At 55 years of age, some of my dreams are still centered around 2108 W. Main Street. That is the house in which I grew up. That house, although not a person, holds a special place with me. I spent 18 years of my life in that house and did not leave it until I was married and moved away.
2108 was in the Portland neighborhood in the West End of Louisville. In the 50’s it was known that black people lived past Jefferson Street, which was two block to the south. I’m not being prejudiced here, but back in those days we were taught never to wander to, or past, Jefferson Street. Right or wrong – that is just the way it was and what we were taught.
For those of you who do not know us, we were a family of seven people. There was my mom and dad and five of us girls. In order by age are my sisters Mary Lee, Dorothy Ann, Sandy, me then Carol. We were also what I considered to be poor, and the house was not very nice and was in bad need of repair most of the time.
The house was a camelback shotgun house. A shotgun is a house where the rooms are all lined up one behind the other. There are no hallways. A camelback shotgun had a second story room built on one of the rear rooms. Shotguns were built that way a long time ago because, when homes were built then they were taxed on how wide they were in the front of the structure, so the structures were only one room wide.
The shotgun at 2108 W. Main Street was four rooms deep. When you walked into the front door at our house you were in the Living Room as well as my mom and dad’s bedroom. In that room was a couch, my dad’s chair, a TV and a double bed. Mom and dad’s bed was right in front of one of the living room windows.
There was also a fireplace in the living room that served to heat the room. My mom and dad burned coal in that fireplace. The fireplace was small, as coal-burning fireplaces were back then. I loved that fireplace because it was great to stand in front of to get warm and it added atmosphere to the room both at night with the glow, and while sitting and watching TV and relaxing. I can recall distinctly the smell of burning coal.
Walking back to the next room was the bedroom of all five of us girls. There were two double beds and, at one time, a baby-bed. There were also a couple of dressers in there too, as well as a space heater. Also at some point in my life, my dad built a closet in our room. The closet was big with a large storage area at the top.
We did a lot of bed shuffling in the early days, and Sandy made out like a bandit because of the order my two oldest sisters left the nest. The great bed shuffle went like this. Me and Dorothy Ann slept in one bed next to the wall. Sandy and Mary Lee slept in the other double bed next to the side door. Carol was in a baby bed next to the window. Blow a whistle and shuffle. Dorothy Ann leaves to get married and Carol moves in the bed with me. The baby bed comes out. Blow yet another whistle and Mary Lee gets married and Sandy gets a bed all to herself. This is the bed configuration I remember the most.
In my bed, I slept next to the wall and Carol slept on the outside. The house did not have air conditioning. During the summers there would be a floor-fan that sat at the foot of the two double beds. I was always hot, so I would stick my feet in a hole in the plaster in the wall because it would cool me down. The plaster hole was always cool, and I was often glad they did not repair that hole. Many times, when the fan or the plaster did not do the trick, I would often times join my family to sit out front in the middle of the night to watch the cars go by.
The winters were always cozy in that bedroom. You could see the glow from the fireplace in my mom’s room and could often times hear someone up and adding coal to the fire. The space heater did the trick in keeping us warm, and it was comforting to hear it come on and go off. A fond memory indeed.
The next room next to our bedroom was what we called the junk room. It was appropriately named. There was all kind of furniture in that room at one time or another. It served as a kitchen in my early years and in the later years, it became more of a sitting room with a couch in it. The telephone was there as was my mom’s alarm clock. The bathroom was off to the side of the junk room.
The reason I mention the alarm clock is because I never understood why it was two rooms away from my mom’s bedroom. She would set it every night, and it would go off in the morning playing music. Often times I would mess with my momma by turning it up all the way, so it would go off blaring music throughout the house. Mom would stumble out of bed, cursing as she went through our room at a rapid pace to get to that clock to shut it off. I would lay there and chuckle.
While in grade school, we were sometimes allowed to come home for lunch. I remember during the winter months mom would hang laundry in that junk room from clothes lines that were there. Coming home for lunch would include sitting with the wet laundry that hung over your head. Somehow that wet laundry would magically disappear by the time the school day ended. I was never clear on where it went or how it dried so fast. Disappearing laundry was a mystery to me.
The bathroom was a mess. For many years only a curtain served as a door. At some point an official door was added to the bathroom. In the bathroom was a bathtub that was old fashioned and had feet. It was great for relaxing in. There was no shower – just a tub. Behind the tub was a little shelf. The shelf was only about 3 or 4 feet high and behind that shelf was a great chasm of junk. If you looked back there you could probably gather a lot of history about our family. An example of what was back there was: For Christmas Mary Lee would often times buy us younger sisters fancy, perfumed dusting powder with nice little, fluffy powder puffs. These little canisters of powder would be set on the shelf behind the tub, and would one day be gone. Oops. I can probably say that every container of powder had fallen behind the shelf and into the chasm never to be retrieved or seen again. The chasm was not big enough for someone to get back there to get the goods, but they were there none-the-less.
The next room in succession was the kitchen. It was the most modern room in the house, and I think was added or remodeled sometime in the course of my life at 2108. It was big and had all the appliances that should be in a kitchen. It also had a door to the outside, except that door had no screen door and no steps. So, if you went out that door you had to literally jump out. Unless you could step really high, you could not enter by that door and would have to come to the door that entered into our bedroom through the side door.
My mother used to do the laundry from an old wringer washer. This was mostly manual labor. That machine was huge and most of the laundry was manually placed through the wringer to squeeze out excess water. When I was a teenager my mother got a new automatic washing machine. She was never so proud. That new automatic washer was placed in the junk room. Believe me you couldn’t lay down a sock, or a shirt without it being thrown into that washer. My mom was now a clothes washing maniac, and I can’t say as I blame her.
The upstairs room was a room full of junk and was not used. You could never get up there because of the junk that was stored in the stairwell. Once daddy was cleaning out the stairwell and we were allowed up to the room upstairs. On a few occasions I would take dolls up there and play, but I could probably count on one hand the number of times I was in that room. I t seemed like such a waste, and I always wanted that room to be my room.
The yard at 2108 was small. The front yard had virtually no vegetation except a rose bush, and what little grass we had would be cut by using a push “Leave It to Beaver” mower. There was a side yard that was long and narrow. You could literally stand in the side yard and touch our house and the house next door at the same time. The back yard was equally tiny. The coal pile was in the back yard. I can still see my mom in the winter carrying in coal for the fireplace. Many times she would have to get the snow off the pile first before carrying in the coal in her coal bucket.
Mom and dad were buying the house on 2108 W. Main Street, until my mother quit making the house payments. Daddy would give her money to pay the bills, and I think she opted to buy food rather than pay the house payment. They lost the house. The good part of that was the buyer of the house decided mom and dad could rent it. That didn’t last too long and mom and dad had to move. My mom and dad moved from the house at 2108 to an apartment on Algonquin Parkway. I had married and had children then and also lived in those apartments. It was nice to have them literally right next door.
We grew up without a car. It was sometimes a real hardship. My dad took a bus to and from work everyday. He worked at the Census Bureau in Jeffersonville, IN. The city of Louisville ran the bus system, and when the bus system went broke, they quit providing service to Indiana. Mom and Dad moved to Indiana at that point.
The house at 2108 W. Main Street burned down sometime during the 70’s. I remember going down to 2108 house after reading about the fire in the paper. I stood at the fence to that house and cried. Standing at that fence staring at the charred house, my life memories went rolling by in my head; Laundry hanging in the junk room, the sound of the space heaters, the fireplace – all of it. My husband took video of the burnt out structure. I couldn’t help but think of all the things that had gone on in that house, and all the fond memories I had there. It really did make me sad. I wondered if all that powder was still behind the bath tub. 2108 W. Main Street was, and will always be . . .home.