This is the house I lived in until I was 13 years old. I was the seventh and last child born to my parents. My oldest brother was 19 and serving in the Marines at the time of my birth. To the best of my recollection, we never lived in this house together. Of course, he lived here. He had a room here, there are pictures of him holding me as a baby and he slept here when he was home on leave or on break from college, but I have no memory of him in this house.
The house is a large farm house, with a big covered porch across the entire front. It’s painted white with no accent colors. There are two large picture windows on either side of the front door. Above the porch, you can see windows from the master bedroom at the front of the second floor. The porch floor is painted gray and it’s quite large, about 8 feet deep, and all around it is a closed in by a low wall. As a child, someone had to lift me up to sit here, or I would lean over staring down at the ground, legs dangling. The posts that hold the roof up are too big to wrap your arms around, at least as a child. And the ledge is so high off the ground that you know you’ll break your neck if you fall. Hot summer nights in August, we would haul mattresses out on the porch and sleep here, feeling the weight of the air and waiting for thunder to break the heat.
You walk up the concrete walkway and climb the grey steps to the porch where you cross to the front door. The wooden screen door is painted black and it creaks, no matter how much wd-40 my dad puts on the hinges. The front door is a dark wood, maple I think, solid and thick, with three small windows across the top.
You enter into a large room, the living room, and there is a large couch 7 feet long, to your left in front of the picture window. It’s a shade of dark purple, aubergine perhaps, and the back folds out to make a bed. A low coffee table and a loveseat complete the picture. Directly in front of you is the door to the stairway upstairs. I’m not really allowed to go upstairs. That’s where my brothers’ rooms are and they get upset if I’m poking around up there. Robert has a lock on his door, because he has guns and things that the little kids are not supposed to get into. To your right is another large room, a sitting room probably, but now it is the TV room. There’s another couch along the back wall. This one is brownish, older and has all the tell-tales signs and stains of several years of use. There is an old black and white console TV in the far corner where the glare from the window won’t distract, and an avocado green lazy boy recliner is just inside the entry, directly in front of the television. This is where you could catch my father sleeping while the nightly news was brought to you by Huntley and Brinkley. If a cat is sticking his head out from inside the recliner someone forgot to check for him before closing up the recliner for the night. Chances are he’ll have started meowing and my brothers will have released him when they were watching The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. At Christmas, the tree would go in this room and you’d have to watch TV through the branches.
Turing back to the living room, you’ll see that the passage to the dining room is a large opening, flanked by matching half walls, and that all the rooms so far are painted white, not eggshell or ivory – just plain matte white. The centerpiece of the dining room is a large maple dining table with 8 chairs around, in various states of use and abuse. To your left, just inside the entry way, sits a small maple desk with a telephone and a calendar desk pad. There is a large green glass planter containing several pens, pencils, crayons, scissors, and the occasional straw still in its paper wrapping. A three corner china cabinet with a glass front sits in the opposite corner on the left, past yet another large picture window. Inside you can see several glass cups and saucers, pictures and other knick-knacks typical for a home in the early 1960. My favorite is the violet chocolate pot and matching delicate cups and saucers. This was my great grandmother’s and I hope that someday I can sip hot cocoa from them.
Facing you at the back of the dining room is a built in cabinet with glass front cupboards above and 6 drawers below a buffet nook. There is a white sock hanging out of the top left drawer and the top right drawer is open just enough to glimpse white t-shirts and jockey shorts. With three teenage boys in the house, my mother gave up on folding laundry and just puts it all in these two drawers for my brothers to dig through and find what they needed. Within a few years, colors will start to appear among the whites and boxers will supplant briefs.
On the right side of the room, sits a rather large upright piano. A closer look reveals not a piano, but an old pump organ with a single keyboard and pulls stops marked with exotic instrument names like harpsichord and xylophone. This is where I learned to play piano before my feet could touch the peddles. My mother had to sit with me on her lap and pump the bellows while I picked out my lessons. When I was 10, we finally got a real piano, but it was still in dining room.
Just past the organ is the door to my parents’ bedroom. It opens in and immediately to the left is another door that leads to the back of the house, and to the right is a small closet underneath the stairs. There are two twin beds, side by side. They have gold brocade bedspreads and red padded headboards. There are red drapes on the windows and my mother’s vanity sits in front of them. A small folding table with a sewing machine is to the right and a hope chest sits at the foot of the beds. Until I was 5, I slept in this room on a cot at the foot of their beds.
You turn left and go into the hallway, where you’ll find a linen closet to your right, the bottom half of which is simply a large cardboard box filled with white shirts and other cotton clothes in need of ironing. The ironing board is permanently set up in this hallway, and the iron has seen better days. My mother ironed her things, my dad’s shirts and my things, until I was old enough to do it myself. We all celebrated the invention of permanent press fabric.
In front of you is the bathroom. One sink, one bathtub (no shower) and one toilet, which isn’t visible because it is in a separate room between the bathroom and the laundry room. This is the only bathroom in the house, for 9 people. Somehow we made it work.
To your left, just past the linen closet, is a small bedroom. This was my room when my oldest brother finally moved out. The bed sits against the back wall under a very high window. I would stand on my bed, on tiptoe and look out the window over the back yard, which stretched on forever. The other window, opposite the door, looked out on the cherry tree, the grape vine and the large patch of iris my mother loved so much. This is where I would watch for my daddy to come home and wait until I heard his car on the gravel, and then I jumped up and ran through the kitchen to the back door, along length of the back porch where I waited to jump into his arms. He’d tell me every day that he can’t do this forever, but I didn’t believe him. He always caught me.
Through the hall is the kitchen, a farm kitchen. The cupboards went all the way up to the ceiling and they were full of all kinds of dishes and foods and goodies that I couldn’t reach. There’s a double sink where we all took our turn washing and drying dishes, even me. I stood on a stool and dried while my mother washed and we sang old songs together. The floor was as big as a dance floor, waxed and slippery linoleum. I used it as my own performance space when everyone else was watching TV or on the phone or doing homework. I would dance to my own songs. I would “ice skate” on the slippery floor, running to the corner and lifting myself up with the counters. I would pretend I was being lifted high off the ice by a handsome partner.
Off of the kitchen to the left is a door that leads to the laundry room where it seemed there was always a load going. And through the laundry room is the back door.
Coming full circle through the kitchen, we come back to the dining room. There used to be a door here, but it was taken off long ago, probably after my mother got tired of hearing it slam a hundred times a day. Now we chase each other around and around from dining room to mom and dad’s bedroom to hallway, kitchen and back to dining room. Well, until my mother exasperated by the noise and trying to make dinner after a full days’ work begs us to please find something else to do!
So you enter the dining room; the center of the house. And you note how the table dominates the room. It’s a large oval top with two leaves added set on a huge round pedestal with four large feet. There’s no carving or embellishment. It’s a large, simple, functional table for a large, simple, (mostly) functional family. With the addition of 4 other leaves, this table can expand into the living room for large family dinners at Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and various family birthday celebrations. Even with those extra leaves, the small children still had to eat in the kitchen. By the time I was considered old enough to eat with the grownups, big family gatherings were a distant memory. In its’ present state it can seat the 6 of us; my mother, my father, my three older brothers, and me, and any friends who happened to tag along. By the time I was 6, we were all that still lived here, and still ate dinner together every night. Both of my sisters and my oldest brother have moved out to go to school or get married or both.
This table was more than a dinner table. It’s where we did our homework, after the dishes were cleared and washed up. It’s where we played games, Monopoly, Risk, Scrabble, and many, many more. It’s where my mother would lay out fabric and cut out the pattern for clothes, costumes, slipcovers, whatever she was making. It’s where we emptied out our Halloween candy and picked out the best stuff, where we frosted Christmas cookies, wrapped Christmas presents, and helped my mother set out the goodies for Santa. It’s where I watched my big sister put in contact lenses and determined that I would do the same when I was old enough. It’s where I’d spread out my paper dolls, my Barbies, my spirograph and paint by number and endless school projects. It’s where Tommy Patt, the boy across the street, would sit and eat our leftover French fries while I practiced the piano and my brother tried to talk to his girlfriend on the phone. It’s where we burned the mortgage when my parents paid off the house after 25 years. And where the three of us, my mom, my dad, and me decided it was time to move down to something more manageable, more suitable, for my parents as they started looking at retirement.
It took over a year to clean out the house; to get rid of the collected treasures of 25 years and 9 people. To go through the boxes of photographs and yearbooks and clothes left behind as the family went from 9 to 7, 6, 5, 4, and finally 3.
The table moved with my parents but it never had all those leaves in it again. It sat in the small dining nook of a 3 bedroom ranch house with shag carpet, colored walls and a breakfast bar. When my father died, my mother got rid of more things. The three corner cabinet. The lazy boy recliner. The cigarettes and the ashtrays. The jujubes and the licorice. The tomato and the grilled cheese sandwiches. The cat. And the table.