Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Book of Me – My Childhood Home in Tompkins County, New York



1486 Taughannock Boulevard
Tompkins County, New York

Our home on Taughannock Boulevard was surrounded by open acres to the north and west, a small house to the south, and the main road, State Route 89 to the east.  The stately farmhouse, located six miles north of Ithaca, New York, and two miles south of Taughannock Point, is where I grew up; an idyllic place to live. The circular driveway wound around a grassy area where several pear trees and a large snowball bush grew and filled with white blossoms each spring. A slate sidewalk beckoned family and friends up onto the wide and welcoming front porch.

This house had been the apple of my mother’s eye. Never did she dream that she might live in this lovely home. Through a quirk of fate this house became hers in 1946. The house had been owned by good friends Chuck and Jeanne Lueder. The Lueders had sold it to Carol’s parents, Maude and Merritt Agard.

Maude’s dream was to open a tearoom and this house seemed to hold that promise. As they started renovations, the large estate home owned by the Jones family of Philadelphia overlooking Taughannock Falls State Park came up for sale. It had been a tearoom before World War II, and had potential to become one again. Merritt and Maude knew that if someone bought the property known as Taughannock Farms Inn, Maude’s tearoom, just two miles south, would have serious competition. There appeared no other choice but to sell the Boulevard house plus the Jacksonville Road house in which Carol, Ed and baby Skip were living in order to purchase Taughannock Farms.

With the sale of these properties, plus a $3,000 bequest from Merritt’s maiden aunt, Bertha Agard, Merritt and Maude had enough for a down payment on Taughannock Farms Inn. Carol and Ed Nunn, now without a home, decided to purchase the house at 1486 Taughannock Boulevard.

Entering the front door of our Boulevard home a wide front hall beckoned. A stairway leading to the second floor was on the right. A wide landing allowed space for a full-length mirror and a small corner table. To the left was a large double living room with a stone fireplace. Straight ahead the large farm kitchen provided warmth in winter, and was a favorite family gathering spot year round.  Dad and Grandpa Nunn (Pop) built the kitchen cabinets from pine boards. There was a screened porch off the kitchen, too small for a table and chairs, but held a small couch to provide a sitting area. The kitchen had two large windows around which cabinets were built. Those windows afforded a view out onto the circular driveway. Years later, my mother told me she always envisioned a swimming pool within that circle.

Off the kitchen was a long narrow room that was eventually turned into a TV room. Another door went into the living room/dining room area.  The long narrow TV room also housed our upright piano. I felt a house was not a home without a piano and a cat!

Off the back room was a small bedroom where my grandparents, Nana and Pop Nunn stayed while living with us May through October each year. We grew up in an era when it was common for several generations to live together in one household.  

The house had three large bedrooms upstairs, one bath, and a large walk-in attic. Closets were at a premium in this old house, but we made do.  The bathroom was small and served the entire family. With six of us in the house over the summer, I don’t remember a problem sharing the bathroom; we all took turns.  



Our two screened porches provided summertime living spaces and in the heat of summer provided cooler sleeping quarters. I bunked down on the side porch, off the kitchen, and Dad slept on the front porch. Mom suffered through the heat in the upstairs master bedroom.

There was a one-car garage and a slate patio off the TV room.  From the TV room, we could go out onto the back patio to the clotheslines that were strung from the back of the house to the trees at the edge of the yard. 

Every house has its “quirks” and ours certainly did. Houses on the ledge of the lake did not have a great water supply. We had a tiny well out back that provided the minimum amount of undrinkable water.  For years we brought jugs of water from the restaurant to provide water for drinking and cooking.  Baths were taken with barely an inch of water, and laundry was done at the laundromat in Ithaca. Years later a washer and dryer was purchased to launder the linens at the Farms. Mom took advantage of those machines to do our laundry.

Since Mom and Dad feared fire, the house had a number of lightning rods installed along the roofline.  Consequently, I always felt safe in our house during a storm. Electrical current inside the house, however, was a problem. You couldn’t plug in an appliance and have another running off the same circuit or a fuse would blow. Sometimes life at the Boulevard house was a challenge.  

The house was heated by a coal furnace. It was exciting when the coal truck came and put its chute through the basement window.  We could hear the coal rattling down the chute and into the coal bin. The coal bin was actually just a section of the basement that was blocked off with plywood under the small cellar window just across from the furnace. During the cold weather Dad went down at regular intervals to shovel coal into the furnace.  In later years the furnace was switched over to propane, so Dad didn’t have to feed it any longer.  

During the 1950s a small silver metal box sat next to the front door.  Twice a week the Dairy Lea milkman left milk products ordered from a list left in the box.  My mother or Grandmother Nunn (Nana) ordered milk, butter and cottage cheese. Unless they were planning to bake something special, they didn’t need to order cream as a small amount floated at the top of each glass bottle of milk.

Our black wall telephone was located behind the door in the dining room. We were on a party line, so you had to listen for the ring to know whether it was for you or not.  We used it infrequently.  During the 1950s the phone was moved into the kitchen, but since our line came from Ithaca and the Farms phone was from Trumansburg, it was a long distance call to cover those four miles. Eventually we had two phones; one for family use and the other somehow hooked into the restaurant’s line so it could be answered at our house.

My room held a double bed, bookcase, dresser and dressing table. The very small walk-in closet connected to my parents’ closet off their room. The room faced south with three large double-hung windows, giving me views of the south, east and west. I developed a fondness for daisies, so my room was wallpapered in light lavender wallpaper filled with bouquets of daisies.

One of my household chores was to dust. If that was not bad enough, I had to dust between all the spokes on the stairway banister. That meant individually going between each one with a dust rag – what a slow and tedious job that was!!

When I was older I loved to mow the lawn. That was helpful for my parents since they had one day off a week – Wednesday – and that day they spent doing chores and mowing the huge yard – by hand, of course. No riding lawnmowers in those days!  I tried to mow as much as I could on Tuesdays so they wouldn’t have to spend their whole day off mowing.  Every spring I cleared the brush off the front bank that went down to the road. That made the house look so much better and I know my parents really appreciated that job done.

In the early years Mom washed clothes in the wringer washer that she set up in the back room, and filled with water from the kitchen. After the clothes went through the agitation cycle, she took them out one by one and put them through the wringer at the top to squeeze the water out.  We were warned not to get our fingers anywhere near the wringer. The clothes were then placed in a laundry basket and taken out to the clothesline to be hung up.  There they would swing in the gentle breezes and capture the fresh smell of sunshine.

Watching my mother wash the white sheer curtains that hung at our windows was always an experience.  Once or twice a year she took all the sheer curtains down to wash them in the wringer washer. Then these torturous looking wooden frames with nails sticking out all around were assembled in the kitchen. The freshly washed curtains were stretched across these frames, attached to the nails to dry. We could hardly move in the kitchen and back room area when the curtains were drying; we also had to be very careful not to get “stuck” by a nail. That hurt!

We ate our meals as a family at the kitchen table. The table sat in the center of the large farmhouse kitchen. The kitchen had a gas range that always had a dish of bacon fat on top. Bacon fat was what we used to grease frying pans with before cooking and for numerous other uses. The kitchen was also the spot where Nana did the ironing. She set up her ironing board, always being careful nothing else nearby was drawing electricity so she wouldn’t blow a fuse.  As she ironed, she sang – Tura lura, lura…and other Irish tunes. Those melodies floated through the house.

I have wonderful memories of my growing up years in the Boulevard house. As I look back on my childhood, sometimes it is hard to determine what my earliest memories really are. Favorite family stories are repeated over and over that chronicle those early years, and sometimes these stories pinpoint your identity. I have been told I was a climber – they were forever pulling me off the tables at the Farms. Another story was that on my first birthday – before I could walk – I crawled from the family picnic area at the state park right into the lake.  It seemed I, too, was drawn to the water by the hand of the Great Spirit.

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