Oma Sue's Blog
Hi – I’m Sue Reyzlik. I recently realized my life-long dream of building a writing hut in the backyard. The writing hut serves as a creative space and home office for Oma Publishing. This blog will be intermingled with family history, varied experiences and insights on being a Grandma (Oma), creating my special backyard space, as well as, my “retirement” career as a self-publisher of children’s stories. And perhaps a little bit on the 32 years I served as Executive Director for Keep Fremont Beautiful and the wonderful people who are sharing this adventure.
My absolutely Most Favorite Little Doors Of All Times - The dining room in my Great Grandmother's House...
I have recently taken to Facebook to post pictures of little doors. Oooooo look at that little door… What do you think that little door is for… Why is there a little door right there… I love a little door tucked under the eaves, just like the door to the attic in our house on Military… and so it goes – pointing out one little door after another.
Someone asked me “Why the fascination with little doors”? Well to be honest – the fascination with little doors is just one of many old house fascinations I hold dear… I love lots of architectural elements and quirks contained in older homes.
The first house my parents owned was a little two bedroom home over on Garfield Street. It was teeny tiny and by the time my older brother Billy was starting school, my Mom was looking for something bigger.
I was maybe only four at the time but I remember touring house after house and thinking what a waste of time – all these houses were about the same size as our then current home. But Mom continued to drag my brother and I to one open house after another, looking for a better fit.
Then we toured a big house on Military Avenue and her search for a new home was over. We soon moved to a wonderful Craftsman Bungalow built in the early 1920’s. It had massive colonnade bookcases dividing the living room and dining room – those were fascinating. It had a narrow cupboard in the kitchen which held an ironing board – that was even more fascinating. Along the west wall of the dining room was a charming oak trimmed window seat… and yes it had little doors on the seats for storage – those were magnificently fascinating.
There was a little half bath tucked under the stairway right behind the kitchen with a little window right above the toilet. Back in the day, before fans, you had to have a window in the bathroom. This little window didn’t open to the outside though. That little window opened to the back staircase and back door – a window that opened to the inside of the house was extremely fascinating. Standing in the bathroom and looking out the window, all you could see was upper part of the wall – when you looked down out of the window, you could see the back door and steps… freaky weird.
The upper floor had a large dormer bedroom with a big closet tucked under the eaves – that was my room and it was so cool. The closet was my playroom as a little girl and when I grew older, I made it into my sewing room.
My brother’s room was in the middle of the house and he had a similar closet. One wall of his bedroom was normal and that was the closet side - but the other wall sloped down a bit to match the slope of the roof. The top half of that wall came down at an angel and the bottom half of the wall came down straight to the floor. There was a little door in the smaller bottom half of the wall that led to the attic. The attic was triangular shaped and was tucked under the eaves – running the full length of the back of the house.
The little door and the attic were creepily fascinating. I remember having to crouch down to enter the attic through that little door – turning on the single lightbulb that hung just inside that little door – and settling down to rummage through the trunk and boxes of diaries and photos that belonged to my Great Aunt Rose. She stored them in our attic when she sailed around the world… another fascinating story for another time.
I loved our house on Military. It was a great family home. It had a big basement with a family room. We had lots of parties in that basement – it was perfect for all kinds of gatherings.
My Mom and Dad were both fantastic cooks and our family and extended family enjoyed many meals gathered around my Great Grandmother’s old oak table in our spacious dining room on Military. The old oak table and chairs were handed down to me. I’m not the cook my parents were but we still enjoy family gatherings around that table. Every time I add the leaves to the table, I’m reminded of my Grandpa Joe and his naughty siblings – remnants of the gum they placed under the table in the early 1900’s remains visible to this day. I love old oak tables.
Living on Military Avenue, we were only six blocks away from my mother’s (Alyce Green Smith) childhood home and seven blocks from her father’s (Joe Green) childhood home at Greens Greenhouse. Mom’s sister and her family were living at the Greenhouse house, at 14th and Pebble, while we were living on Military. Grandpa Joe and Grandma Lil were living in the house they built, when they first got married, in 1926. That house was located at Linden and Pebble. Our home was the second house from the corner of Military and Pebble – so our houses were close to each other – within blocks of each other.
I spent a lot of time at the Greenhouse house growing up. Back in the really old days, the office for the greenhouse was originally located in the greenhouse house – just behind the parlor. Mom and her sister Joey would work in the office and us kids would run around the house or play outside.
One of my earliest memories of the greenhouse house was of hanging out with my Great Grandmother Katie Green. She was in her 80’s at that time and had broken her hip. She was in a wheel chair. Grandma Green showed me how to draw pictures of animals – she could draw a fantastic cat! I would spend hours peering at unknown but totally fascinating images through her stereograph viewer. She would patiently remove one image and add another for my viewing pleasure. Grandma would remind me when it was time to look at the clock so I could be surprised all over again by the little cuckoo delights.
I really loved it when someone came to the parlor door and turned the magic turner thing… that turner thing made a fascinating ringing sound. Soon the door would be opened for the guest or customer to enter the parlor and I would seize the opportunity to turn the magic turner thing… to everyone’s annoyance… but it was magical! (I often visit the Facebook Page called “For the Love of Old Houses” hoping to find samples of these old-time doorbells… When I spot one, I put a simple hashtag in the comment section, #ringydingydoorbellthingy, and remember my Great Grandma Green with fond affection).
From time to time, I would get the honor of pushing my Great Grandmother to the sink in the kitchen, where she would wash her hands before lunch. It was a low old-fashioned cast iron sink and her wheel chair fit nicely under the sink. Someone was always hovering over me and bigger hands would help guide the wheel chair in the correct direction – but still, I felt like a big helper. And the sink was fascinating.
Back in those days, the family would take a break from their work in the greenhouse and come into the house for lunch. A cook had prepared the meal and would serve the family. I’m sure that the grownups talked business while we ate, but I stared at the little doors on the south wall of the dining room. I wasn’t allowed to touch the doors. The doors were made of glass. You couldn’t see what was behind the glass doors. It drove me nuts.
I talked about the doors. I asked about the doors. Nobody ever gave me any information on what was contained on the other side of the doors. It was nerve wracking. I think it was my Aunt Peg that finally gave me an explanation of the mystery area beyond the little glass doors. It was at a family dinner and she explained to me that it was a Fibber McGee Closet and Fibber McGee lived behind the doors. It was important that I never open the doors because if I did, everything would come crashing out and I would be buried under the debris. Everyone around the table laughed – I didn’t think it was funny and I wasn’t sure she was telling the truth. Aunt Peg was always joking around. My Dad looked at me and simply said, “Don’t ever open those doors.” That was good enough for me – Fibber McGee was out of bounds!
Years later, my Aunt Joey opened the little doors to retrieve something. It was only for a moment, but there was no Fibber McGee – just lots of boxes and a storage area under the stairs… I was disappointed.
My cousin Cindy and I had some fun times playing in the old greenhouse house. One fascinating element of that old house was a furnace contraption that hung on the door trim in the parlor. A chain ran from the contraption to the furnace in the basement. You could turn the handle on the contraption and the chain would move another contraption on the coal burning furnace. I wasn’t allowed to touch that either. It didn’t have anything to do with Fibber McGee but Big Bill had told me not to touch it and I wasn’t going to cross him.
But still we played with the furnace contraption thingy – without touching it. To us – it looked like an old-time elevator handle. Cindy, Billy and I would take turns playing elevator attendant – shuffling customers to different floors in the department store. The shoe department was in the parlor, the toy department was in the living room, household items were in the dining room. Pretty sure our “play” was influenced by the old Schweser’s Department Store downtown.
The downstairs of my Great Grandmother’s house held real fascination for me as a young girl. The upstairs was a little different. I didn’t go up there very much until Aunt Joey and Uncle Mel moved into the house after my Great Grandmother passed.
There was a big, formal, fancy, polished, wooden staircase that intimidated me… I would climb up a few steps and freeze. This is when we still lived in the little house on Garfield and I wasn’t used to stairs. Someone would have to come get me and help me down – it was scary.
Eventually I could do the stairs without freaking out. One of my favorite spots was at the landing – there was a small window. You had to kneel to look out the window… that little window and the little window in the back of the bathroom at the house on Military were so fun. I am actually fascinated with oddly placed and pretty little windows.
So anyway – back to the staircases… It took me a lot longer to get used to the back staircase at my Great Grandmother’s house. This staircase was off the kitchen at the back of the house. It was steep! The individual steps were maybe five or six inches deep but really tall – teeny, tiny, trippy, slippy crazy stairs and dark – totally dark – totally fascinating.
Upstairs each bedroom door had a window placed above the door. Later on, I would learn that they were called transoms – to a little kid those transoms were soooo fascinating. I really wanted to open and close those little windows but they were out of reach!
The back, upstairs bedroom in Great Grandma’s house, was the spookiest. From the front staircase you walked down a narrow hallway to the rear of the house. You had to step down two steps to a landing where you could turn left and go down the back staircase, turn right and go in the upstairs bathroom or continue straight and go into the spooky bedroom.
The spooky bedroom was spooky because there was an open stairway to the attic – fascinating but way scary! For years that room was used mostly for storage. Later on, the stairway to the attic was closed off with a door and the room became a lot less spooky – at least to me!
I did love one thing about that room… it had some fascinating little doors. The style of the house is like an old barn which leaves some interesting space along the sides of the upper floor. Tucked under the eaves of this sloping roof line is unique storage areas. When Cindy and I were little, I would convince her to take me up to the back room and peek in those storage cupboards. They held mostly luggage and infrequently used items but I just loved looking in the compartment.
Over the years the cupboard was converted into a sleeping area. The cupboard doors were removed and newer folding cupboard doors were installed to make a charming little retreat. This is exactly how I imagined that area could be one day – and it is absolutely adorably fascinating.
There was another room – almost a hidden room off the side of the bedroom – it was small. There was a door on the side of the room with the same slope of the roof – it held a closet that was barely a closet – just inches deep… and inside was a banjo… that banjo was fascinating. Eventually the banjo became off limits too.
My Grandpa Joe’s house, on Linden and Pebble, had a couple of hidden doors and when you opened the doors, you had storage rooms. There were no little doors – just parts of the wall that would open to reveal the cupboard. I loved those hidden doors and the hidden compartments. My grandparent’s home had a breakfast nook – oh how I loved nooks!
This breakfast nook had a cute little corner shelf with wooden booth seats and table. The nook was defined by an archway opening – oh how I love little arch doorways in homes! Inside the nook was a small cupboard with two little doors. The cupboard was built into the wall – between the studs – so it was only four or five inches deep. Just enough room for my grandmother to store a treasured set of delicate flowered teacups and saucers.
Every Thanksgiving Billy, Lynny, Cindy and I would sit in the nook and eat our meal. It was cozy, warm, protected and intimate. We talked, joked and laughed while we enjoyed the feast that my grandmother Lil had prepared. This didn’t happen every year, but on occasion one of us would be brave enough to peak in the cupboard and report on the condition of the teacups…
My mother had painted a wooden tray in high school and my grandparents proudly displayed the tray on top of the cupboard in the breakfast nook. There it stayed for years… and years… One year we four were feeling particularly naughty and we turned the tray upside down. We giggled about that and when questioned about why we were laughing, we all kept our secret.
We four, felt certain that Grandma Lil or Grandpa Joe or even their cleaning lady, would find our little prank and turn the tray the right way. The next Thanksgiving, one of us noticed the fish were still upside down from the year before. The bubbles going the wrong way on the tray, made the four of us laugh hysterically in our little private, protected, dining nook. Those little cupboard doors held up my mother’s fish tray art and that cozy nook provided some of my favorite Thanksgiving memories.
Luckily for me, after my divorce, I had the opportunity to live for a time in my Grandparents home. It was comforting. It was the place I needed to be – to heal. The fish tray remained upside down in the breakfast nook.
After I married Randy, we needed a bigger home for our growing family. We found our home on Nye Avenue. Not an older home - a house built in 1951.
When we moved into our house, it didn’t have any little doors. But when we added a bedroom downstairs in the 1990’s, I asked my guy to add a little door and storage room under the steps – he told me no – it was a bad idea. I listened to him. I didn’t add a little door and cupboard. I have regretted that decision ever since!
I don’t know if that explains my fascination with little doors. Like I said, I think I have a fascination with old houses. Old houses are cool and old houses often have little doors. I love little doors. If I see a little door, I wonder what lies behind. It rekindles all those early childhood memories.
A couple of years ago, I did however, get a built-in ironing board and I do love my little door. It was just the fix I needed to feed my need for my own little door. And of course, my little house – my Grandpa Joe had a little house. And stain glass – I love the stain glass window in my Great Grandmother’s house… Old houses – big porches – back stairs – oak woodwork – transoms – window seats – claw foot bathtubs – #ringydingydoorbellthingy – cast iron sinks – Fibber McGee – little windows – sloping ceilings – big closets – tiny closets – hidden cupboards… old memories… it’s all just so fascinating.
SPECIAL NOTE ON THE PHOTOS BELOW: I seriously can not figure out how to get pictures to line up in the text - I can get one to work and then that's it! The rest of the pictures will NOT cooperate. SOOOOO anyway, I just threw some pictures of my childhood home on Military Avenue, my Grandpa Joe's home on Linden, and my Great Grandma Green's house on 14th into a slide show... then added some pictures of me and my cousins, mom and her sisters, Great Grandma and her naughty kids who put the gum on that table, a few photos of family and finally some photos that Cindy took for me of those very special little door memories. Also had to include a picture of Grandpa Joe's shed and my shed in Spring! So cool! Sorry they aren't labeled - CAN NOT figure that out.