Some of my happiest early childhood memories were spent with my paternal relatives, especially at the home of my grandparents-Nellie Hoots and Henry Hoots, Sr. They were affectionately called Mama (or Granny) Hoots and Daddy Hoots. My grandparents lived in a two-story, two-bedroom house, with a cellar, on 5th Street in Rankin- a borough in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. Mama Hoots and Daddy Hoots passed away many years ago, but the house they lived in still stands and the rich memories that were created in that house span several generations.
If I were an accomplished painter I would capture on canvas the cheerful moments I spent at my grandparent’s home. I am not a painter but the wonderful experiences I had there are etched on the folds of my memory. I remember Granny Hoots wearing an apron and spectacles, moving around the kitchen, lying in bed; sitting on the front porch, or sitting in the living room. If memory serves me right, she was often sick, first with asthma. Later she suffered with the almost unbearable pains of cancer. She, like my maternal grandmother, was a devout Christian woman and a homemaker. Recently, one of my aunts described Granny Hoots as “A true stay-at-home-mom.” But to me, she was just sweet old Mama Hoots.
Thinking about the house on 5th Street, brings to mind fond memories of my paternal grandparents, and the sound of clanging streetcars lumbering on the tracks that ran right in front of their house. I think warmheartedly of the front porch, where in summer the adults and older kids gathered to relax, laugh, and talk. I remember the little store down the street where we bought Uneeda Biscuits for Granny Hoots. The smell and taste of Daddy Hoots’ Whole Cake bread is intertwined with other cherished childhood memories. (Whole Cake bread is one large biscuit fried on top of the stove.)
But my fondest memories of visiting my grandparent’s home stems from the time I spent with three of my father’s seven sisters: Aunt Dorothy, Aunt Iris, and Aunt Alice (Aunt Aggie). When I was a very young girl, they were unmarried, didn’t have children, and lived at home-Aunt Aggie and Aunt Iris were just school girls. They were: beautiful, smart, interesting, and fun. I loved being with them and I loved eating at their house. Two of my favorite dishes that they made were soupy-runny-grits (I don’t recall whether the grits were served with butter or like a cereal with milk and sugar). The other dish was pasta served with Alaga Syrup. It was delicious! They made homemade ice-cream too.
My aunts shared a room and when I slept over I slept in their bedroom. The room was located on the second floor in the front of the house. It overlooked the street. At night, from their room I listened for the familiar soothing, rhythmic clanging of streetcars lumbering up and down the tracks that ran right in front of the house. I remember clean linen and beds that had been made; the sound of giggling girls and happy talk- not gossiping or people bashing. I loved my aunts. They were all three nice to me.
When thinking of the house on Fifth Street, it is impossible for me not to think specifically and tenderly of Aunt Dorothy. She was a physically attractive and petite woman whose laughter, speaking voice, and presence permeated a space. Her laughter was warm and soulful, like it came from deep within. Her contralto speaking voice was melodious, like a pebble skipping effortlessly over still, clear water. Her presence was warm and welcoming. Aunt Dorothy was a hugger and a kisser and she was kind and just. She made me feel good and valuable. (My sister Sandy has often described Aunt Dorothy as compassionate.) She shared stories with us about her own childhood and life experiences. She affirmed, comforted, and encouraged my sister Sandy and me, and she always seemed in good spirits. Aunt Dorothy passed away in the 1990s. Her presence is greatly missed and her absence is deeply felt.
As fate would have it, after the separation of my parents I had very little contact with my father’s side of the family. But the quality time that I spent with them during my very early years created memories that helped shape and sustain me through the unpredictable turbulence that later became a routine part of my childhood.