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1472 North Sycamore Lane
By Caroline Giammanco
The winter of 1945 warmed with a jubilance no bitter frost could touch. We had won the war, and our boys returned from the battlefront eager to regain a normal life. War brides returned with some soldiers while childhood sweethearts wed in simple ceremonies back home. No one felt the need for folderol. After all, the dark days of the Great Depression were still fresh in the minds of everyone, and instead of postponing nuptials for elaborately planned displays, many couples preferred to embrace the simplicity and excitement of a new era. Such was the case for Ellie and Emmett Fields, the newlyweds who moved into 1472 North Sycamore Lane on a brisk December morning. Their short honeymoon to the coastal Carolinas was over, and now Mr. and Mrs. Fields were content to settle into their new life.
Their life together was new, but their surroundings were not. I had known Ellie since she was a newborn. Her parents moved into the family home, built by the Caster side of the clan just after the Civil War. Always a bright and cheerful child, she could be found picking daisies in the backyard or playing hide-and-seek with her friends in the expansive rooms of her beloved home.
“I’m never leaving this house,” she told her mother at breakfast one morning when she was a mere five years old.
“Oh, really, young miss? What happens when Prince Charming arrives on his white horse to take you to his castle?” her mother, Sarah Caster, asked with a smile.
“I won’t go.”
“You won’t go if Prince Charming wants to marry you?”
“No, he will have to live with me here on Sycamore Lane.”
Sarah gave her daughter a peck on the cheek and tousled her hair. “You know this house stays in the family, and heaven knows your brother has no interest in living here after he finishes school, so you are welcome to this castle.”
Ellie grinned, and her missing front tooth revealed a pink tongue. She was delighted at the idea of making this her castle, and she never let go of that dream.
Ellie spent her childhood days imagining she was a character inside the elaborate, imaginative tales she spun as she played or sat watching the fire in the living room. She read books by the hour and wiled away sunny afternoons in the woods found just past the boundary of the backyard. Don’t get me wrong. She was social, too. Friends were numerous, and Ellie was invited to her fair share of parties. That’s how she met Emmett.
He was a fine looking young man, two years older than she was. He attended school in the neighboring town of Alton which was why they hadn’t met sooner. In those days, young people didn’t travel any great distance from home. Jake Olsen’s 18th birthday party brought them together one April evening. It was love at first sight, as the saying goes, and those two were inseparable until the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and Emmett answered the call to defend our country. Emmett Fields was a good man.
After the war ended, Ellie’s parents moved to Chicago to be closer to her brother, Dale, and his wife, Laura, and their two young children. The war had separated Dale and Laura too, and now that Dale attended the university under the G.I. Bill, and they planned on having a third child as quickly as possible, Ellie’s parents, Sarah and Henry, decided it was time to be closer to the grandchildren. Sarah and Henry had tired of the same routine and believed a change of scenery would be good for them. Dale, who was always Henry’s favorite, appreciated their help around his place. Ellie didn’t take offense to her parents’ departure. It meant, after all, that her castle awaited her and her prince.
Years passed as Ellie and Emmett settled into a life of their own. Children came. First, little Raymond arrived, followed closely by blonde-haired Lucy. Emmett opened a lumber and hardware business to accommodate the booming housing market, while Ellie maintained the home and raised the children. She volunteered generously at the veterans’ hospital, always thankful that Emmett had returned from the war unscathed. Ellie also chartered the town’s first Garden Club.
The yard smelled divine throughout most of the year. Jasmine, clematis, honeysuckle, as well as several varieties of flowering trees and shrubs, decorated 1472 North Sycamore Lane. Ellie was known for her exquisite rose bushes, and she grew a vegetable garden that could have fed a dozen families. The extra produce she shared with the wives who lost their providers during the war. Unfortunately, that number was high in our little town. Platoons were made up of young men from the same community, so when a platoon took a hard hit, say at Iwo Jima or the Battle of the Bulge, a generation of young men was wiped out all at once in a small town. The names of all the boys we lost will forever dwell with me. War is hell.
Ellie and Emmett had the normal ups and downs. Some years were happy ones; others were sad. They celebrated birthdays, Christmases, and other happy occasions. There was sadness too, as they lamented the passing of both of Ellie’s parents. The children grew, and while they brought much joy, they also brought stress and anxiety to Emmett and Ellie. When Raymond left to go to Vietnam, I thought Ellie’s heart was going to break. She stopped eating, and Emmett even took her to see Doc Harris. Those were some tense days as we waited for Raymond to return, but return he did. Life moved forward with the passing of time.
Grandchildren arrived. Lucy gave Ellie and Emmett a brood of youngsters to dote over. Her husband, Hal, an electrical engineer, provided an ample living for her and their six children. They lived a few blocks away on Hyacinth Street, and most days were filled with the children’s laughter and play. Raymond added three more to the mix. He lived nearby as well.
Oh, how Ellie enjoyed the sound of little feet running through her expansive three-story home. Her favorite place to spend time with them was in the living room with its fireplace. She spent hours reading to the grandchildren. Ellie was a good storyteller herself. She spun yarns of far-away places with castles and dragons. The fire crackled and the children’s eyes widened as Ellie concocted one tale after another.
Sometimes, she couldn’t believe her good fortune.
“Who would have thought?” she said one night as she nestled into bed next to Emmett.
“Who’d have thought what?”
“All those years ago when we met at Jake’s party… Who’d have thought that today we’d be where we are.”
“I don’t know, El. It seems to me you always knew you were going to be here.” Emmett winked.
Ellie gave him a gentle slap on the shoulder. “You know what I mean. Of course, I always wanted to live in this house. I mean who would have thought we’d have built such a fine life with a house full of beautiful grandchildren always running in and out? Our children are happy and successful, and sometimes our good fortune just brings tears to my eyes.”
“I knew what you meant, dear. Yes, the Lord has truly blessed us. Now let’s get some rest. We have that big day of shopping and checkups at the doc’s tomorrow.”
A quick hug and kiss, and the lovebirds were sound asleep.
Many good memories were made on Sycamore Lane, but not all were happy. Sometimes heartache hits even the happiest of homes. I loved Emmett as much as I loved Ellie, even though I’d known her since the day she was born. The news Emmett received that next day at the doctor was worse than any of us could have imagined. He passed before the next Christmas came. Ellie was devastated.
Raymond and Lucy both asked her to come stay with them.
“Mom, it’s not good for you to stay in that drafty old house alone. What if something happens to you?”
“I’m not leaving my home. I miss your father terribly, but that house has been my heart since I was a child. I’m not leaving it. I never feel alone as long as I’m there.”
Persistent requests for her to move were ignored.
“What if you fall, or what if the weather turns bad and the power goes out, leaving you with no heat?”
“I’ll be fine. There’s wood on the back porch, and I have my fireplace. I won’t go cold. You don’t have to worry about me.”
Ellie proved them right. She had frequent company and was never alone. Members of the Garden Club visited, and her kindnesses to the war widows were never forgotten. Someone was always checking on her, making sure she wanted for nothing. The grandchildren continued to visit, and young Elisa was as fond of the old house as Ellie had been as a child.
“Grandma, I want to live here someday.”
“I’ll tell you what, little one—”
“Grams,” she interrupted. “I’m fifteen. I’m not that little.”
“Well, you’ll always be my little Punkin’.” Ellie and Elisa exchanged a hug. “Since none of the other children have any interest in living here, I’ll make sure you get it when it’s my time to go.”
“Let’s hope that’s not for a long time, Grandma.”
“I’ll go when the good Lord wants to call me to his home, Elisa. Until then, you focus on your studies and become that nurse you’ve always said you wanted to be.”
Elisa and the other grandchildren beat a steady path to 1472 North Sycamore Lane. Even as they grew up, moved away, and began their own lives, they never stayed away from their grandmother for long. Ellie’s home was where everyone went to feel safe and relaxed.
Time passed, and slowly Ellie’s health declined.
“Mom, it’s time you move in with us or go to a nursing home,” Lucy told her.
Stubborn as always, she refused to abandon the place she loved. “I’m not going to leave my home. Just stop that nonsense.”
During Elisa’s last year of nursing school, Ellie passed peacefully in the night.
Now, here I am, alone. Elisa isn’t moving in until May, and I sit empty for the first time in decades. Some of you may have heard that expression, “If this old house could talk, what would it say?”
Now you know.
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