Over the Thanksgiving holiday with siblings in the home where I grew up, I was delighted to see the beautiful cypress bench that my woodworker brother Larry crafted and placed in front of the house. We considered the text that would go on a plaque. Larry’s idea is to get to the point!
Back in Happy Days when families roamed this street, here resided the Shulmans, Ellisons, and Sohls. A ’57 Chevy in the driveway. Kids playing ball, riding bikes, going to music lessons. The Euclid of old, a different place, a different time.
When I arrived back home for our Christmas Day gathering, the bench was occupied. There sat Franken, the newest addition to the neighborhood. While getting acquainted, I had a thing or two to share about our family home, our refuge for five generations. As it turned out, Franken had some words to share with me.
Judy Talks to Franken
Franken, I love seeing you here, waving to the many passersby who are walking, biking, and driving on this busy street, often on their way to classes, work, ballgames, and activities at the nearby campus. Some fitness enthusiasts are passing by the house—and you—before crossing the street to climb the 176 steep steps that lead to a vista of the neighborhood and the city with its landmarks and parks, its drumlins and lakes.
When my Grandpa Shulman (also known as Poppy or Pa) bought this two-family home in the spring of 1951, he had lots of company. There was Grandma, who passed away before the year was over, two daughters—my mother Gertrude and my Aunt Jeanette, my dad Sam, and four Ellison and three Sohl kids. In time, another Ellison baby added to the tumult of a lively family home.
We Ellisons lived upstairs, and our Pa and the Sohls lived downstairs. It made no difference whether you lived up or down, since doors were rarely closed and never locked. Pa, a very handy man, always seemed to be painting, wallpapering, chipping plaster, making a little hole into a big one in one room or another. If there wasn’t enough to do upstairs or downstairs, he was outdoors, pouring concrete to repair the sidewalk.
There was a steady flow up and down the back stairs to see what was cooking. The scent of Aunt Jeanette’s famous chocolate cake, marbled with red and green and yellow, wafted up the stairs and beckoned us downward. With my most precious and talented mother often at her piano, the chords and melodies welcomed the downstairs cousins to trek up the stairs and sing along. In the warmer months, with doors and windows open, the neighbors, too, had the pleasure of hearing music, music, music.
When my dad bought a spanking new Chevy wagon in 1957, Mom insisted on having three rows of seats. After all, Dad had many kids to transport to parks, beaches, bakeries, diners, grocery stores, the movies, music lessons, friends’ homes, you name it. Always chomping on a juicy cigar and whistling a tune, he was a devoted husband and father and a cherished Uncle Sam.
Franken, there is so much to tell you about the many people who basked in the closeness, warmth, and love that permeated this family and this home. But I see that you have something to say. I’m all ears!
Yes, Judy. I like to listen and learn, but I also like to talk.
Let’s start with my name. There once was a Victor Frankenstein who, in a science experiment, created a not-so-lovable creature who had no name, though many called him Frankenstein, after his creator. On the other hand, I do have a name. Just so you know—I am Franken, a very lovable, very kind presence. From my comfortable bench here, I greet and welcome the visitors to this house and all passersby.
Most people around here smile when they see me. They pause. They laugh. They sometimes sit beside me and take a selfie. Then, they strike a conversation with your brother—my creator—who might be dressing me up with a new hat or handing me a beer or a billiard cue or a rake.
Frankly, this Franken is having a blast watching the goings-on with my big, open eyes and listening to a cacophony of neighborhood sounds with my big, open ears. I love getting to know this neighborhood, including you and those who came before.
The cypress bench in front of this house is a beauty! It is the perfect place for you, for me, and for others to have a seat and simply lighten up in this new year and for many years to come!