1950 Memories of Suburban Adventures

Temporary Home

Staying with Great-Aunt Mary was a step back in time.

She lived on the far side of Doty’s pond, three houses from our old home. This eased my moving transition, since I was still near my friends.

Great-Aunt Mary's house (1952) Mom, baby David, unknown, Aunt Mary

Great-Aunt Mary’s house (1952)
Mom, baby David, unknown, Aunt Mary

I don't know how I got left out of the first photo!

I don’t know how I got left out of the first photo!

The Mason home existed decades before any others in the neighborhood. Giant hydrangeas lined the front and roadside foundation. Aunt Mary’s long driveway began with a circle and ended with a stem leading to her garage, creating the numeral six. An old water pump sat in the center of her driveway circle. It pumped spurts of rusty colored water after I primed it with rainwater collected in an old bucket.

Maple trees older than my father lined the road and were home to a herd of gray squirrels. Like her brother (Grandpa), Aunt Mary loved animals. She tamed a family of squirrels to eat from her hand.

One day, before I was born, she heard a shotgun firing in her yard. She ran out to find her squirrels lying dead on the ground. A stranger had stopped his car and shot the poor things; so tame and trusting they didn’t run or hide.

Great-Aunt Mary (circa 1900). If only she had her gun when the murderer stopped by.

Great-Aunt Mary (circa 1900). If only she had her gun when the murderer stopped by.

Confronted by Aunt Mary, the shooter simply said, “They’re just squirrels.”

After telling me this story, Aunt Mary confessed, “If I’d had my gun with me, he might not have made it home.”

In the backyard, Mitzi, an aging German shepherd, was chained to her doghouse. She created a well-worn circle of death around the length of her chain.

A coal stove sat in a corner of Aunt Mary’s sitting-room, with a little library holding books from the 1800s behind it. David and I liked holding our feet in the space underneath the stove until they surpassed our toasty-level. Her kitchen contained a wood-burning stove/oven. The round burners each had a slot, and required a metal lever to pry their covers open.

After watching her do it, I surprised Aunt Mary by chopping extra kindling wood for her stove, using her ax. I only did this once, because I could never find her ax again.

One cold day, I sat against the wall in the narrow space behind her oven. I entertained myself by pressing a few stubby crayons against the hot backside, watching the melted wax streams slowly slide down on top of each other, creating new color combinations. My mistake was showing my creation to Mom and Aunt Mary.

Aunt Mary taught her two cats, Sandy Cat and Rascal, to use her toilet; a very reasonable and practical talent. They perched on the rim of the base, raised their tail, and did their duty. Mom refused to let me train Cotton Kitten to use our toilet.

“Make sure you put the seat up when you’re finished in the bathroom,” warned Mom, while staying at Aunt Mary’s. “Otherwise the cats will pee where you sit down.”

Technically, Aunt Mary had four living-rooms: a sitting-room, a large sunroom filled with windows and plants, a small music room, and her actual living room containing not one, but two sofas. When she and Uncle Clifford first married, they lived near Grandpa in a huge house with a bowling alley. I sorely wished they’d kept it, so I could bowl like Dad did when he was a kid.

Uncle Clifford - the giver of cigar rings and still possessing his right arm.

Uncle Clifford – the giver of cigar rings and still possessing his right arm.

Uncle Clifford passed away before we moved in. He smoked cigars and gave David and me his cigar rings. The lower half of his right arm was missing. David and I were told it got chopped off while reaching under his power lawn mower to clean out the clogged grass. This information was imparted while David and I were reaching under his mower to unclog the grass.

Much later (forty years), Dad finally told me a stalk of corn caught in Uncle Clifford’s glove, pulling his hand into a self-feeding silage cutter. Why didn’t we get to hear that story when we were kids?

Aunt Mary loved the neighborhood children and regretted being unable to have any of her own. Her other regret was not becoming a nurse. In the late 1800’s, women didn’t have the opportunities of today, which is too bad because Aunt Mary would have been a wonderful nurse and mother. Like Grandma, she baked lots of yummy cookies and handed them out to David and me, and the area kids who all called her Aunt Mary.

While we lived with Aunt Mary for a few months I had no idea that in a few years she would come to live with us.

Related Posts: Transitory Tenants (1960); Transitory Tenants/Blackballed Activities; Transitory Tenants/Mary Reincarnated

Now it’s your turn: Do you have memories of an older relative’s home?

© Mary Norton-Miller and 1950s Suburban Adventures, 2012 forward. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mary Norton-Miller and 1950s Suburban Adventures with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


  1. Pecora Nera says:

    It sounds idyllic, apart from losing the squirrels and the odd arm. 🙂

  2. CJ says:

    My great-grandma in Nebraska was a first generation Czech immigrant. Her husband had died 50 years before she had. While all those years as a widow living in her modest little farmhouse, she tended a sizeable garden and had the rusty water from the pump such as your great aunt Mary…haha. Grandma didn’t even have indoor plumbing until the 70s, when my dad and his cousins all came out to put it in. She had the infamous outhouse, which my sister and I were terrified to go into. Such great times.

    • skinnyuz2b says:

      CJ, I might have been afraid to go into an outhouse alone, but it was an adventure with my brother. I bet you have fond memories of your great-grandma’s house.

  3. Elle Knowles says:

    Such a great story! I had an uncle missing the lower part of his arm. He lost it in a saw mill when he was 16. It’s the only story I ever heard about it.

  4. spunkybong says:

    If this was a picture, I’d be staring at it for eternity. Thank you, Skinny! 😀

  5. Manikandan says:

    Such lovely tale Mary. But I do wonder how your aunt managed to train the cats to do potty in the toilet 🙂

    • skinnyuz2b says:

      Thanks, Manikandan. I don’t know how my aunt did it, but I was thoroughly impressed and wanted to try training my own cat to use the toilet. No more cat box. My mother was grossed out at the thought of sharing a toilet with a cat.

  6. Mimmy Jain says:

    I used to spend my summer holidays (two months) alternating between two sets of grandparents for many years. One set had long prayer sessions (more than an hour each at times) morning and night, but relative freedom in terms of what I wanted to do, provided I kept out of adult sight, which was all right since I curled up halfway up the stairs leading to the terrace with all the forbidden books I could find. There were lots of books at the other set of grandparents’ too and the food was yummier (relatively!), but my grandfather would come and switch off the fan if he caught me sleeping beyond 8am (I was on holiday, for God’s sake!) and there were fewer places to hide, so I was forever being coopted into all kinds of exertive activities, when all I wanted was to read.

    • skinnyuz2b says:

      Yes, Mimmy, there is always the good with the bad. A cozy and private place to read; who could ask for anything more. You should write a more detailed post with these memories!

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