When my folks moved to Tulsa in 1949, was our first house there a Sears kit home? Could be. It sure looked like this one described as "Offered for a mere $1,465 in 1921, the Sears Vallonia could be configured to include five or eight rooms, depending on whether the owner wanted a second floor. The exterior is characterized by its large porch and a broad dormer with a three-paned window." (Compliments of Bob Vila, in an article on vintage catalog kit houses.)
Vallonia or not, wherever we moved, I always got the topmost floor with leaning ceilings that would bump my head if I wasn't careful.
The folks went to the trouble of selling me on this particular upstairs attic-like room. (“Hell, boy, I wish I’d had a room like this when I was your age.” I’m betting he had a better one. This was my stepfather who called me “boy” because it was kind of John Wayne-ish back then. Or was he calling me Hellboy, which would have been way cooler.)
The Sell. That’s how I knew it was a raw deal. Hot as hell in summer, stuffy in winter. But there was no wiggle room, I knew I was stuck. My sister got a room with the adults downstairs. The Sell. They used it for broccoli, for “applying yourself” at school. For acting more like polite kids who are probably doing time in Leavenworth if they’re still alive.
But I learned to deep-read in this room thanks to stuff the previous owner left as not worth carting away. In this Vallonia-like house on Wheeling Ave. in Tulsa, a huge stack of old Saturday Evening Posts and Fortunes was my inheritance. Fascinating stuff. They'd been there since the 20's, and bore the owner's name on mailing labels on the covers.
I looked at every page of every magazine, marveling at the low costs of automobiles in the 1930s (Cadillacs for $800 up) and reading wonderful fiction stories about Alexander Botts and the Earthworm Tractor Company. I probably read my first F. Scott Fitzgerald story in one of them. There were also some Ladies’ Home Journals in there, but the Fortunes and Posts captured my interest. The covers were thrilling and the stories and ads whirled me back in time. They were musty smelling but the inks were bright due to their time-capsule-like storage.
I read that "the war to end all wars" was WWI, and it puzzled me greatly because the year was 1949 and WWII had ended four years before. Why hadn't the first big war prevented the second? But I didn’t dwell on existential questions for long. By the dormer windows in a cabinet I found a neat pile of vintage Popular Mechanics with ads for Velocette motorcycles, Whizzers and King Midget automobiles. How to make your own Jet Pack. I could fly out that dormer window and buzz the neighbors, zoom over to Utica Square, strafe the mean dog on Peoria with my Red Ryder BB gun.
I was introduced to flying automobiles and a car that would become a boat as you drove into a lake or the ocean. Cooking with radar and microwaves—like that would ever happen.
1949 was the year, Truman was president, and a wildly inventive car had just come on the scene, one with an enveloped silhouette without bulbous fenders, the 1949 Ford. The Sears Roebuck catalogs listed televisions and it looked like we might get one. Tulsa was a boomtown, Oil Capital of the World, and I was infected for life with the optimism of the era.
To this very day, I think “It’s a Tulsa kind of Day,” when things are going right and I’m relatively free of aches and pains, and the dogs are playing as we walk. The 1949 Ford in the driveway somehow reifies and bridges the feeling first encountered in the maybe-Vallonia on Wheeling Avenue. A room with jetpacks, cheap Cadillacs and F. Scott Fitzgerald—and outside that room, an infectious boom town attitude and blue skies and the world on a string.
As Kurt Vonnegut said, “Enjoy the little things in life, because one day you’ll look back and realize they were the big things.”