The older we get, the more memories clutter our past. For me, my childhood home is filled with memories and life lessons… even with new owners changing it.
As a writer, I love pondering things that make us who we are. Place, surroundings, experiences, lessons, the people around us — all of these factors make us become the people we’re meant to be.
And my childhood home, well, for me, that sits at the top of the list. It’s why I write for you.
I used to be one of those people on Sunday nights, balled up on the sofa with a wad of tissues, bawling as the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition revealed awful homes transformed into dream homes. I was always so excited about how those homeowners would become different people in those new homes. I couldn’t imagine what it was be like to live in squalor, and wondered how that might have changed who I would become.
Instead, I’m my mother and father’s daughter. And this is the home their love built.
From nothing to everything
Deep in the recesses of all my photos are evidence that this once was a cleared lot with only a poured foundation. Later pictures would show my brother running around at the age of two, me still a seed in my mother’s belly, and my shirtless father sawing, hammering, and swinging away at what would be among his life’s greatest accomplishments — my childhood home.
Like with so many others, divorce one day came, powered by money arguments, like most divorces are, and try though she might, after a couple years, my single mother couldn’t afford to keep the home. In 1989, it went up for sale.
I never met the family who moved in, and I don’t know who’s there now, but I’m in love with how they clearly love the home too.
The way things were
I remember the day we went to buy all the 36” saplings that would become the massive hedges you see now. I recall the young Japanese maple barely as tall as me that now towers over the corner of the lot. I miss the playhouse we once had in the back corner.
Gone now is the garage door that never once had a car parked behind it and instead was my dad’s workroom. He’d raise the garage door and work the whole day away on that table saw, keeping an eye on the street and us ‘hood rats playing. I remember the day he toiled away and I ran to him, but tripped on the drainage hole at the bottom of the driveway, smashed my face on a paint can, and I remember the emergency visit and stitches that followed (and the scar that remains).
Today, it looks like they’ve converted the whole basement for tenants. My dad made a nice basement suite, an office for Mom, and kept his workroom. Getting rid of the workroom and office would make it a huge suite for rental, a wise move in this economy, and a completion of my parents’ vision for it.
Changes that work
I’ve never been in the home since it was sold 27 years ago, but in those years since, the windows have been replaced and they look beautiful, especially in the enclosed sunroom we used to love to breakfast in during the spring, and lounging in for summer reading.
The windows have 4” trim these days, and there’s some additional 6” trim crossing the whole facade that gives the home some definition that looks fantastic. We didn’t have that banding, and the trim was only 2-3” all over the home. It makes a big difference and somewhere in the afterlife, I’m sure my mother approves.
I love that they enhanced the front stoop, too. I remember how my parents made some changes out there, too, but everything these new owners have done is working for me, especially the enclosed roof over the main entrance. To the left of that was my bedroom, and I loved when my parents added a bay window there with a bench, but as a little girl, gosh, I would’ve loved how it is now.
Some things never change
What makes me smile the most, though, is that the black-and-white the house is today is the exact color scheme it was for the first decade of my life. Not many kids in my day grew up in a black house, and I always loved it. I wonder if the owners today realize this. They will soon, because I’m sending them a letter.
Another thing that never changes is just how much this formative former home of mine keeps changing. All through my 16 years there, my parents were constantly improving things. My dad scoured demolitions until he found the right oak flooring to be ripped out of a home, refurbished, and then he installed it in our home with his friend. Our ugly carpeted stairs (awesome for sliding down) would become a grand oak staircase. Walls would come down and be rearranged. Bedrooms would be reassigned.
It was a home that grew with us, changed with us, and reflected all the new skills and trades my parents learned as they built more and more beauty and practicality into our little part of the world.
Legacies loved and left
Today, my heart still breaks some that I ever had to leave that home I loved so much. It was there I became curious about aesthetics and beauty. There I felt comfortable and inspired by the world and became a reader, then a writer. It was there that my parents built me a magical little-girl bedroom that would update and change to reflect my growing maturity over 16 years.
We never had much money, and it’s why my parents eventually split up, but we always had pride in where we lived and how it looked. Whatever that might have cost my parents, it was a life-defining gift they gave me and has made me into the resourceful, romantic, curious, arts-driven person I am today.
This, my friends, is the house that built me.