Amidst the hustle-bustle of that chilly morning, Lizzie realized she would never again live on River Road. She kept turning over in her mind the life-changing events of the past few weeks.
When the landlady in November informed Lizzie’s dad of the sale of the farm and the family’s subsequent need to move immediately, Lizzie was beside herself. What if she had to change schools just one semester before graduation? It was all so unfair. Fortunately, her parents found a small farm in another township of their large, consolidated school district. Her third-grade sister would be the only one to change schools.
Now it was moving day on that mid-December morning. Total chaos reigned as aunts helped Lizzie’s mother pack up fifteen years of dishes, clothes, and toys, while her dad and a bunch of uncles figured out how to transport the whole kit ‘n caboodle to their new place on Ford Road.
By contrast, Lizzie spent a quiet day in the county library at her Saturday job – her mind nonetheless swirling and whirling with excitement. She anticipated the move to a less-old house, complete with furnace, built-in bookshelves, bathtub, and fireplace.
Enroute to the library, Lizzie rode a final time through the only neighborhood she had ever known, there beside the convergence of Muddy Creek and Mad River. She could not imagine riding to school without the Tullis brothers or the Cardosas or the Loffing kids. By the time she entered the library, her mind and her heart were in full reminiscence of her toddler-to-teen times on River Road.
As much as she knew she would miss their woods with its mushrooms and wild flowers and corner spot perfect for downhill sledding as well as the lane leading to the rickety bridge, her mind remained occupied by the house she was leaving. And she seemed unable to shake recurring recollections of several rooms there used infrequently – or not at all.
Off the upstairs bedroom, where Lizzie and her sisters slept for most of their River Road years, stood a room housing just two items: a birdcage and a music stand. Lizzie wondered all the way into her Elizabeth years, when she finally learned her mother had taken violin lessons as a child, what it all meant. In the absence of any apparent violin or bird, she was left to wondering…
Across the hall stood a room serving multiple purposes during the multiple years of the family’s residence. After Grandpa died, Grandma had come to stay for a while, using it as her bedroom. Lizzie and her year-younger sister later talked their mother into letting them sleep there for teenage privacy away from the “little kids.”
To Lizzie’s way of thinking, however, that room at the top of the stairs was way more interesting years earlier when it served as a catchall room. Fascinating her were stacks of True Confessions and Modern Romance magazines, filled with alluring articles entitled “Stolen Kisses” and “When a Girl Goes to Prison.” Preteen Lizzie read them all cover-to-cover, comprehending very little but nevertheless reading every alluring word.
Another odds-and-ends room was located on the landing beside the spiral staircase. There Lizzie and her sisters played for hours, scrounging through its piles of old clothes suitable for dress-up and Halloween.
Near a box of old photographs Lizzie discovered a small scrapbook with a wooden cover and containing loose clippings of local boys serving and giving their lives during World War II, newspaper photos of FDR, and assorted mementos – including the program of the 1930 Champaign County Music Festival.
Painstakingly pasted into the scrapbook, however, was the entire story of a 16 -year-old girl missing in the vicinity of Kiser Lake. During the ten-day search for the girl, who had fallen through the ice while skating alone, newspaper speculation about her whereabouts included the possibility of white slavery – a troubling phrase Lizzie never really understood.
Downstairs in the “front room,” another catchall area, stood Lizzie’s favorite piece of furniture: the piano. She sat on the accompanying bench for hours singing “Sentimental Journey,” and “Yes! We Have No Bananas” from her mother’s sheet music. She played songs her mother had taught her and the righthand of any tune without sharps and flats. But mostly Lizzie sang every verse of every Christmas carol in a little paper book they had gotten free somewhere. Years later, Elizabeth could still sing from memory three complete stanzas of “Good King Wenceslas.”
Nearby in the front hall, Lizzie’s dad stored souvenirs from his Army time in Europe – among them, German money and a German flag – items Elizabeth would come to appreciate. But it was on the spiral staircase that Lizzie’s favorite memory took shape.
There she and her mother, just the two of them, sat on the steps thumbing through old magazines for first-grader Lizzie’s very first homework assignment: to find an autumn picture for the classroom bulletin board. Together they located the perfect one: a mother and daughter admiring an autumn leaf. Lizzie treasured that one, singular childhood moment, as did Elizabeth through all her years.
Her parents lived out their lives on Ford Road, but the house there never seemed like home to Lizzie, who left for college a semester and a summer later. No, the heart young Lizzie and grown-up Elizabeth shared would forever consider the house with the birdcage, the scrapbook, and the steps on the spiral staircase home for all-time.
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.