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.
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.
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 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.