Although the house hasn’t been there for more than thirty years, I think of it and see it in my mind whenever I go past where it had once been. I don’t remember the pristine white exterior. Someone who later owned it painted or sided it in dark brown and that is the way I remember it.
My mom and her siblings, of course, had a lot of memories, not just of growing up in that house but they were born in it. My mom’s oldest sister, Doris once told me, “I went to school one day and when I came home, there was Jean,” meaning that my mom had been born one September day when her siblings were at school. That’s just the way things were back then. More babies were born at home than in hospitals.
The Cheney home was located across the street from the railroad tracks. Many of my mom’s relatives worked for the railroad, including her dad. One of her great uncles was an engineer. When Mom was a little girl, she would try to see who the engineer was when a train would go by. If it was Uncle Rufus, he would always wave at her.
Being near the tracks also brought hobos to the neighborhood back during the Great Depression in the 1930s. The hobos weren’t bums. They were mostly men out of work because of the Depression who rode the rails seeking a little work somewhere. They would go to houses near the tracks and offer to work in exchange for a meal. Grandma Cheney frequently shared her home-cooking for some yard work or minor repairs. Before hopping the train out of Lima, the grateful hobo would make a large, chalked “X” on the sidewalk in front of the Cheney home. This was a signal to other hobos that this was a house where they could get a meal.
The Cheney home had no refrigerator for many years. There was an icebox in the kitchen and the iceman would deliver large blocks of ice to keep it cold. When Aunt Doris went to work as a switchboard operator at the telephone company after graduating from high school, she saved her money and bought her mom a refrigerator.
The house also had no indoor plumbing until a few years before Grandma died and the house was sold. Once or twice a week, a metal tub that was stored just inside the back door would be brought into the kitchen and water would be heated on the stove to fill it. No indoor plumbing also meant a trip to the little outhouse in the back yard to take care of business.
Grandma Cheney’s grandpa, James H. Neely, built the house. I don’t know if he built it for them or gave it to them a wedding present or how my grandparents came to own the house or whether they ever lived anywhere else during their marriage. Grandpa Neely owned the whole block and built all of the houses on the block.
My grandparents raised 5 children in this house. One grandchild lived there, along with his mother, my mom’s middle sister, for a few years when his dad was overseas during World War II. My parents lived there for about 6 months when they first married. My dad loved it because Grandma Cheney was such a wonderful cook and neither his mother or step-mother could cook worth a darn.
I don’t remember who lived in all of the houses in the block, but the Dawson family lived in one of them. You could say that my aunt, next to the youngest Cheney daughter married the boy next door when she married the Dawson’s son, Darryl.
My great, great grandma, Sarah Helen (Mason) Neely, whose husband had built the houses, at some time after his death, sold the farm and moved into one of the Delphos Avenue houses to be closer to town and family in her later years.
Grandma and Grandpa Cheney didn’t like Grandma Neely being alone all night so they would send one of their two oldest children, Frank or Doris to stay at night with Grandma Neely. People didn’t have TV for their evening entertainment back then so Grandma Neely would entertain her great grandchild by telling family stories, that is, teaching the family history.
My aunt Doris was in her eighties when I became interested in learning more and preserving our family history. Because of her good memory and many nights sitting at Grandma Neely’s knee, my aunt was able to tell me everyone in our family for 5 generations, including the female surnames and she showed me where they had lived and where they were buried. Not everyone is as fortunate to have someone who could pass on that much family history. I will be forever grateful. And so much of it started in this old homestead.