Wednesday, May 17, 2006

My Grandparents and the New York World Fair


The last time I visited my grandma’s house, weeds were growing through the front porch and the two holly bushes by the front stoop had grown so tall they hid the front of the house. It had been nearly 25 years since I’d visited her house, shortly after her death. During this time, the house has sat empty and slowly is falling apart. I wasn’t sure it would even be standing as I walked down the hill. I could barely make out the old road, it was overgrown with trees. Pine trees, nearly mature, had filled in my granddaddy’s fields around the side and behind the house. This was where he also raised a garden for the family, the tobacco being grown on the other side of the highway. The apple trees just behind the house were overgrown and broken up. It had been decades since they’d been pruned.

I stepped upon the porch, unsure if the wood would hold me. It creaked, but was solid. I was revisiting the past. The door creaked as I pushed it open and stepped inside. The house was trashed. Wallpaper was peeling from the walls. What few pieces of furniture remained were broken and scattered around. Much of the plumbing and fixtures had been removed. The back addition to the house was sagging and the back porch was falling down. I didn’t dare step out on it. I entered the kitchen and noticed a pile of papers, mostly cancelled checks and bank statements, on the floor. It appeared someone had been looking for something. Did they find anything of value? I doubt it. The checks were dated from the late 50s through the mid-70s. I looked through a handful. They were made out to the electric coop, a farm supplier, the garage and the hospital. "What a story they might tell," I thought, "if someone organized them."

I spotted a red book underneath the checks and the bank statements. Although I didn’t know it then, it was what I had come for. White and yellow letters proclaimed it to be the "1965 Official Guide, New York World’s Fair." A blue banner across the front noted that this was "All new for 1965." I stuck a few checks into the book, wanting an example of my grandmother’s handwriting, and held on to the book as I made my way out of the house and up the hill.
We were living in Petersburg then. It was the summer between my second and third grade. One afternoon, my grandparents in their Chrysler pulled up in the yard, returning from their trip of lifetime. It must have been early in the summer, for once he started curing tobacco, my granddaddy would have never been able to get away. They were excited, telling us about the New World they’d seen; it would be a world where space travel becomes common and technology creates leisure. Even in the midst of the Cold War, it was a world of hope, symbolized by U. S. Steel’s 12 story Unisphere, the largest globe ever built, and created out of stainless steel so that it would last forever.

Looking through this book, I wonder if my grandma visited the "women’s only" Clairol exhibit. She could have tried out a new hair color while receiving beauty tips from experts while granddaddy checked out the General Cigar’s exhibit, replacing his usual Chesterfield with a fat cheroot. Did the two of them test-drive an Amphicar on Meadow Lake? Did they talk to each other via a picture phone at the Bell exhibit? And did they see what had to be the most amazing exhibit, Michelangelo’s Pieta, a marble statue of Mary holding her son Jesus after he was taken off the cross? This sculpture had been carefully brought in from Rome for the Vatican’s exhibit.

My granddaddy would only raise one more crop of tobacco. It’s odd to think that he was only a year or two older then than I am now. He’d die early in ’67, from emphysema, at age 52. My grandmother would live another decade, suffering also from emphysema, passing away a month after I graduated from High School. They never got to see this new world, but at least they got a glimpse even though it’s not nearly as glamorous as the fair made it out to be.

27 comments:

  1. I find it kind of sad to visit a home where I have lived in the past or visited quite often. It is almost like seeing something that no longer has a soul.

    On the other hand, I like poking around the hundreds of abandoned farmsteads in the Ozark mountains when I am down there. I love looking at remnants from a past life and trying to guess what life was like.

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  2. Is your Grandparent's home abandoned? It just seems odd that it wasn't sold to someone. It does give one a sad feeling to see your *past* run down like that.

    I'm heading up north next week to Houghton Lake for a family reunion with my brother and two sisters. We will be checking out the place we lived as children. I know it's occupied but last time I saw our childhood home, it was a shock to see how awful it looked.

    It's important to touch base with your *past* now and then.

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  3. Our old homestead in south Georgia, was bought by a nice young family and did a wonderful job of restoring the old house. Great read!!

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  4. Great post Sage-man. Does anyone know if they still have the World's Fair nowadays?

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  5. GREAT imagery!

    I think every generation sees the promise of more progress but fail to see its fruition. Just as the predecessors fails to see the promises that are fulfilled in thier time.

    And so it goes

    Marvelous post

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  6. I lost a friend today....mother of a childhood girlfriend...and so am really feeling this.

    Two years before my dad died I took him on what I called "The Sentimental Journey" to his old haunts. We visited the house he was born and raised in and a Chinese family owned it. It was gutted and full of Chinese trash. My dad couldn't stay long because he said he felt sick.

    Thanks for the birthday wishes!

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  7. Ed, I think of all the time I've spent in ghost towns out west--as well as in the library reading old newspapers from them--trying to figure out what life was like. This is a little more haunting since I've stayed in this house many nights when a kid.

    Karen, yes, it's abandoned and it's a long story. The Houghton Lake area is nice, I've only been by there heading to the UP, but there's suppose to be great fishing and duck hunting.

    Pat, sounds like your old homsestead is one of the "success stories"

    V, don't know about World's Fair. I was at the expo or what ever it was in Knoxville, TN 20 some years ago, I don't think it compared to the New York Fair. BTW, The Devil and the White City is a great book on the Chicago 1893 World's Fair.

    Mallory, thanks for the affirmation.

    Colleen, Sorry to hear about the lost of your friend. Sounds like your father's experience with his old house is normal. I know the first house I lived in--till the age of 4--was torn down.

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  8. What makes you assume that they can't see it?

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  9. What a great post. Very nostalgic. I like to imagine and wonder what life was like for my grandparents, and even my parents.

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  10. I get sad everytime I have to go by my Nannie's house. But at least the people who bought it fixed it up and have horses and it really looks nice. It is still hard to look at it and not just think of Nannie and being there with her.

    That was a really nice post.

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  11. Daydreamer, I don't assume that they still can't see. I suppose I assume little and trust that they're in God's hands.

    Bone, thanks for stopping by. I suppose I'm a historian because of wondering about such.

    Deana, thanks! I think it's bittersweet when you recall of the memories, but be thankful someone is living in and enjoying the house.

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  12. Sage, how awesome to find such a wonderful view of that era and to be able to relate your life to it so beautiful. Here from Michele's

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  13. i love coming here and reading your lovely memories.

    it seems so sad thats its abandoned.
    thank you for sharing that. i often think about my grandparents. especially my gran who died aged 57 when i was only 15. she was always so lively and young in my memory. and i wish she could have seen more of mine and my sisters lives. she'd have had a riot!

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  14. What a womderful thing to have found that 1965 Worlds Fair thing...These memories of your Grandparents are soooo precious. It's so great that you went back to their house to find these treasures.

    Here from Michele today.

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  15. I love going back to old places, parks, schools, and old homes, but it's not so easy for me now, but at least I have pictures of my grandparents and my great parents to show to my children.

    Hi, Michele sent me!

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  16. I'm glad you found that booklet, Sage. Great memories and a nice piece of history. My father-in-law worked as a security guard at that World's Fair.

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  17. Back this morning, via Michele, Sage. As I reread, I am thinking how said it is that the house is ramshackled, but at least you got to "go home again".

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  18. What memories it must have inspired. As I think about my childhood home I remember so many things I would love to have nonw. Such history.

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  19. I loved this post! How bittersweet it must have been for you to walk thru the old house. And the memories it must have stirred up. How amazing that the house even still stands. Did you inherit? Are you thinking of restoring?

    Have a great weekend.


    Here from Michele's


    ~K!

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  20. oops, and I love the World's Fair book. I am going to research that now.


    ~K!

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  21. i am in your age range and i distinctly remember going to the fair with my parents and sisters. i remember the 2 1/2 hour drive home took us over six hours because of a problem with the car (we DID keep going).

    i remember all of my grandparents too. my mother's parents died when i was a child. my father's father died when i was a pre teen and his mother, my noni, died at aged 102 right after the year 2000 came upon us. she saw the 1800s the 1900s and finally the year 2000.

    wonderful story

    and oh, michele sent me

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  22. THanks for all your comments. I should say that I never lived in this home, it was my maternal grandparents. However, I did spend many nights there, but not nearly as many nights as I've spent at my father's parents home.

    Welcome first-timer visitors Sue, Dear Al, Kismet and A Rose is a Rose.

    Dear Al, your site is a hoot. Next time I need advice, I'll send you a letter.

    A Rose, that's neat that you got to see the fair. And that your grandmother got to witness three centuries.

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  23. Michele sent me, Sage.

    It's amazing that the guidebook to the '65 World's Fair lasted that long in your grandparent's house, Sage. I was only 4 in 1965 so I don't remember the World's Fair that year but I can easily identify with the feeling of melancholy that goes with the passage of time.

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  24. Sage, I really liked this post.
    It was heartfelt and it took me with you on this journey. Thanks.
    Michele sent me

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  25. Fascinating trip into the past. Those can be both sad and wonderful.

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  26. Sage, have you ever been to southern Ontario to see the tobacco fields there? I'm wondering if raising tobacco there is similar to how it's done in the south.

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  27. Murf, I haven't seen those fields--though I've driven through S. Ontario. Tobacco is cured several different ways. Along the coast and piedmont of the Carolinas and Virginia, it's flue cured (cured in heated barns) and they pull the leaves off the stalks. In the mountains and Tennessee and Kentucky, they generally cure the tobacco on stalks and it dries in a barn.

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