(painting by Grandma Moses)
When I was a tot, we lived in a tiny house that would probably be best described as a Kentucky shack. It was at the end of my grandparent’s lane and the only clear memory I have of that house, seeing we moved when I was about 2, is of my dad having to stoop a little when he came in the front door, and my mom washing dishes at the sink. All the people who really mattered in my life were right there.
The next house was an aging two story close to a rail road track, where my parents made their living with a barn full of brood sows. I have a few vivid memories of that house: the phone was a bright blue color with a long twisty cord. There was a dresser in the living room where I couldn’t reach my binky (Yes, you read that right. I remember my pacifier with fondness.) and I would stand there and beg at bedtime until my dad would get it for me. My older brother and I slept upstairs in a room that was small even for children. There was a heat register hole in the floor that chilled us with the possibility of a scary person we called Viola coming out to look at us while we slept. I remember that the wall paper was peeling and the floor boards were uneven. But my dad would pray with us and tuck us in, and all would be well. When the bottom fell out of the hog market in about ’81, we moved again. It had been so much fun to watch the trains go by. We missed that.
This time we lived in my grandparent’s basement for a while. I can still smell the damp of that basement and see the curtain-wall made out of an old blanket around our mattress. My brothers and I were big enough to bring the cows to the barn at milking time, but my uncles did all the other chores and we watched. When they sold out and relocated to Wisconsin, we moved upstairs into their house while my dad worked at a nearby pallet mill and built a new house just a mile up the road. My room upstairs was bright green, with matching curtains. My little sister’s crib was in my room, and she had a decal of a little sheep on the end of it. The attic steps were endlessly fascinating, the way they pulled out of a hole in the ceiling. Sometimes my mom would bring down a very special doll of hers out of the attic so that I could look at it and marvel at the beautiful clothes and shoes she still had for it, but it always had to go back up to the attic for safekeeping with the ladder folded and snapped shut. Right beside the carport there was a sprawling mimosa tree that I liked to sit in when it was fuzzy full of blooms. It was a good place to live, with mature shade trees all around.
It took a while for our new house to get built, since my dad did a lot of the work himself. It seemed palatial to my 7 year-old self when we moved in. There was a blue bedroom for the boys, a green bedroom for the girls, a lavender guest room, and the kitchen was a sunny yellow. It had an avocado green toilet, sink and tub in the one bathroom because a friend offered them at a discount. A local carpenter had made the cabinets, very simple and practical, with a bar at one end where I sat every day to have my hair braided while I fussed and winced about the pain. The floors were linoleum, a pattern with little rocks that was genius for hiding dirt. There was a walk-in pantry, which was the ultimate in kitchen luxury! Mom did the laundry in an attached wash house, in a wringer washer. We stored our canned goods in the basement, and once when I went down for a jar of applesauce, I stepped barefooted on a little frog and slipped sideways on the slick concrete. The dirt in our new garden was bright red clay and my mom struggled to get anything to grow well. We planted a row of little maple saplings, but the house stood alone on a little knoll. The best thing about it was the neighbors who had children our ages. We all walked to school together and hurried through our after-school chores so that we could play. Then they all moved away and our neighborhood felt lonely.
After two years, we moved too, this time all the way to Pennsylvania. It was a huge step for my parents, to leave the Amish community and step out in faith. What we children really wanted was a small farm, but our new “temporary” home was a summer cottage along a creek. The former owners had closed in a screened porch with walls of windows, at one end of which my brothers had a curtained corner, 8 feet by 8 feet. When it became obvious that we weren’t going to find a farm right away, my dad built a wall for their room. My sister and I had a bedroom with wooden louvers in the doors, and we had to be very careful about placing our furniture so that we could walk around the bed. The house had paneling with pictures of antiques in the dining area. The living room was just tan patterned panelling and the drapes were a novelty for us, with chains to pull them shut. There was a teeny kitchen with mirrored panels over the sink where normally there is a window. We made faces at ourselves while we washed dishes, until my mom pasted up an inspirational poster so that we could only see the edges of ourselves doing dishes. For the first time we had a microwave and we thought it the easiest way to make popcorn ever. We also had carpet, a luxury for folks fresh from the Amish. It was mottled brown and orange and smelled like dogs. My mom shampooed that carpet repeatedly before she let us lie on it. For some reason it didn’t occur to them to tear it out. When there was a huge flood that came within inches of flowing in our doors, my dad hired a man to jack up the house and lay blocks to put it out of flood plain. Dad built sturdy decks so that we could spend evenings outside and hang our wet swimming clothes on the railings.. We ended up living in that cottage 7 years until a farm needing a lot of TLC came on the market. It had been amazing to live right there by the water. Our spot was the kind of place where other people went on vacation.
We children were ecstatic at the prospect of each having a bedroom after renovations at the farmhouse, but that had to wait.We cleaned and painted and moved in. There was a wraparound porch with a few holes that needed to be patched, and then we hung a swing. The storm windows came out of storage with the cold weather, but even so the curtains would waft gently when the gales blew across the valley. When it was time to scrape old wallpaper and tear down walls, there was plenty of help, since all four of us were teenagers by then. We eventually all got our bedrooms and a new kitchen, this one designed by a professional cabinet maker. We had lots of room to have the entire youth group over, plus a cabin on the hill for cookouts or camping, or dates even. It is a place I remember with great fondness; it was the house where we came home to after short flights of independence. Things stayed the same there, our space was our own, and enough of it to share. I left for good when I got married at 24, and that was good too.
Tomorrow I will attempt to get to the point. 🙂 Hang in there.