The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Michele Bender

November 9, 2013

MICHELE M. BENDER | Not another ‘for sale’ sign

— I suspect that goblins fly over Johnstown at night sprinkling “For Sale” sign seeds. Weather doesn’t seem to hamper the growth process; signs are popping out everywhere.

Houses on both sides of mine are for sale, plus one on the street behind me and three on the boulevard.

When I was a kid and a sale sign went up, it generated excitement. If the house belonged to close friends of yours, it was a sad occasion. But we still hoped for better, more interesting new neighbors.

 In third grade, we had to write an essay about our community. I had a city street map that claimed Johnstown had a population of 42,000 folks. Vacant houses sold quickly, and a lot of building was going on.

When the builders left, we kids would explore what we called the “foundations,” crawling all over, walking on second floor catwalks. If our folks caught us, we’d be grounded for a week.

In an early ’60s David Niven movie, he played a college professor with five little boys, a housekeeper, a grandmother and a sheep dog. The family realized they needed more space, but all they found were rambling three-story dwellings, worn and blighted.

They finally selected the least imposing, but maybe the shabbiest, of the homes available.

 “Why is our new house so big?” asked one child.

“Because we can’t afford anything smaller,” Niven responded.

My Mom and Aunt Ethel were “peepers.” No, they didn’t peer through curtains or nudge at blinds, hoping to catch someone in a compromising position.

Mom’s dream was to move her family out of Philadelphia. Yes, she pictured G-Pa, G-Ma, my delightful Uncle Ed (her brother), widowed Aunt Ethel, and she, Dad, and me happily under one roof. Trust me, the roof hasn’t been constructed yet that would contain our bunch.

But I enjoyed the peeping expeditions. We only did “empties,” of course. We peered through the windows of a beautiful home on Frederick Street in Moxham, and once temporarily lost Aunt Ethel, who wandered off exploring opulent grounds surrounding a giant home on Coon Ridge Road.

My folks ended up building in Woodmont, and the “Grands” stayed in Philly.

Early in the ’70s, small schools began shutting down. Pupil population was dropping, and larger schools took over.  Some districts thought these small buildings had the potential to be converted into residences.

Imagine a poor realtor leading a tour through one of those dinosaurs.

“Now, this very large room could be easily converted to a trendy ‘great room.’ Huge windows offer a spectacular view … of course, you’ll probably want to replace those brown shades. There isn’t exactly a closet, but those hooks could accommodate 35 coats.

 “You’ll never experience gridlock in the bathroom … eight stalls, no waiting.  And here … HERE … this is something you don’t see in every day décor.”

The realtor pauses to yank on a cord. “Mesopotamia!”

 “Any questions? Raise your hand!”

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Michele Bender
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