Sunday, January 8, 2017

REMINISCING: These Old Houses

I’ve written about my grandmother’s house a couple times before. I’m going to talk about that house again, but not only that house. I’ve been looking through some old family photos as I scan them for my cousins. Plus, I was over to my parent’s house looking for some Christmas decorations to put up before my sister arrived for the holiday from Indiana. All that put the idea of homes, rather than houses, on my mind.

At what point does your home growing up simply become your parent’s house? You’ve spent your entire life, up to the point you venture out on your own, as that house being your home. With your roommate, significant other, or beer buddies, you start to build a new home. When you bring your laundry over for your mother to do, or have dinner with them after you love it, it is still your home. However, there is a moment, and I’m not sure when it happens, that the hominess has faded away.

When I was at Mom and Dad’s, the house is still very familiar. The layout is exactly the same, but things have changed. It’s not just the decor, although that could be a big part of it, too. I would guess that a big part of it is the lack of your personal belongings there anymore. Those little pieces of you that you leave around the house make it familiar. When you stop leaving those things scattered about, those feelings of home start to fade.

One of the coolest things at my parent’s house was the basement carpet. When I was growing up, the basement was where we played until I took it over as a bedroom. The carpet was a plaid print that had a series of lines and squares that were perfect for playing with Matchbox cars. It looked like there were two lanes of a road, and the squares were the places for houses. The whole basement could be a city. I had a lot of Matchbox cars. I still have them, lovingly preserved and kept far out of reach of my kids.

Once I took it over as a bedroom, there was less playing of cars on the floor. It became more of a sanctuary. After I moved out, I think my sister moved into my room. She wasn’t there for very long and I don’t really remember when it was her room. My brother then took over the basement room and had it for quite awhile. He even lived there with his girlfriend for awhile. (I won’t get into the “fairness” of that right now.)

My brother erased every trace of the previous occupants and put his own mark on it. It was virtually unrecognizable when I stopped down to visit him. He was a little more suave than I was. It looked far more like a bachelor pad when he had it when I did. It was a little bit sad to see, not that I was unhappy for him. It was more like accepting that it definitely was no longer mine.

When I stop over to the house now, it is very different than what it was when I was a resident. The house is only two houses from where I live now, but it is a lifetime away from what I remember. The pool is gone. They now have a front porch on the house. The toybox in the garage is gone. (We have some of the toys, but that was a big box. Where did the rest go? My mom loved garage sales, so I’m sure a good deal was sold off.)

This same sense of change occurred at my grandmother’s house, too. I spent a lot of time there as a kid. I would climb the bannister to the second story, or hang over the upper railing and jump to the hallway floor below. She had the funniest little faucet on the bathtub upstairs. The middle bedroom was “mine” in that I slept in there all the time when I stayed. The North Room was always closed off in the winter. The attic had a smell that can only be described as “Stored Memories.”

The double beds in the middle bedroom were the greatest. I always slept in the one closest to the door, while the clothes and stuff that I brought resided on the second bed. Occasionally, my cousin, Matt Herman, would spend the night down there with me and he’d use the second bed. I have no idea what happened to those beds, but after my uncle, Randy, and his wife moved in, the beds disappeared and were replaced by a monstrous king size bed. The room decor was changed, and the vintage, aluminum blinds were replaced. There was nothing quite like hearing those things clang together in the night breezes.

In the living room was a green carpet that had probably been around since my mom was very young. In the years after I stayed there, the carpet was changed to a very nice blue carpet. It gave the whole room a new, warmer look. At the same time, grandma put some new wallpaper on the dining room wall. It really was quite garish, but it really fit in with grandma’s fashion sense. Just seeing the changes that took place in the time that I remember makes me wonder what my mom felt from the time she left home until we sold the house. There were probably a lot more changes than I could ever imagine.

On my dad’s side, the house completely changed. One of the most intriguing features of Meme’s house was the “Burnt Room” upstairs. When you went to the top of the stairs, there were two rooms. The room to the right was Papa’s room. It was an ugly, institutional green, but it was half the house. It was a big room with sloping walls from the roofline. As a kid, on the rare occasions that we got to go upstairs, we were excited that we could touch the ceiling along the eaves. It wasn’t really the ceiling, but it was fun for us.

On the left side of the stairs was a locked door with rags stuffed at the bottom to keep the draft out. David and I would sneak up the stairs a peek through the keyhole. There was a fire back in the 1960s and this room was the last reminder of that fire. When we were growing up, I assumed that only that room burned, but apparently the whole upstairs burned and they only fixed what ended up being Papa’s room.

Anyway, when we caught a glimpse through the keyhole, we could see wallpaper hanging from the walls and bare wires hanging from the ceiling. The room was full of boxes, ending up as storage for things that weren’t needed all the time. We could see remnants of the fire, although, I expected there to be more charring. Once in awhile, one of us was asked to help get something out of that room. We always took a little longer than necessary to grab the requested items. It was with revered silence that we took in as much of the forbidden room as possible in our limited times beyond the defenses of the closed door.

When we finally gained access to the inner sanctum, we explored. Under the thick patina of dust and ash, there once was a pretty nice room. If you brushed away the years, you could see flowers on the wallpaper as it peeled away from the wallboard. The scalloped edges of the beams where the flames had fed deepened the shadows. Above the stairwell, there was a closet where there was a small cubby that went out into the eaves.

On the front of the house there was a stained glass window. I had a mission where I needed to find out where that window was. I originally thought it was in the burnt room, but there was no trace of it when we went in there. Then I found the closet and discovered that there was a false wall that led to a space that ran along the front of the house. I thought for sure we’d find the window and a secret little room. Armed with a flashlight, Matt and I crawled into the tight confines and searched.

We had people outside the house listening for our voices to determine how close we were to the window. We could not find any access to the window. I even considered climbing onto the front porch roof to look inside the window to try to determine it secrets. Alas, we never found it despite spending hours of searching. It was a to remain a mystery.

However, some things are never meant to be mysteries. When my aunt and uncle took over the house, they did some major remodeling. The entire upstairs was redone into one, big master bedroom. Bill found that the stained glass window only looked in on a small, dead space that was barely big enough for a person. The room was beautiful, but it took a lot of the intrigue out of that childhood mystery.

This started out as an article about when your childhood home becomes just your parent’s or grandparent’s house, but as usual with the way my mind works, I went completely off the rails. Sometimes writing these things, memories take over and must be written about. That’s exactly what happened here. At some point, I’m going to write something about both my grandmothers’ houses. There are many stories to tell. I don’t enough space here to tell them all in one sitting. Stay tuned. It could be fun.

Craig Bacon can still see these houses very clearly in his mind. Once upon a time, he wanted a painting done of the house with the stained glass window. Maybe someday...

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