When my parents bought that first and only house, it was the very early 1940’s and hot off the depression era, if not still in it. They were actually lucky to afford a home at all, let alone one that included property that once housed a barber shop — which is why we had such a big yard to play in.
But my sister Bev, who was 4 when they moved in (Marny was 2) says it wasn’t always a yard worth playing in. For five or six years it was a tall grassy field with a big dirt pile in the middle. After the third child came along my father cleared it out and even dug a garden for Bev to grow carrots in. Marny kept the new lawn mown in appreciation — and in her bathing suit so she could exercise and get a tan at the same time.
The house originally had begun as three bedrooms up and two rooms downstairs – a living room and a kitchen/dining room with a coal stove. The next owner added on two more rooms but didn’t take the time to match the floor heights so we always had a half step down to the next room and another half step when the owner added on the bathroom area. This is also when the big side porch was put on.
All these additions were there when my parents bought the place. The two new rooms were apparently a new dining room and a newer kitchen. This is when the old kitchen became the middle room. It had no real purpose anymore beyond housing the coal stove that heated that half of the house, and holding things they didn’t know where else to put.
According to my sister the newer kitchen was very basic and dad had to put in a new sink and some white metal cupboards. He also tore out a kerosene stove and put in a real one.
Because this kitchen was big enough to eat in, my dad claimed the supposed dining room. He built shelves along three walls and filled them with all manner of tools, tubes and wire so he could fix radios and televisions in his spare time, and play with his ham radio. It was a three walled man-cave more or less, that we had to walk through to get to either end of the house. And if there was a window in there I never saw it. The room was just plain dark without a light on and off limits to us if Dad wasn’t home.
Curiously though, this was the room we entered each time we came into the house. For reasons only my mother knew we were not supposed to use the front door. Dad put up coat hooks for us right inside this side door off the porch that we were expected to use. Because there were more coats than hooks we found it easier to throw our coats over the backs of kitchen chairs and after repeated warnings from Mom we would ultimately find our coats thrown down the cellar stairs.
The coal stove in the original kitchen was how my parents heated the house and my sisters would wake up to the same cold we did, but Bev quickly learned to stoke the embers and she and Marny would huddle near it eating toast until a parent got up to get it going in full force. Sometime before I was old enough to remember, dad put a coal furnace in the cellar, complete with registers to three rooms. Somehow none of us newer kids thought to go down and huddle around the furnace on cold winter mornings. Not sure I would have because the cellar was damp and dirty. Thus, finding our coats down there angered me more than shamed me.
My sisters were given baths in a metal tub with water heated from the stove because though there was a water heater it had to be lit each time and I think maybe mom was afraid to do that. This was also replaced before I came along.
The side porch was where my mother practically lived in the good weather and where she strung lines to hang her laundry to dry in winter. Before I hit double digits, my dad enclosed the porch with triple track windows all around and my mother was thrilled. She could sit out all year long, and she could watch over the neighborhood without seeming intrusive.
Then Dad did the biggest remodel ever. He gave up his man cave, gutted that whole end of the house and gave mom a new bathroom and her dream kitchen. The walls were expensive cherry paneling, her new cupboards were built to her short stature, and Dad put the sink under a window so Mom could look out onto us as we played in the yard while she washed dishes. He even installed a second phone so she could really enjoy her new room.
And because Dad wanted the kitchen “balanced” he bought her a white dryer to offset the white stove at the other end. She rarely used the dryer, but she loved that remodel. Forty years later she still referred to it as her “new kitchen.”
And that middle room? Oddly enough it became first my father’s bedroom while he battled cancer, and then my mother’s bedroom when she could no longer handle the stairs. There were no walls put up, no privacy of any kind but they didn’t care.
It was home.