At 4:17 a.m. on June 2, 1948 I was welcomed into the world by my parents, Lucella and Nelson Stillwell, at Tompkins County Hospital in Ithaca, NY. From what my parents told me, my father dropped my Mom off at the hospital and went home to bed. No pacing for him! Tompkins County Hospital in 1948 was located on Quarry Street, the site of the one-time Ithacacare and before that a dorm for one of the colleges. Both my parents missed my delivery into the world, as my Mom was out cold (as per the custom at the time) and my Dad was sleeping. However, in the morning, my father received a phone call from the hospital who told him that he had a daughter. He immediately set to work on my horoscope to try to figure out what my life might be like.
At the time of my birth, my parents were living in the upstairs apartment of my paternal grandmother's house. She was Mamie Belle White Stillwell and had lived in the house since 1905 when she married my grandfather, Elmer Clarence Stillwell. Elmer had been working in maintenance at Cornell University when he died suddenly in August 1925 of a respiratory ailment. He had built the house at 121 Falls Street about 1898, a porch being added on later along with a garage and a bungalow in the back about 1930. After my grandfather passed, Mamie taught piano lessons to support her three children. Apparently she also took in boarders in the upstairs apartment which is how I came to be living there for the first year of my life.
Nowdays, mothers and newborns leave the hospital within a day or two, but in 1948 my mother developed an infection and was not allowed to leave for about 12 days. So much for bonding with my Dad! My mother said she initially tried to nurse but didn't have much milk so gave up and went to the bottle method. At that time it was a long, drawn-out process to sterilize the bottles and prepare the formula. My mother wrote in a little brown-covered baby book about my habits, weight and presents I received. She said that from the first I was very inquisitive and would look all around.
Of course, there is no remembering my first year but on a sunny day in the fall of 1948 I had my picture taken with my parents in the side yard of my grandma's house. I never asked who took the picture but it was probably my grandmother. My mother was a stay-at-home mom--it was pretty rare that new mothers worked outside the home at that time. My Dad worked for the U.S. Post Office in downtown Ithaca as a postal clerk. Previous to my arrival, my mother had worked in the Animal Husbandry Dept. of Cornell University as a secretary. She left that job in December 1947--I can imagine that pregnant women did not work in such positions.
By July 1949, my parents had moved to 108 King Street, about three blocks away from my grandmother and closer to my father's job. The house was about 40 years old then. They were able to purchase their own home from money saved during the second World War while my father was in the service and sending money home to my Mom. She saved a good share of it in a bank account for when they would actually start their married life. 108 King Street was a two story home with attic and basement. We had four bedrooms, a bath and hallway on the second floor. There was also a porch room off the large bedroom that was not heated. We used it as a spare room, closet for out-of-season clothes and I believe the cedar chest was in there too. Another smaller room was eventually made into "the office." However, before that, my sister's nursery was there along with her pink iron crib and other pink furniture. I had the bedroom with the porch off of it until I was three years old. My parents had the bedroom next to the bathroom--it was always mysteriously closed and I was not allowed in there. Eventually I moved into the unused bedroom and the wallpaper was painted green. My parents moved into the bedroom with the porch and when my sister was older, she had the room next to the bathroom.
Our bathroom was very oldstyle. We had a tub on claw feet, a toilet and sink--all very old fashioned. I also remember a brown electric "milkhouse-type" heater in there along with a black shoe-shine box. We only took baths on Tuesdays and Saturdays and the water was only supposed to be two inches deep. Of course, a few times we filled it to the top and as luck would have it, it overflowed and water came through the ceiling in the living room. Not so good.
In the hallway was a closet where my parents kept their clothes. It was referred to as "the clothes press." Before Christmas, my mother would hide presents in a cardboard box that was permanently situated above the clothes as a shelf. Also in the hallway we had three wicker hampers of varying colors--one for white clothes, one for light-colored clothes and one for dark-colored clothes. There was lineoleum on all the floors and even some of our curtains were made of plastic. We had large slat venetian blinds on all the windows.
My room, as I said, was painted green and the furniture was yellow. When I was about 15, we re-did the paint to a lighter green and a cream color for the furniture despite the fact that I wanted sky blue and bright orange. Although, as a kid, I thought of my room as being quite large, in recent years I have seen it and it turns out to be quite a bit smaller. I had a very single bed made out of an iron cot with a very slim mattress on it. Every Saturday, I had to clean my room and change the sheets. The sheets were white and fitted sheets no doubt had not been invented yet. The previous weeks' top sheet would become the bottom sheet and a clean white sheet would go on the top. All of the bedding was shaken out of the window before making the bed up fresh. I had a green wool blanket and a fitted bedspread of green, red, white, yellow stripes. Furniture: a saw horse with a wide top (about a foot) where in later years I kept my radio and tape recorder. A book case for books and also my "little Ella dolls." A large dresser for clothes, sheets and towels. A wicker chair that I used for reading. A small dresser (wash basin type). At some point I received a wooden cubby-hole desk from my grandmother's house. There was also a closet in the room. Unfortunately I don't remember taking any pictures of my room.
My father's office/nursery was usually a clutter of things and I can't really picture it any more. It seems as though there was blue wallpaper with yellow ducks on it, but that memory is very hazy. Not sure if there was a closet but the door to the attic was in this room. My Dad used to hang his pants on the back of the door to the room and some times he would leave change in the pockets. Occasionally I would dip into the pockets for a dime or a nickel. My Mom had an old manual typewriter which she could type amazingly fast on. There were a lot of books in a make-shift bookcase.
The attic was used for storage and was very hot in the summer time. I remember the day I found all my parent's letters written to each other during the war when my Dad was stationed in England. The corsage that my mother wore on their wedding day was in a box, very dried out but still intact. There were always a lot of dead wasps in the window sills. During the pre-teen years, my friends and I would climb out the attic window onto the roof and write stories.