I can only tell you the things I know. Of course what I know now and what I knew then swirl around in my mind some, so that fact and memory and impression are sometimes indistinguishable.

Fact: The city was full of churches and colleges (and church-sponsored colleges). Insurance was big business, as was Protestant publishing. State government. It was a coal-burning city, dusky with years of accumulated smoke. O. Henry’s description in A Municipal Report was apt for his time and not so different for mine. “Take a London fog 30 parts; malaria 10 parts; gas leaks 20 parts; dewdrops gathered in a brick yard at sunrise, 25 parts; odor of honeysuckle 15 parts. Mix.” My memory includes a pooling of stockyard offal when the winds had been stagnant for too long.

When I was little, we lived in one of those clapboard postwar houses that popped up like mushrooms for newly returned troops and their newly- minted families. A living room, kitchen, and two bedrooms off a hallway intended for an oil stove, but with the floor space filled by a gas heating on-hamilton.jpggrate. Dangerous for a toddler, and I had the scars to show, but during the ice storms we had heat and could even warm food. If the house was insulated, it was barely so. It was hot in the summer to a degree beyond the reach of one black oscillating fan. Half the time I slept with my head at the foot of the bed, hoping to catch the least bit of breeze.

Advertisements