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Our financial resources were limited, and we needed to save money, so we decided I would purchase a house.

In 1974, our family moved from Overland Park, Kansas to Poughkeepsie, New York. I left my high school teaching position to work for SECOS, a nonprofit computer company. We drove two cars to New York. Our family consisted of two young boys, and we separated the boys for the trip to New York. Of course, there was no way to communicate easily between the cars, so we gave each boy a walkie-talkie that worked when the cars were not too far apart. Kansas was very flat where we lived. At the sight of every tall hill, the boys would ask, "Is that a mountain?"

Our financial resources were limited, and we needed to save money, so we decided I would purchase a house. I went to New York with the family's list of must-haves, and I found a place that fit all the criteria. The 1913 three-bedroom house was 35-feet wide on a 45-foot-wide lot. The house had two stories, four if you count the dirty basement and small attic. It was a house we could afford. We forgot to put a garage on the must-have list. We lived in that house for eleven years without a garage, lots of snow, freezing weather and daily alternate-side street parking.

While living in Poughkeepsie, we were able to make improvements to the house. The lot behind the house sloped off sharply. We built a 12-foot by 20-foot deck on the back of the house that we could access through a window enlarged to be a door between the kitchen pantry and the deck. With the deck almost touching a giant maple tree, it felt like a treehouse deck. The first summer, meals became impossible as yellow jackets like to join us for lunch. It was challenging to take a bite among the swarm of hungry yellow jackets. The following spring, I built a roof and screened in the deck. I added a sliding screen door between the pantry and the deck.

From inside the kitchen, you could not see the screen door when it was closed. This caused many collisions into the invisible barrier. Our two sons liked to call our dog, Gin Gin, or each other, to the deck and watch them collide with the screen door. We all learned to pause and check before crossing the threshold.

It was awkward going through the pantry to get to the deck, so we decided to incorporate the pantry and a small mudroom into the kitchen space to create an eat-in kitchen. Removing the plastered walls left a 15-foot span directly under the bedroom above. We installed a new 15-foot beam to support the bedroom. The house had a basement with a small dark root cellar that was converted into a dark room. It had no running water, so a hose became the source. A bucket became the temporary repository for used water. A pump in the bucket attached to another hose emptied the bucket to a drain in the center of the basement.

In Poughkeepsie, it was usually comfortable in the evenings until early July. We installed a pocket door at the top of the stairs to separate the upstairs from the downstairs. With no air conditioning, an exhaust fan in the attic pulled cool evening air into the second-floor bedroom windows when the pocket door was closed. A few years later, we installed an air conditioner in the wall of the attic stairway. The pocket door kept the cool air upstairs.

Poughkeepsie was a wonderful experience for the family. In 1985 the boys were in college, so the adults moved to Galveston, Texas, where I worked as Director of Academic Computing for the University of Texas Medical Branch. After eleven years in New York, we were happy for the warmer weather in Texas. We celebrated as we gave our show shovels away.

Cecil Denney is a member of the Jottings Group at The Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.


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