Since this month’s theme is homes, and because I had a spectacularly terrible day, I am not going to put myself through the emotional turmoil of reliving the day’s frustrations. Instead, I am going to tell you about the first home I knew: my childhood home.
Technically, I guess, my first “home” was an apartment, but since my parents bought their first (and only!) home when I was just four or five months old, it’s the only one I remember.
The home was small. T-I-N-Y. Three bedrooms, one bathroom, a kitchen and a living room. Just over 1000 square feet. (I think they paid something like $35,000 for it. Can you imagine?) There were seven of us, so it was incredibly crowded. (My mother was a master at organization and space management, and while the house had lots of *stuff* with little room to put it, it was always tidy. I wish I could say the same for mine.) We had a large yard, both front and back, and we played outside a lot during the warmer months. We lived on a street with a lot of young families, and our house was a magnet for kids. It may have had something to do with the ice cream cones and popcicles my mom doled out to everyone, but I think it was also because kids felt comfortable there. They knew they were welcome, as long as they behaved, and they never heard my mom yell or belittle anyone. For several kids, I think it was their safe haven during the day.
Someone sings a country song about how “love grows best in little houses, with few walls to separate”, and it was definitely the case in my childhood home. I shared a room with my two younger sisters, and my two brothers also shared a room. Our bedroom had my twin bed and a bunkbed, plus two dressers and a small desk, and the furniture literally lined the walls. We only had a 5-foot square of space in the very center of the room that was free from furniture. My brothers had two metal utility shelves in their bedroom that held all our toys and games, along with their bunkbed, dresser, and a wooden kitchen playset that one of my great-uncles built. (I “inherited” that kitchen as soon as we bought our house, and my kids love it just as much as my siblings and I did.) Luckily, we had a large living room space, and that’s where we did a good share of our “playing”.
My dad was a schoolteacher and my mom stayed home with us, and in order to make ends meet, my dad worked a lot of events at the high school. He sold tickets, coached sports teams, advised clubs and filled in for other teachers, and when he got home at night, he was in no mood for “pesky neighbor kids”. (Some nights I think he could barely tolerate his own kids!) My mom made a rule that during the school year, all friends had to go home at 5:00, and during the summer, they could stay until 6:00. She was a GENIUS, because not only did all friends leave long before my dad got home, but we were forced to play together as siblings after the friends went home, and while we had our moments, we actually learned to get along very well.
When I was 18 or 19, my parents built on to the little house, doubling its size. They added three more bedrooms and a bathroom right onto the back of it. I got to enjoy having my own room for part of a summer, a Christmas vacation, a full summer, another Christmas vacation, and the six weeks before I got married. I really loved having such a big space all to myself, but I have to be honest: I really missed my sisters. I missed giggling together at night, after lights out. I missed having them climb into my twin bed during thunderstorms, and the way Kristi threw her limbs out like a starfish, shoving Kelli and I into the wall. I missed hearing them talk about school and their friends, and I missed planning fun “girl” days for the weekend. Our stuffed animals used to “sleep over” on each others’ beds, but suddenly there was no more of that. My room was too far away, even though it was only across the hall and ten feet to the north. I felt a little like Wendy from “Peter Pan”, being forced to leave the nursery and grow up.
Our house wasn’t fancy at all. The walls were always painted white, the furniture didn’t match, and the carpet was replaced once in 1985 (and nearly 23 years later, the very same hideous gold carpet has a lot of bare spots). Little by little, things are being updated. Now there is a matched set of leather couches and chairs in the living room, the piano sits in a different spot, and a flatscreen hi-definition television stands proudly on a new entertainment stand. Last summer our parents went on a week-long Alaskan cruise, and we surprised them by repainting the kitchen. (It took the five of us as long to move all the stuff Mom had stacked so efficiently as it did to scrub down and paint the entire kitchen. We were slapping on the last touch-ups just as they pulled into the driveway.) The noisy swamp cooler was replaced by central air, and the large pine tree that used to take up a whole corner of the back yard was cut down. In its place is a Japanese Maple garden. I’m glad to see changes that will make it easier for Mom and Dad as they get older. Now, if we could only convince Mom to install a dishwasher, and Dad to agree to automatic sprinklers…
Over the years, our family has changed, too. Kids went to college. Kids served missions. One kid got married, and two kids have their own kids. The one thing that has always remained constant, however, is the love that fills my parents’ home. It’s nice to have a place with so many warm and wonderful memories, and it’s even better to know that you’re always welcome there. It’s “home”. It’s comfortable and accepting and loving and fun. It’s teasing and spending time together and celebrating and supporting. At times it’s even tears and heartache. When we were first married, Kenny told me I grew up in “Disneyland”, where it was always sunshine and giggles and kittens and cotton candy. He meant it as a jab, but you know, he was right, in a way.
Everyone deserves to live in their very own happiest place on Earth, and I’ll try my hardest to recreate it for my kids. Because to me, that’s what makes a house a home.