Days to Remember: The Monstrosity
by Lisa Kleman
My mother was thrifty — an understatement, to be sure. I, in fact, we, all of us six kids, were often annoyed by her ‘cheapness,’ as we termed it then, and we endlessly ribbed her about it.
One particular day, in the early 1960s, my mother saw that O’Dell’s Rexall Drug Store, in downtown Waterloo, New York, was throwing away some shelves. My mother, of course, rescued them.
Picture the scene. A small town with one street light and picturesque early 20th century buildings, brick with decorative facades.
But these shelves were not discarded in the prettier front of the store. No, they were in the rear of the block, where the backsides of all the buildings were uglier, some with rusted-iron loading ramps, empty boxes, and dented metal garbage cans.
You could park out back and enter O’Dell’s through their back door, which is what we were doing that day, when my mother spotted the mangled, metal shelves, dismantled and piled in front of the cement wall, waiting for the garbage pickup.
She could see the use for these shelves, and before we could yell, “No, don’t do it,” they were jammed into the back of our station wagon. Soon, the shelves were reassembled and placed in our house, in the mudroom. They held all kinds of stuff — hats and mittens and scarves (a motley lot, especially considering that there were six of us kids), boots of all sizes, metal roller skates and their keys, pails and buckets, gardening trowels and gloves, and all those kinds of unsightly piles of junk, best left unseen.
We called these shelves, “The Monstrosity.” We made fun of it, or rather, we loved making fun of it. It took on its own personality — The Monstrosity!
It was always there, until the year after the fire, when the mud room was remodeled into a bedroom (my parent’s bedroom), and four of the six kids had gone to college, and there was no longer a mud room in our house.
At some point, The Monstrosity was vanquished to the cellar, a damp, dark, dingy, cement and stone basement, which housed the washer and dryer, canned goods, holiday decorations, mouse holes near the floor, and lots and lots of spiders. I don’t remember what The Monstrosity held, probably partially-used cans of paint and old paint brushes and varnish, leftover from decades of refurbishing projects in the old house we lived in.
We didn’t notice The Monstrosity anymore — we were all growing up, and our lives were surging forward. We didn’t think about it anymore.
That is, until this one particular day in 1979, when I, 21 years old and living in my own apartment in Massachusetts, visited home and went down cellar to get a can of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup. I saw it there, along the back wall, forlorn and useless — The Monstrosity!
The shelves easily came apart and fit into my car. In Massachusetts, white spray paint gave it a fresh sparkle. The Monstrosity got a third life!
As the years flew by, my kids did not appreciate The Monstrosity, but I found it useful — it is the kind of thing that holds and takes care of all those little items you don’t know what to do with, where to put — ugly things that might just have a use someday.
Nothing lasts forever, though. The Monstrosity got a few more paint layers, but eventually became hard to manage, shelves falling apart at the slightest nudge, and all those unsightly objects spilling onto the floor.
Sadly, I don’t recall when I made the decision to get rid of The Monstrosity, or where I laid it to rest. Don’t even have photos to remember it by. Still, I can picture it, clearly, in my mind’s eye.
My mother was thrifty, and her children, especially her daughters, found it annoying sometimes, or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that we loved to be annoyed by her thriftiness. Growing up, I thought I never wanted to be like my mother (most daughters don’t), but, alas, I too am thrifty, and glad to be so. My children make fun of it and tell me I’m just like grandma.
Lisa Kleman, a local Rochester historian, is writing and giving public talks about her relatives, The Musical Dossenbachs, who lived in Rochester in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She has recently written two articles on David Hochstein for the Summer and Fall 2017 issues of Historic Brighton Newsletter, and has begun a blog about the Dossenbachs and Rochester history — it can be found at: http://livinginthepasts.blogspot.com. Lisa also teaches courses here at Rundel.