The house that built me

       I know they say you can’t go home again

I just had to come back one last time

Ma’am, I know you don’t know me from Adam

But these hand prints on the front steps are mine

       I thought if I could touch this place or feel it

This brokenness inside me might start healing

Out here it’s like I’m someone else

I thought that maybe I could find myself

       If I could just come in, I swear I’ll leave

Won’t take nothing but a memory

From the house that built me

~Miranda Lambert, The House That Built Me

If you’ve ever heard this song from Miranda Lambert, The House That Built Me, you know it’s a sentimental one about going back to your childhood home, and taking one last look while the memories come flooding back.  This song strikes a very emotional chord in me; and I believe it’s one so many of us can relate to.

I’m a sap, I’ll admit it.  My feelings run deep, and my heart is often worn upon my sleeve; it’s always been my nature.  Family, friends, and home; that’s where it is for me.  Comfort and happiness, that is.

When I received the email telling me our childhood home was being torn down, I swallowed the news hard. My eyes welled up, and tears ran like a river down my face.  I could barely get the words out to explain to CF, my husband, why I was so upset.  The news broke my heart.

How is it, I ask, that a house that holds so many memories, can be so easily discarded?  It hurts to think of that place in my memory as disposable.  But then those who owned it couldn’t possibly know the attachment I had to it.  It was my home, after all.

The house had seen some difficult years, I’m afraid; the former owners who up and abandoned it did some strange remodeling (if you can call it that).  CF was forewarned when he called the new owner, that it was pretty deplorable inside.  And what little was salvageable (hardwood floors, woodwork, the old kitchen cupboards) had been taken out for use in other homes.  The owner was surprised we’d want to come see it, especially in the state it was in.  This would be my last, and only, chance to revisit my old house; I had to see it one more time.

With my dear hubby and our kids by my side, we pulled up to my childhood home.  The steps were gone, the side porch (where we always entered) was removed, and the front door was hanging wide open.  The old wood burning stove was no longer the focal point as you entered the house, it too was gone, as well as much of the woodwork, and wood flooring.  You had to watch your step, as there were large holes in the floor, nails scattered about, and stray pieces of wood and plaster; a far cry from the tidy home it had once been.

My old bedroom

The rooms were smaller than I remembered, and with no furniture, or heat, it all felt quite cold and lonely. The bedroom my 3 sisters and I shared so many years ago, seemed too small even for just two.  How is it possible we fit two sets of bunk beds and four dressers in that tiny space?  And I, being the youngest of five, did eventually have a room to myself, however it was the even smaller room just a few steps down the hall. The walls that once held my childhood posters and photos, now had the name, “Robert” scribbled everywhere, as if the walls were merely some child’s sketch pad.

The living room (green), and the sitting room behind the arched doorway (pink).

The living room (green), and the sitting room behind the arched doorway (pink).

Me, decorating the Christmas tree as a little girl. This is nearly the same view as the photo on the left, with a glimpse into the sitting room.

Me, decorating the Christmas tree as a little girl. This is nearly the same view as the more current photo on the left, with a glimpse into the sitting room.

This kitchen with the hideous pink paint, it surely could not be the very same room in which our family of seven sat down to Mom’s











home cooked meals.  And as one of my sisters reminded me, there wasn’t enough room at the table for seven; one kid every evening had to take their turn sitting in another room for their meal.  Mom’s dinners were always hearty and delicious; somehow she worked her magic in that tiny room. And even with all the old pine kitchen cabinets missing now, there still didn’t seem to be space enough for everyone, and everything.

The linen closet. Behind it's door was the access to the attic.

The linen closet. Behind it’s door was the access to the attic.

The bathroom was probably the only room that was nearly unchanged.  The very small tub, next to the small sink, next to the toilet, and just enough space to open the door… that’s all there was.  However, the last residents in this house must have decided knee-room was more important than hand hygiene, as the sink was completely eliminated.

My brother's old room in the basement.

My brother’s old room in the basement.

In the basement, I swear it was Mom’s old washer that I saw standing in the same familiar spot.  And the old shower Dad made out of galvanized sheeting was still in place.  When we lived there, only half of the basement had a concrete floor, the other half was dirt with old carpet and rugs thrown over it.  That was no longer the case, however this might be the only improvement that was made in the house.  There was an old makeshift bedroom downstairs as well; this was my brother’s room first, and eventually one of my sisters moved in there.

I really thought it would be much harder to walk through my childhood home, and say goodbye to it forever.  Somehow, with so much of it already torn apart and missing, it didn’t really feel much like home anymore.  Instead, it felt cold, empty, and abandoned. The last owners didn’t “love” the house, they never made it a home.  Mom and Dad, and a passel of 5 kids, made that house a home.

I lived all my growing-up years there, unlike my 4 siblings, who had first lived in an old farmhouse west of town.  When I close my eyes, I remember the small, but tidy living room.  The little room next to it with only two chairs, a very small desk, and a curio cabinet.  In one corner, my father read his newspaper and listened to Polka music on Sunday mornings.  Mom read her magazine, and knitted blankets in the other corner.

The wood-burning stove that sat in the living room was both a feeling of warmth and anxiety for me.  We had at least two chimney fires in that little house; leaving me ever cautious to always keep an eye on the stove.  However, when a storm would knock the power out, our family stayed warm, not to mention it sure felt good on one’s backside after playing in the snow.

In the yard, we had a large fenced-in area where we always had a faithful K-9 companion.  Three loyal hounds, and innumerable cats were buried over where Dad’s old International tractor was parked.  And a little further over was where Mom’s vegetable garden prospered.  Today it looks to be part of a driveway, but in it’s day, that piece of ground grew rows of tomatoes, potatoes, corn, beans, squash, and onions.  I imagine there was much more, however I only remember what I put on my plate (wink).

It took a lot of food to feed a family of 7.  I can remember sitting around the table with my siblings, snapping beans, putting up sweet corn, and pitting cherries; all from the bounty in our yard.  We had apricots and mulberries too.  I remember, all too well, explaining my stained purple feet to the lifeguards at the swimming pool each summer; you simply cannot wash mulberry stains off with soap and water!

The old house, tire swing, and the playhouse in the back yard.

The old house, tire swing, and the playhouse in the back yard.

And when I was small, I could often be found in the back yard, amusing myself in the playhouse my dad built.  It had everything a kid could want: a table and chairs, a window, some homemade cabinets, and an old kerosene heater for the wintertime.  That little playhouse could entertain a child and her best friends as long and as far as their imaginations could take them.  I am thankful that playhouse was moved many years ago, and a couple of our nieces made their own memories in there, in their own backyard.

I believe what struck me the most about our old house was how very simple it was, and how simply we lived. I guess I never once realized, while growing up there, that we ever did without.  Dad was a hard worker, and a good provider; but there were five kids to raise.  We always had clean clothes, good food in our stomachs, and a warm home.  Hand-me-down clothes were expected, from siblings and other families.  Although we didn’t think of it as “recycling” back then, we didn’t waste a lot of things that still had use.  I remember it being a delight in my day to make a trip to the big city of Lincoln, and pick out some clothes and a toy at the Salvation Army store.  I felt special, knowing my friends didn’t “get to” go to that store.  I don’t remember Dad ever denying me anything I picked out in there; the price was always right.

My sister, sharing her special music box with me.

My sister, sharing her special music box with me.

The meager beginnings in that house taught me more about life than I even realized.  Mom worked hard raising 5 kids, yet she always managed to keep the house tidy and cozy; company dropping in would have never caught her off guard.  Dad worked a full-time job, and still managed to farm 160 acres of corn or milo on his parent’s land.  He rarely sat idle when he was home, for there was always a car, furnace, or curling iron to repair.  Mom took the time to visit friends; something many of us feel we are just too busy to do.  And what would we have done without an imagination?  We didn’t have iPods, Nintendo Wii’s, cell phones, or especially satellite tv.  We had 5 tv channels that came in off our really big antenna on the roof.  I still remember watching a black and white screen, by the way.  CB radios were in everyone’s cars, and let’s not forget the big whip antenna that carried their signal.  Parents could call your “handle” to let you know (and the rest of the listening audience) it was time to come home if you were within that 5-mile range. Gardening, recycling (or repurposing) within your home, and lighting a fire in a fireplace or wood-burning stove are things I fear would perplex many of our youth today.  I’m glad to have experienced it all.

The sidewalk, and a basement-sized hole in the ground, are the only remnants of my childhood home.

The sidewalk, and a basement-sized hole in the ground, are now the only remnants of the house.

I will always have that house in my photographs, and my memories.  The people who shared that home with me are forever in my heart. Thank you to Mom and Dad, and to the little house… that built me.

My brother, myself (the baby), and my three sisters.

My brother, myself (the baby), and my three sisters.


17 thoughts on “The house that built me

  1. Lovely post, Juli. Brought some tears to my eyes, especially since just this morning I showed Brad the house where I grew up. I’m sorry yours is lost, but I’m glad your memories are not. This post will be wonderful for your own grandchildren to read so they, too, can experience a part of your childhood home.


    • Thank you very much, Tammy! How ironic is the timing that you took Brad to see your old house too? I’m quite sentimental, and that is probably why it took me as long as it did to write. It’s been difficult, emotionally, letting go. But I am so thankful for the memories. Thanks for stopping by, Tammy; it always means so much!


  2. What a great walk down memory lane and a tribute to your happy childhood, Juli. I think it was great that you had the opportunity to walk through the house before it was gone. I sure wish I could do that with my first home. Thanks for sharing.


    • Thank you, Kim! I am glad I had the opportunity to walk through one last time, it gave me a sense of closure. And it felt good to write about my memories there, I feel very fortunate to have those. Thank you so much for stopping by, and “walking down memory lane” with me; I appreciate your kind words!


  3. This is an amazing piece of work, Jules. You managed to help me remember many of the good times… the memories that maybe I didn’t revisit over the years, because so much of it was difficult for me. Mom did make our house a home, and though small, we managed. We had everything we needed, and maybe more than a lot of kids today have. Looking back, it almost seems impossible by today’s standards that four girls could share the same small room. The yard seemed so big back then too. Ah, the memories… this post brought tears to my eyes. You gave me a new perspective on a home that weathered many hard years… and you are right, some things are forever in our hearts.

    I loved the photos too. The photo of you and I playing that silly music box made me laugh. You loved to watch the twirling dancers inside. I laughed at the old “tire swing” in the street view photo of the house. The last time I sat on the old tree swing was as a teenager, hoping that boy from across town who drove the blue Barracuda would come racing around the corner, spraying gravel everywhere, with Dad yelling about those damned long-haired hippies driving like maniacs!! And that last photo… over the years that was one of my favorites of all of us kids. Was it taken on your birthday or mine? I can’t remember! I always felt proud holding you. You know, you were the little girl with the big heart that changed all of our lives. You came along when we all needed to know “love” the most.


    • Big Sister, you’ve rendered me almost speechless, and now YOU’VE brought tears to MY eyes, lol! Thank you for the beautiful words, especially the last 3 lines; they mean so much to me. You are right, the house did weather many hard years, but I think we left it better than we found it, simply because we had love.

      Those old photos are special to me too. I remember quite well, snuggling with you in your bunk bed, and watching the dancers twirl in the music box. And in the last photo, I cannot tell who’s birthday it was, but we all sure look happy!

      Thank you for walking this journey in life with me, Sister. I know one thing’s for certain; you’ve made mine much happier just by being in it. Love you!


  4. Hi Juli, That old house holds many memories for you but it is hard for me to imagine. Being the offspring of a military officer, I never stayed in one place long enough to have those types of memories. Mentally counting, I think I lived in at least 10 and possibly up to 12 houses while growing up and that is just until I graduated from high school. Unbelievably, I do have some memories of the house I lived in after I was born because it was my grandmother’s house on the outskirts of Memphis, TN. My dad had been in the Army Air Corps before I was born but was recalled into the service shortly after my birth for the Korean War; so my mom and I stayed at my grandmother’s house while he was gone. Oddly, it looked very much like yours that is pictured above. It was just on the edge of town and now it’s gone and that property is now a tremendous shopping mall (and defininitely NOT the edge of town anymore). I only lived there 2 years and then my dad came home from the war and we started moving and moving and moving, etc.; thus, my memories are vague and they are from the point of view of a 2 year old toddler.

    Hey, it is REALLY good to see a post from you as it has been a while. I am hoping that you and yours are healthy and happy. Keep in touch!

    Peace out!


    • Hi Louis, it’s good to hear from you! I cannot imagine moving from place to place; that is really different from what I experienced. Isn’t it sad that our houses (like your grandmother’s and mine) can be so easily discarded? Maybe I put too much sentiment into places and objects, but I really enjoy an old house and all it’s character. The house we live in now, is one we saved from being demolished. We had it moved about 7 miles from it’s original location, and restored it as best we could (that may be another blog post one day, lol). As much as I’d appreciate a tight, energy-efficient home that did not have drafty windows and doors, I would still choose my little 30’s bungalow, any day, over a newly-constructed one. My memories are there, much like they are with my childhood home. I’m such a sap! Thanks for visiting, and taking the time to comment; it’s always appreciated!


  5. That was a great peek into your childhood home! How lucky for you to have the option to find out ahead of demolition! Loved the ‘now’ and ‘then’ with you decorating the tree!

    It’s interesting timing for me, since I’ve recently decided to visit my hometown again one day. I’ve been told ‘my’ house is still standing, but it’s been sold and moved to another location. My entire neighborhood is a vacant lot now.


    • Hi Denise! I am glad I had the opportunity to walk through one last time, and to be able to show my children before it was demolished. It was sort of bittersweet, but definitely worth it.
      I think you should try to contact the new owners of your old house, even though it’s been moved. Ironically, the house we live in (and own), we moved from another nearby town. The former owners and their grown kids came to visit one time while we were remodeling, and we were more than happy to let them wander through and reminisce. I say, GO FOR IT!! Thanks for stopping by!


      • Denise, I hope this does not seem too nosey but Hisey is not what I would call a common name. However, there are lots of Hisey’s in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia around the Harrisonburg area. Do you mind if I ask if you have any family in that area? One of my best friends from high school (back in a previous century, lol) is married to a Hisey and that is what got me thinking. I am truly sorry if you think this question is one of those “none of your business things,” but I really love geography (including human geography) and quite often the geography of names are found in clusters. The person that I know is named Clarice Hisey and she is from the small town of Elkton, VA about 15 miles from Harrisonburg, VA (the home of James Madison University and where I received a BS in Geography as a non-traditional adult student). I went back to school at JMU when I was 43 in 1993 and graduated in 1996. It sounds like “Animal House” – except my twenty-eight years of undergraduate work finally did paid off .


  6. Juli, that was just beautiful. I have a few tears running down my cheeks. One of my childhood homes looked a lot like your little house. Especially the arched room. Makes my heart warm just thinking about it. Hugs!


    • Heather, thank you so much; your heartfelt comment just made my day :-). As hard as it was to say goodbye to the house, I’m so glad I took one last visit there. Thanks so much for stopping by, your comment is very much appreciated! Hugs to you too!!


  7. Okay, so I’m a month late in getting here, but am really glad I finally made it. This is a beautiful memoir, Juli – I’d go so far as to call it an ode to your old house. Childhood memories, be they pleasant or otherwise, are powerful things. I’m thrilled for you that got to see the old place one more time, and I hope the visit left you with a contented feeling about the years you spent there.

    I’m fortunate, I guess, in that my parents still live in the house in which they raised my sister and me. They won’t stay there forever, though, so you’ve inspired me to take it all in whenever I visit there. Let the emotions roll when I do! In fact, the emotions are already starting at the thought of it – but this post was bringing tears of various sorts as I read, and not just because today was already an overly emotional day for me!

    Anyway, thank you for writing this and sharing your memories with us. The pictures are priceless. Knowing what I know of you and Lori I can only guess that there was much, much love in that house. All houses should be so lucky!


    • Oh Sid, you flatter me so… and I truly do appreciate it :-). I’m glad you stopped by to walk down memory lane with me. The old house held a lot of memories, definitely some were better than others. But regardless, it was my home, my safe haven for all my growing up years.

      I believe it’s one of those things you don’t think too much about, until your family no longer lives there. I would definitely take advantage while you can. It’s especially important to have those old photos to help you remember the great times you had in that house. The old photos are priceless to me, I feel so blessed that my mom and grandma’s took so many. However, I am quite thankful we now have digital cameras. Can you just imagine how much film we would waste getting the golden shot?

      Thank you again for stopping by, just knowing that the story touched you on an emotional level, well that’s about the biggest compliment you could give this ‘ol sap. I truly value your comments, and your friendship. Thank you, Sid!


  8. I just came here from Lori’s blog (that I follow) to read this post in order to understand her post about this very same house. I think wherever we grow up shapes us. It forms part of our ethos and our souls and nothing can take that away, whether our experiences are good or bad but it all comes home to roost when they tear down your childhood home. I guess you can bury the bad memories with it and hold the good ones as yours now that the house is gone. Thankyou for sharing your childhood home with us all. You gave it heart and you gave it feeling and you showed us what it really was 🙂


    • What a beautiful comment, thank you! And I believe you are right, wherever we grow up does shape us, in so many ways. I’m so glad Lori’s blog sent you this way! Thank you for taking the time to read, and leave your thoughts; I hope you’ll stop by again. Take care!


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