114 Pleasant Street, Fairmont, WVA

My cousin found this photo of our mothers at a garage sale.

When she and I were little, the aunt we saw the most was Aunt Jeanette. She was our mothers’ older (not oldest) sister. Mom and Aunt Pat were numbers six and seven out of seven

Aunt Jeanette had two kids, a boy and a girl, but I didn’t know them very well or see them very often. They were eighteen years and more older. She was a widow too, something I didn’t know much about when I was young. I thought it seemed tragic and romantic. Her husband died in WWII. Aunt Jeanette lived up State Street in Fairmont, on a little street called Pleasant Street. She didn’t live at the top of the hill, and I actually had a great-aunt who lived farther up, on the corner of Satterfield Street and State Street.

Directly up the hill there was an orphanage, also tragic and romantic to a reader like me. I don’t think I actually ever saw any kids from the orphanage close up, but I did see the horses and the cows that they kept because the barbed wire for the pasture adjoined Aunt Jeanette’s property.

There were wide stone steps that led up to her porch which, when I was little, had not been enclosed. The wide stone steps were great for jumping up and down, and in the summer Aunt Jeanette usually had nieces and nephews at her house doing just that. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent swinging on that porch. Before it was enclosed, its ledges were wide and great for sitting on.

At the side of the house, there was always a huge garden. This was planted by Aunt Jeanette and Uncle Finley. Actually, they didn’t get married until some time in the sixties, but Finley was at Aunt Jeanette’s house so often that I always thought Finley was my uncle anyway. He had something called a familial tremor, which made his hands shake. He taught Industrial Arts, and he loved to work with wood. It always intrigued me to watch him because, despite the tremor, his creations were so beautiful.

Having been raised during the Depression, Aunt Jeanette was big on canning, but I think she and Finley would have had the garden anyway because he loved to grow things. He had a lot of flowers, too, and there was a big grape arbor behind the house. The summer I was ten, I spent two weeks with Aunt Jeanette, and I spent a lot of my time lying on my back and watching the sky through the leaves of the grape arbor.

You know how sometimes when you visit people, you remember their living room the most? For instance, my great Uncle Ulysses had a stuffed porcupine in his living room, so you know where I was when I visited him. In Aunt Jeanette’s house, it was always the kitchen that drew us. She always had a pot of coffee on, and if you listened, you could learn a lot about the family. Of course, being children we often interpreted the things we heard wrongly, but still, the information was there.

My mother’s parents lived in Aunt Jeanette’s house after my grandma was diagnosed with hardening of the arteries (which my cousin and I now believe to be Alzheimer’s). It was there that they celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary the summer that I was eight. I still remember seeing my grandma come down the stairs. She knew that the celebration was for her, but she didn’t really know why. When one of my aunts told her, she looked at my grandfather and stated, “That can’t be him. The man I married had hair!”

When I was little, you could walk from Aunt Jeanette’s house to the farm where my parents were married. Later on, I-79 interfered with that walk. Now it is being extended, and Aunt Jeanette’s house fell into its path. Aunt Jeanette died from Alzheimer’s quite some time ago in the late eighties and Finley lived on in the house. Then this spring Finley had an intestinal problem and died. He was over eighty, and sometimes I think he gave up because he couldn’t stand the thought of moving. He had planted a garden, but he knew that the move was inevitable.

One of my cousins is the executor of Finley’s estate, and he decided to have a garage sale to take care of the household items. His sister, who lives in Maryland attended, and she called me about it last night. She was appalled at the way things had been put together and at the people pawing through family things. I would have been too. That’s why I try not to go to those things. She got some furniture that had belonged to our grandparents, and she found loads of pictures. One of them shows my mother standing up for her mother at her wedding.

The garage sale did not go well, in part because my cousin told people a lot of things were not available. She was right, I think. The family should have the chance to go through things before the public does. Just because of the age of the people who lived there, there were a lot of antiques which could generate a lot of money and really shouldn’t be sold for a buck or two. But mostly it is the family things that interest me. I have a baby afghan that Aunt Jeanette made for my son and a big one that she made for me. That is where my memories lie.

Time-line-wise, we are not on this earth for very long, but it is still hard to watch progress devour things that were important to us. It saddens me that Aunt Jeanette’s house will be demolished for the highway. It is the end of an era for my cousin as well, and she has made the decision to move to WVA when she retires. She says that the hills call her. Maybe if she moves back to Fairmont, they will call me the way they once did. All of the things we do, all of the places that we go and the people with whom we interact, make us what we are. The house at 114 Pleasant Street will live on in my cousin’s and my memories, and maybe that is all that counts in the long run anyway.

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