This Old House

From the outside, it really doesn’t look much different.  Midwestern red brick ranch, 1959.  Small, high bedroom windows.  Tiny front porch, two-car garage. 

Mom and Dad bought it new, just after they married in January, 1960.  She still owns it 50 years later.  Although Dad did some minor modifications to it over the years – a deck out back, some built-in shelving between the kitchen and dining room – the infrastructure has been virtually untouched for half a century. 

While spending a day with Mom, taking her to see her deliciously tasty cardiologist, i had a chance to stop by the old homestead and see for myself how the renovations* are going.  Given that we were still poking our way through a lifetime of her treasures just a  month ago, it was strange to see the house emptied…

And mostly gutted…  BJ, my niece’s husband, has already re-wired the place, bringing it up to code.  Exterior walls are insulated.  Cracked plaster ceilings have been covered with drywall.  New windows installed.  All of the old hollow plywood doors, carpeting and baseboards have been thrown into the industrial dumpster in the driveway.  Bathroom fixtures, interior doors, ceiling fans and kitchen cabinets have been purchased.

BJ does good work.  Being laid off momentarily, he also has the time to commit to the project – at least 12 hours a day, unless he’s picking up side jobs.  i was pretty amazed with the progress.

Talking with Mom today, she’s still in a massive blue funk over the whole thing.  i reminded her for the millionth time that she had options, but chose this one.  That choices have consequences.   That once it is finished, it’s going to be lovely and new.  That there were safety problems that would have likely killed her sooner rather than later…

Mom:  They had to tear out the things your Dad put in… the deck, the shelves in the dining room.

daisyfae:  i know, that’s the hard part…

Mom:  Then they come home and tell me how much fun it was knocking out that wall in the kitchen with a sledge hammer.  I asked them not to talk like that anymore.

daisyfae:  Yeah, that’s gotta hurt.  But if Dad were alive, you know damn well what he’d say about it…

Mom:  “It’s only ‘stuff'”.  He said that a lot…

Seeing just the shell of the house, i was struck by how small it is.  There were six of us living there – three tiny bedrooms and one bathroom.  My poor sister, S, spending her teen years stuck in a small bedroom with her two punk-ass little sisters.  Her psychadelic  “flower child” artwork from the 60’s sharing wall space with our Batman and Hotwheels posters. 

With the carpets torn out, the darkened pine floors were exposed for the first time in decades.  Standing at the end of the hallway, i remembered it as a runway – a place where my sister, T, and i played.  Racing up and down the hallway, skating in our knee socks – with the tops rolled down to make “elf skates”.  At five years old, it seemed a mile long…  Now?  Maybe twelve feet… i was too lost in my head today to walk off the distance.

It was about that age that i got a Fisher Price Circus** for my birthday.  Endless hours of my childhood spent pretending to be the ringmaster, the lion tamer… Riding the circus cart down that damn hallway.   

How small was i?  Could i really ride that little thing?  Down a twelve foot hallway?  Seems like yesterday.  It was just a hundred years ago.

* In case you haven’t been playing along, my Mom has been living on a bed in my niece’s living room since July of last year.  The original plan was for my niece and her husband to build a new home on some acreage Mom bought them in the country, but financial reality struck, and that plan was scrapped for something less hallucinogenic more practical.  They are now renovating Mom’s house, and building an apartment on the back (along with a nice master suite for themselves), and the entire clan hopes to be moved in by late summer…

** Early in the excavations, i rescued the circus from underneath Mom’s bed.  Cleaned it up, and it now resides on the shelf over my kitchen bar.  It seems so tiny, but it was just the coolest toy ever when i was 5…

20 thoughts on “This Old House

  1. Glad to hear that the reno’s are progressing. BJ must be some kind of prince.

    I understand your Mom’s position too. Reno’s continue here at our house too, but the direction has changed and so has the director. The vision that was is no longer. But, life goes on….

    Neat find on the train. I’m mentally composing a write up about being an outsider. I never had the opportunity to live in one place for my entire growing up and that trend has continued in my adult life. I wonder, sometimes, what my life would have been like had my parents stayed put (and stayed together).

  2. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

    I had 4 brothers. I sometimes wonder just how insane my parents were.

    Many years we all got cap busters* for Christmas. We’d spend the rest of the winter months riding our tricycles around and around the basement.

    Like you I look back at that space and wonder how in the heck we all fit in that small space.


    *Toy guns that when combined with a roll of paper caps made a fairly realistic bang each time the trigger was pulled.

  3. rob – my ex-brother-in-law retired as a senior military officer, and i had the opportunity to watch their family (4 kids) move every 3-4 years. those kids were remarkably grounded… i came to the conclusion that the stability in a family can come from somewhere other than a house, neighborhood, school… look forward to reading that one…

    TAG – FIVE BOYS?!? Oh, dear… and i wonder if they even sell cap guns anymore? i had a bunch, and we spent a lot of christmas mornings making noise and shooting at each other… bet they’re illegal now, or something….

    annie – one of the few things i had to rescue from the excavations. a friend told me i could get a fortune for it on ebay (nearly intact, worn paper on the figures, but not much else wrong) but i won’t sell it. my sister had the fisher price amusement park – big plastic mat that we taped to a 4’x4′ sheet of plywood… merry go round, little ‘peg’ people…

    DP – that would be strange, but at least you can go back and steal nuts…

    nursemyra – you can play with my toys any time you want to, hotstuff!

  4. I wish I had gotten one more walk through my old homestead. Now that the demolition is about to turn to construction, maybe your mom will start to feel better.

  5. We moved my mom here to Texas from Calif. a year after my dad died. She doesn’t like it and always talks about going back. But I know what she really wants to go back to is the time when dad was still alive and they were together and happy. Everyone looks at the world through their own lens, I guess.

  6. I had a shoe box with a toilet roll holder and used to pretend it was a circus with a lion that ate everybody else….


    happy saint paddy’s day

  7. Every time I go back and walk the suburban side streets of Cleveland when I spent my childhood, I can’t get over how puny it all looks. I grew up in a very small house with four kids and two adults. It’s no wonder the lot of us have a touch of madness.

  8. savannah – i am looking for excuses to hit the road in your direction. that drink would be very welcome…

    chris – we are focusing on how nice it will be for her to have her own space, with her own things, again. that she wanted to be in a home with family around her, and that this is the way to get there – despite the unpleasantness that she is currently experiencing… she’s trying to be patient…

    stephanie – my memories are very different from those of my siblings, and we were all there, in the same place at the same period of time. nothing more personal than your own neurons…

    texastrailerparktrash – you’ve hit it on the head. she doesn’t want the house the way it was. she wants life the way it was. and it’s sooooo hard to try to tell her that things will never be that way again…

    manuel – so sad. you were a creative young thing, weren’t you? happy saint patrick’s day to you as well. may there be good tips and limited stupidity wearing plastic glasses, green beads and styrofoam shamrocks on their heads…

    unbearable banishment – the houses were smaller, and our expectations for personal living space seem to have grown exponentially… spoiled are we… madness and all.

  9. I also have circus train envy. Now we know where your love of carousels comes from. If you ever make it back out here, we must venture to the zoo to see the restored one with carved wooden horses.

    I’m glad you are getting the place fixed up, and that you found your dad’s sax, too. Many blessings on your camels.

  10. silverstar – it was, without a doubt, my most treasured toy. and i hadn’t made the connection to my ‘carousel addiction’, but you’re right – that’s where i get it! still trying to wrangle another trip out your way… no luck yet, but won’t quit trying! my place is a perpetual ‘work in progress’, and i know that i’ll get it finished up around the time i land a job in europe… that’s how it works….

  11. When I was born in 1959 (Christ, that sounds so long ago) I was the 6th child. We live in a trailer that might have been 60feet long, all I really remember was how thin the walls were. I think we all adjusted well. Maybe. For the most part. sorta.

  12. It’s funny that you mention the Circus.
    It was one of the few things that survived my basement flood … it was in the Garage with a box containing Mrs. Beasley, Holly Hobby, Dawn Dolls, my Barbie doll Airplane, Camper AND Cruise ship and various other little toys.
    My son has the Circus now and he LOVES the thing! lol

    Isn’t it weird to see how small things are?
    They’re all just so larger than life when you’re a kid!
    Even my childhood home that I now live in.
    I used to think it was HUGE!
    It’s not.
    But my memory sees it that way!

  13. carlae – 8 people in a 60′ trailer? ouch… gives ‘togetherness’ new meaning. seriously, i’ll quit whining now…

    syncopated eyeball – so long as you don’t renovate the part that takes those amazing photos, ok?

    unclekeith – somehow i’m not surprised…

    blazngscarlet – it was popular, i think. i always wanted the barbie camper, but one of my best friends had one, and we all shared pretty well. but when we were playing? i used the circus trailer as my camper… size-wise? last summer i went in mom’s backyard and sprawled out on the small hillock near the end of the yard… took me maybe 20-30 steps to get there. as a child? it was miles and miles and miles from the house….

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