Saturday, May 23

Three Places From My Childhood

This was an assignment for my class in which I am composing a personal history. I wrote about three places from my childhood (my Great Nana Kane's house, Camp Wanakee, and Grandpa and Nana French's house) that were important to me and have helped shape who I am. It's a lot of unedited writing, but I figure I would share it with you anyway.

Some of my fondest memories as a young girl took place in New Boston, New Hampshire at my Great Nana Kane’s home. Her big white house was on a hill at the corner between two streets. I believe they were main streets, though in her small town, they were not very busy. There was a big old tree with a huge trunk on her yard near the corner where the two streets met. At the top of the hill was a porch and the “front” entrance to her home. At the bottom of the hill was a second entrance in the form of her garage and stone cellar, which provided a stairway up to the house.
Nana Kane’s kitchen was light and comfortable. It had handmade and colorful woven rugs, and colorful bottles and plates on display by the windows to catch the light. There was a fireplace in the kitchen with baskets hanging off of it and little plastic toys inside. The blue smurf toys were particularly memorable. There were lobster dishes on display, flowers, and doilies throughout the house, but especially in the kitchen.
The bathroom was adjacent and had a wooden door with an iron latch that was unique for a home and especially a bathroom door. I remember it being hard to open for my little fingers and so I was always afraid of being permanently trapped in the bathroom. I remember little about the bathroom except that Nana Kane used a multi-colored toothpaste and I think it was peppermint. Whatever the flavor, it was different than what our family used and so it seemed to taste better.
The living room was large and open, with a large colorful rug on the floor and lots of antique chair with little matching covers on them that were held onto the chairs with colorful pins (like what you would see in a pin cushion). Recognizing that it would be dangerous to leave the needles in the chair should someone sit on one, my brother and I would thoughtfully remove all the pins we could find from the chairs for Nana Kane. It wasn’t until our mom caught us doing this that we were told they were supposed to be there. The living room also had a fireplace and mantle. I recall the curtains being thin and lacey. There were cute little treasures throughout the room, scattered antique decorations. Nana Kane had blue bottles on the window sills to catch the sunlight. There was a glass dish on a side table with pink Canadian wintergreen mints. We helped ourselves until they were moved out of reach. She also had peppermints and old people candy (wrapped caramels, etc.). There was a door out the back right corner of the living room that led to a small, rarely used porch and out to the yard.
Attached to the living room, near the kitchen entrance, was a long narrow and bright room (because of all the windows) with some guest beds. I remember there being a lot of white in that room. The bedspreads were white, the curtains were white, maybe even the walls. There was a wooden dresser with a mirror, too. That’s where we slept when we went to visit.
Nana Kane’s room was on the other side of the kitchen across from the door to the creepy cellar and garage. It was mostly shut off from us little kids, but the few times we did get in there, I remember she had some old suitcases, old-looking jewelry like pearls, lots of old lady slip-on shoes, and little nylons which Nana Kane always wore for socks.
I also remember there being some of that shiny grayish-rainbow pearlescent stuff like you see on the inside of a clam. Maybe it was a giant clamshell or something. I just remember it being in that house.
I mostly remember two things at Nana Kane’s. We used to eat fresh grapefruit and oranges in the kitchen, which she’d brought from her house in Florida (which had dozens of citrus trees in the backyard) and that was where I first learned (or at least saw) how to properly cut and eat a grapefruit. It was also where we always had fresh lemonade and orange juice. Nana Kane loved lobster (that must be where my parents and I got it), so I bet we had lobster or at least lobster rolls there, too.
The other thing I remember is going there for the Fourth of July. There was a parade nearby in town, and after we’d go back to Nana Kane’s lawn and the kids would hit a piƱata out of the big tree mentioned earlier. We took a family picture in front of Nana Kane’s house with the American flag poking out of the side once. It’s on my parents’ fridge still I think. I do not remember much else except that she lived kind of close to a cemetery where someone, maybe Grandpa Kane, was buried. I was so sad when she sold that house. I used to want to own it someday.
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Camp Wanakee is where some of my favorite childhood memories took place. It was where my family had our “reunions” (though we called them gatherings—I only refer to them as reunions since my husband’s family seems to loosely refer to any family get-together as a reunion so I guess that’s what ours were, too) nearly every year. The cousins would beg to go back. I know I did every year.
In the beginning, when the cousins were young, we stayed at a small, two-level cabin with two rooms full of beds upstairs (one served as a “kid’s room” and we all stayed in our sleeping bags on top of the mattresses), and a little nook in the living room with three bunk beds. The kitchen had a bench that wrapped around the wall, with chairs surrounding the rest of the table. I always used to think I’d have a table like that for my big family some day.
We had birthday cake in that kitchen, I think I got to help decorate a cake with frosted flowers once with Andrea and Whitney (the “older” girls). I also specifically remember eating a fishing themed cake with blue frosting for the water. We celebrated Easter there one or two times and I remember how amazing the Easter egg hunts were outside there in the tall grass. 
Outside there was long grass full of ticks apparently (one was discovered in Willie's belly button), and a dirt road that was never busy. Across from the road was a pasture with sheep and a very scary sheepdog (at least, he barked loudly all the time). Our parents were always a little worried someone would get bit. We used to go for walks down that dirt road walking by little rivers and brooks and we’d find frogs and lots of orange salamanders on our way.
Once we even held a family “Survivor” there. There was a yucky food challenge, which meant little sample cups in a circle on a wooden lazy susan. I got raw lima beans, which were cold and terrible. Someone else got raw fish. That's all I remember of the Survivor challenges. One of the aunts also put together a makeshift mini golf course inside the house. I remember at the very end was a child’s potty that we had to putt the ball into then inside was a fake plastic poop from a joke shop. My uncle’s sense of humor. We roasted marshmallows and hotdogs in a fire pit outside and in the fireplace inside. Grandpa French even took us on a “bear hunt” in the big room with all the lights out except for a little candle.

As the families grew and we couldn’t all fit in that cabin anymore, we move up to the big house at Wanakee. There were many bedrooms upstairs and downstairs in the big house, a big living room with many couches, a kitchen with a huge table, and acres of lawn and woods outside to play in. Usually the families stayed in their own rooms together, but I remember the kids putting up a fight about being able to sleep in a room together. A few years we did, others we didn’t. Families took turns making meals for everyone. I always looked forward to Uncle Ned’s breakfasts. He made amazing omelets.
During the day, we would explore the grounds (it was a Methodist church camp in the summer) and the other cabins. We would go fishing at the lake and have fish for dinner when anyone caught something. We would play big games of team volleyball on the lawn. We also played Kubbs (a Swedish lawn game), which was a lot of fun. Inside the living room, we’d sing songs with the fire going, play cards (more specifically poker usually), and sometimes other games like Balderdash and Sequence and Set.
As always, we roasted marshmallows and hotdogs. I started the fire in the fireplace one year. Grandpa French trains all the grandkids in campfire-making. I miss Wanakee and the memories there so much. I don’t know if it would be the same now to return without Grandpa French or cousin Tom and everyone is so scattered now. It’s my goal though to get back there someday with my own family.
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I could go on for hours about Grandpa and Nana French’s house. Such a huge portion of my childhood was spent there that I’d have to recount nearly all of it to give you a full picture. Since I can’t do that, I will just share the most memorable of the many memories I have there. There will still be a lot.
To start though, I feel I have to talk about fishing with Grandpa French, which did not necessarily take place at his house, but which was a key part of my upbringing. Grandpa took all of the cousins fishing many, many times. We went to Lake Winnipesaukee and fished off of his boat or just off the dock. We fished on Lily Pond and Salt Marsh Pond and at Gunstock and on many other ponds and rivers. Grandpa took us to his secret spot near the Police Department (that’s not too specific) and to some places that seemed far away. I remember one time he took us fishing on a Sunday in northern New Hampshire. We visited Uncle Andy at Plymouth State and held his pet snake. After we left, Grandpa bought Payson and I Klondike bars at a gas station. I remember our mom was upset with us because it was a Sunday but we had thought that it was okay because Grandpa had bought them and he wasn’t a Mormon. Another time, we stopped at Burger King (the one that used to be in Laconia) after fishing and Grandpa ordered like 7 or 8 whopper juniors for the three of us. I remember looking at Payson like oh crap because I was only going to be able to eat one. We went to fishing competitions at Gunstock and fished with our older cousins, Tommy and Willie from Massachusetts, our cousin Grant, and cousins, Cedric and Charlie. We used neon power bait, which never ever worked for me. I have so many fishing stories, I couldn’t possibly share them all.
Grandpa’s house always felt big and full to me. He was something of a hoarder of books and antiques, but it made his house extra interesting to me as a child. My brothers and I loved to explore his house and the many piles of books and boxes of stuff. You could find anything in there. The house had a garage that was full of boxes and books to the ceiling, with only a perfectly straight pathway that you walked through to get to the mudroom. If you turned right at one point there used to be a door to a little beauty shop that my Nana used to run and cut hair. Eventually it got blocked or buried by books.
In the mudroom, there were coats hung up and three or four stairs up to the living room door. They felt hollow and loud when you stomped up them and their golden retriever, Sandy, would bark at your arrival (the only time she ever barked). The living room (or what the kids called the living room—the real living room was at the back of the house and eventually became inaccessible) had an old and thin carpet, white walls, dark wooden beams, a large brick fireplace with a long mantle, ugly old antique chairs. The windows had colored bottles across the sills. The fireplace had pictures and antique school bells and little models of loons on it. There were large landscape paintings by our semi-famous artist relative, Frank French, throughout the house. There was a door at the front that led out to a small brick porch with a bench, surrounded by green plants. There was a backdoor in the living room which led out to a large porch which overlooked the big, grassy and woodsy backyard. Both the front and backdoors also had a screen door which would be the only doors in the hot summer. I liked to be able to hear the sounds of the surrounding nature from inside the house.
Attached to the living room was the kitchen which was actually cramped now that I look back at it. Right as you entered, you saw a giant tank full of fish, sitting on a green dresser. There were windows to the right looking over the back porch. There was a big oval table in the middle, surrounded by thick wooden chairs. It had a lazy susan on it with salt and pepper, cinnamon sugar, napkins, silverware, a jar of pens and pencil, and little notepads of paper, next to a big wooden bowl of room temperature fruit. The immense fridge was covered in photos, artwork by the grandkids, and magnets. I can easily picture Nana French cooking “supper” at the stove, and Grandpa slowly and meticulously washing dishes after dinner at the sink. Or I can see him standing at the stove with bacon sizzling and scrambled eggs or French toast being made. Grandpa was the best breakfast maker I’ve ever known. And even though we don't drink it, I have always loved the smell of coffee because that's how their kitchen smelled in the morning. On one doorway outside the kitchen, Grandpa had measured the heights of the grandchildren in pencil. Payson and I always got excited to see our names and ages written on the wall and how much we had grown since the last time.
Down the hall from the kitchen was a pantry cupboard, the door to the basement, a small bedroom/sewing room, a bathroom/ laundry room, and a hall that linked over to the real living room and the stairs that led to the second floor. Another door by the kitchen fridge led to the former dining room/current office belonging to Grandpa. It was basically like a cluttered Staples in there, with filing cabinets, and desks surrounding a rolling chair with every office supply you can imagine. Grandpa’s computer was in there and Payson and I used to play an Arthur (from PBS) computer game on it. Continuing out of the office, you came to the real living room, which used to have a giant toy box, a window seat, and lots of books but eventually became so full with boxes of books that you couldn’t even get in.
Before entering the living room, there was the big unused, original front door to the left, opposite the staircase to the second floor and hall with a coat closet and pantry shelves. Upstairs there were three bedrooms and a bathroom, which had a laundry chute down to the bathroom below. I used to believe that laundry chute was the coolest feature ever and we would throw toys down it to retrieve in the bathroom below. One bedroom used to be my mom’s and was now full of boxes. The other was Uncle Andy’s bedroom before he went to college and got married. As kids, we only saw it while he was in high school. He had lots of artwork, posters, Star Wars figurines, a TV sitting on a dresser, and a large tank which held reptiles, snakes, and mice at various times.
Grandpa and Nana’s room had a big bed, dressers, a TV, lots of clothes, and always seemed to be very dimly lit. They had a cat that would hide under their bed or hide in the basement, which we would always chase even though we were scared of it. 
The house rested on a few acres of grassy, wooded land with a brook that ran right under the dirt driveway and which was full of frogs and minnows. We liked to try and catch them but mostly just ended up scaring them. A short ways into the woods in the backyard was a fire pit where we’d roast marshmallows and hotdogs in the winter. On one side of the dirt driveway (which looped around a little “island” of grass, rocks, and trees) was a large shed which supposedly used to have horses and which was now full of boxes and tools and other equipment. There was a big bob house turned into a chicken coop next to the shed. There was also a hill that led up into the woods, which us grandkids used to sled down in the winter.
In the fall, we helped rake leaves into humongous piles on Grandpa’s front lawn. In the spring we’d help pull weeds from his garden at the back of the house, and plant flowers, and clear fallen branches. We would play by the brook and hop across it at its thinnest parts, looking for frogs or minnows to catch. We found Uncle Andy’s old tree house and said we would fix it up. Sometimes during the year, we would walk to Grandpa’s after school. We had to cross a big main road, and then walk down Alvah Wilson past the fire pond where the middle and high school were located.
At Christmas, Grandpa always had a little Charlie Brown tree out on his front lawn by Alvah Wilson with big fat colored lights. He also had a bigger Charlie Brown tree inside (real of course) decorated with silver tinsel, colored lights, and mostly handmade ornaments. We made gingerbread houses with graham crackers, frosting, and candy at the kitchen table. We loved when he would build a fire in the fireplace.
We also loved to paint boiled eggs for Easter with Nana French’s paints at the kitchen table. And draw there. And color. And do homework. And make lists (me). Ad work on school projects with Grandpa’s help. We did a lot of things at that kitchen table looking out the windows at the bird feeders over the porch.
As a seventh grade science teacher, Grandpa was always looking for opportunities to teach us. We would sit at the kitchen table and he would pull a pencil and notepad from the lazy susan and draw a diagram of an animal or plant to teach us about its parts. He taught us how to properly gut and clean fish on his back porch. He taught us about the different parts of the fish’s body. I will always remember when he cut into the fish’s eye and pulled out a little clear bead that he told us was the fish’s real eye. It was so cool. He also taught us about the anatomy of chickens and eggs and how the little white part on the yoke of the egg is the Egg. I wish I could remember all of the details of what he taught us.
We learned to be good helpers and good workers at Grandpa French. We actually learned to enjoy hard work, especially outside. One time when I was nine or ten we were helping to organize his shed and Grandpa, sweaty on that hot summer day, asked me to get a beer for him. I remember being nervous to go get one in the fridge under Nana’s nose and feeling like it was forbidden because I knew that members of the church didn’t drink beer. I was worried I’d be in trouble just for getting it for him. Outside with the beer, I popped open the tab for Grandpa before reaching him and it started to foam out. I remember putting my lips to the foam to prevent it from spilling and remembering just as my lips touched it that I couldn’t drink beer. I gave the can to Grandpa and remember feeling scared that I had broken the Word of Wisdom by almost drinking the foam from the beer. I think I eventually came to terms with this event realizing that my intentions were good and knowing I would never intentionally break the Word of Wisdom.
All year long, Grandpa had us carrying boxes and washing things, helping with chores, washing the dog, and more. The AM radio was always on in the background at his house. He listened to Howie Carr and Rush Limbaugh (and sometimes baseball) all day it seemed. He had radios on everywhere. It was even on when he got in the car. He taught me how to bookkeep for him. He sold books and other things at a number of nearby antique stores and so he had a perfectly organized binder to keep track of his sales and prices. He let me help him with it (I thought) because I had neat handwriting. We loved going to the antique stores with him. I’ve always had a fondness for old things since then. I had a huge imagination and would pretend I was looking for some secret item among the many treasures in the antique store. Everything felt so sacred in there.
In the winter at Grandpa’s house, we’d have family gatherings around the fire pit and laugh and tell stories together, and the kids would wander in the woods, following animal tracks. We loved following deer tracks all over the place even though it would lead us in a big circle.
Sleeping over at Grandpa’s house was always scary. He would set up the pullout bed in the living room for Payson and I, and then we’d be left in the solid darkness next to the huge, dark porch windows with the eerie sounds of the clocks ticking and the green-glowing fish tank gurgling and the sound of wind or howling outside. I was always scared of the dark, but Grandpa’s house was a whole different kind of darkness at night.
In the evenings, Grandpa would play memory card games with us when we were little. Then we started playing Go Fish with Nana, and other card games like Bridge that she liked to play. Nana and Grandpa invented a card game they called Baseball and that was really fun, too. They were really into card games and puzzles especially.

Almost every memory I have at Nana and Grandpa’s is happy, even looking back now at the hard times. I even went there to escape from the occasional family conflict or an argument with my brother. Grandpa was always a great mediator, but I just needed the peace and comfort of his home to make me feel better. It was a safe haven for me in my youth. 

1 comment:

  1. Olivia this brought back fond memories for me as I grew up with your mom and aunties . I so remember going into the house on 11A and was in aw of all the books which I knew he had from living next to them for 13 years on Elm street in Lakeport.
    Terry Shaw Dockham


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