aah, first place I ever got laid. And the relationship went the way of the building, ha ha ha. Thanks for the memories of Binghamton. I love all your details. Love, Amy


  3. Your comment about the lilac bush resonated with me. We lived for a year with my Dad’s parents and every day when I walked to school, I passed a gigantic lilac bush. “Still the single smell that reminds me most of growing up.” For me, too! But after a year of living there with both my parents working, they’d saved enough money to buy their first home. Have a great birthday week, Roger!

    abcw team


  4. Your dad must have been very creative! Roger, congratulations on your birthday! When is it? And how old are you now? Questions Dutch people always ask. May be not polite, but we are a curious nation. 😉


  5. Oh what a great picture and I love the details…Green and Greene – confusing. There are two Jaffe’s in my building which is equally confusing… And, Happy Birthday!!!!


  6. I think it would have been pretty neat to live in the same place with grandparents. Families just used to live together and take care of their parents that way. I bet the neighbor could never look at your Dad again after the tree cutting episode. Great look at your family.


  7. thank you for this post. i really like your narrative. it’s like talking to you in person over a glass of iced tea. it was like a wonderful visit.


  8. How fortunate to live in same house as grandparents ~ so rich in your nearness to them I would hope ~ lovely words about Roger ~ great post for I


  9. I used to stay with my grandmother under one roof till late dad decided to move us into another house when his family expanded, but we visited my grandma regularly. This post bring back memories of a good time we had staying under one roof with a big family.


  10. Your post delighted me for many reasons, chief among them is the story of your relationship to your grandparents. What a lovely growing-up gift for you and how precious for your grandparents. Love these autobiographical stories and wish we would all indulge in them more often. Kate, ABC Team


  11. I was also sent to the convenience store several times to buy my father’s cigarettes. Sometimes I’d meet friends along the way and we would play. I would forget the time, my father would be annoyed. I just made sure I enjoyed childhood despite unhealthy interruptions.


  12. Inspiration Indeed, my favorite I! Enjoyed the way you described the activities, smells, sounds of your childhood. (And Happy Belated Birthday! I celebrated mine a few days ago – Happy Birthday Month!)


  13. Was that a foul ball or the fowl’s ball:-) Whenever lilac flowers it too takes me back to childhood, except ours was a tree from which you could step on to sit on the wall, I don’t think it would have taken more than a child’s weight. Have a great birthday week.


  14. oh, I loved this! my childhood home was often with one of my momma’s siblings living with us. I’m sure that life is richer filled with family. I truly enjoyed reading this. happy birthday! today is my 2nd oldest granddaughter’s birthday!


  15. Belated happy birthday, Roger. I’m trying to catch up for the I episode of ABC Wednesday before I post a new one. What stood out to me here is your father painting on the walls and the lilac bush. It must had been wonderful looking up the solar system in your room before you go to sleep. Happy Wednesday!


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