On our way back from a meeting yesterday, Trish and I went through Rochester and got stopped on Rt. 68 next to an old stone church. The stone was that old sandstone that’s gray, brown with a good bit of black. The stones were uneven, yet neatly organized. It reminded me so much of the stone on my grandparent’s old home in Chippewa, PA.
They had this big, stone house with a huge stone porch. Inside, the walls were plaster — Grandma always painted those walls with bright, shiny paint. Later I learned that every room in that house had a fireplace, but Grandpap had boarded them up when they moved in — after all, they didn’t need them to heat the house. My Mom told me that the house had been owned by a doctor before my grandparents bought it. After Grandpap died in 1994, the house needed a lot of work and it wasn’t long before it needed a significant amount of work. I used to think that it would be cool if someone came in and restored it — maybe creating rooms with those fireplaces at the center.
Their front porch was glorious!!! It was completely concealed by large Arborvitae around the front and the one side. There were two sets of steps off the porch — one in center and one on the side — both made of stone. I probably went down those steps a thousand times! The porch itself was surrounded by a four foot high stone wall with super smooth slate on the top to finish it. We weren’t allowed to sit on there, even though that was at least a foot wide — it was not for trying — Grandma would yell at us. The floor of the porch was cement, painted gray and super cold in the summer. There was an old glider chair that sat three people on aluminum rails. It had one long, waterproof, white cushion with big green flowers. I can still hear the squeaky sound it would make as we would go back and forth on it. The porch had a yellow light and was hardly ever used at night, because it attracted the bugs. I can remember one night a bat flew on the porch and through the screen door into the house. Grandma and my Mom were running through the house with brooms until they got it back outside! They don’t make porches like this anymore. And I can’t think of one I’ve seen anywhere else that even compared.
Ah, I have the fondest memories of summertime at Grandma and Grandpap Knowlson’s house. There was a lot of lawn at their house. Acres and acres. And it was the softest, coolest and greenest grass you can imagine. We were always in our bare feet — but you had to watch out for the clovers — and the honey bees. I used to run, roll, lay and play in the grass at their house with my sister, brothers, Aunt Mary and my cousins, Teresa and Matt. I honestly have never found grass like that anywhere else. We never stayed inside in the summer — it was so hot in there and Grandma seemed to keep it all closed up, except for the screen doors on the porch or the kitchen. I can still hear the sound of those porch doors — the one on the porch was wooden and banged shut when you released it — the one in the kitchen was a heavy aluminum door that squeaked and banged.
Grandma and Grandpap made their home beautiful. I remember the little, pink Bleeding Hearts flowers that grew next to the house among all the other flowers. There were trees and vines for cherries, plums, peaches, pears, walnuts, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, grapes and more. We were always picking something. Eating something. Breaking green beans with Grandma. Picking the pits out of the cherries. And Grandma canned anything and everything. She made fresh pies and yummy grape juice.
Grandpap had the deepest, leather-like tanned skin from working outside in his garden. He grew everything — the biggest, juiciest tomatoes you can imagine — and sweet corn, green beans, lettuce, onions, radishes, carrots, potatoes, rhubarb, cantaloupes and so much more. You could always find him in the garden with a hoe. It was the most well kept garden, because he took great pride in it. He would be working in the garden, while we would play in the grass next to the garden. I would lay on my belly and look for four-leaf clovers there — and found many, many of them. I still have them pressed in a photo album. Aunt Mary would bring her frisbee out here or a hula hoop and sometimes a badminton set.
Down over the hill was the old brown barn. It was so old and we weren’t allowed to go in there without Mom or Dad. I was only inside a couple of times. I was afraid of it, but I don’t know why. I guess it made me uneasy. The barn was located near the end of the runway for the Beaver County airport and at least one single-engine plane had crashed into that barn that I can recall — and I think there were more.
You could go down over the hill even further. There was a cave that was from the old coal mines and all of the rocks around the cave were orange from the mine’s acid drainage and iron. Aunt Mary would take us there. The coldest water came out of that cave. Grandpap had built these watermills — like windmills only they turned when the water filled up the little buckets on the wheel. We weren’t allowed to play in the cave or go near it. We were so curious, but we were afraid of what might be living inside.
We played outside all summer. We used to walk along their driveway — made out of thousands of perfectly laid yellow bricks in two tracks with a row of grass between them — to the golf course where Aunt Mary would collect golf balls from her side of the fence. Their driveway was a long way back — off Darlington Road. It connected to another road that then connected to Darlington Road. I don’t remember the name of that one, but Mrs. Godleski lived there and had a really cool gift shop. I remember there were so many aquariums — maybe it was a pet store? I don’t remember. Mrs. Godleski had a counter with penny candy and sometimes we would get a lollipop ring. We didn’t go there often — maybe my Mom was afraid we would break something.
My grandparent’s house was located directly behind the Super 51 Drive-in Theater. This was one of those 1950-style drive-ins where you pulled up and hung a big speaker on your car window. There was a concession stand and the movie was shown on a huge, white movie screen. We used to take blankets and bedspreads out on the grass and watch movies through the fence. Sometimes we could hear the movie, because someone had their speakers turned up. We didn’t have the greatest view, sometimes it was hard to see. We were always bothered by skunks, bats and mosquitos and it wasn’t always fun to do that! Aunt Mary would show us where some teenagers had bent the fence up and they would squeeze underneath to watch the movie for free on the other side. We never did that.
We used to have to come inside by 1 or 2 pm to get our baths to go to church in the summer. We went to their church on Saturday nights — Christ the Divine Teacher — all the time. I don’t know where my Mom and Dad were, because Grandma and Grandpap were obviously babysitting us. Maybe this was when they started going dancing at Idora Park before we had a babysitter at our house? I don’t know. I can still smell the soap in their bathroom and using the powder puff with Grandma’s container of powder. It was fascinating! They didn’t have a shower and we had to take a bath and get us all ready with only one bathroom! And then we would take Grandpap’s old, blue Chevelle (it was probably a ’68-’72 model) to church. It was in mint condition and all the seats were covered with plastic or blankets. I remember we would sweat from the heat and no air conditioning!
When I think of summertime at Grandma and Grandpap’s house, I think of butterflies, watermelon, fireflies, fourth of July, firecrackers, walnuts, pinwheels, frisbees, plums, confetti cake, Chef Boyardee Ravioli, Tang and flip flops. And, all the things that comes along with living in the country and enjoying the outdoors.
Sadly, the house is gone. It was sold before Grandma passed away in 2008. I couldn’t even tell you exactly what is there today. I went on google maps and it looks like the Chippewa Township Municipal building is in the space that was probably the old drive-in theater or maybe where Mrs. Godleski’s house once was. And it looks like an Army Reserve base is now where their property was. I can still see part of the long, yellow brick driveway — not everything has been erased. It’s all grown up and is all trees now.
I think about that old house, and I hope that somebody else is enjoying that beautiful stone somewhere else — that it wasn’t destroyed along with their home. The house may be gone, but the memories will always remain.
Always B E L I E V E !