Friday, October 2, 2015

"Sometimes You Close Your Eyes and See the Place Where You Used toLive..."

I am 32 years old but I have lived without much upheaval.  Until last summer, my each grandmothers still lived in the houses they lived in during  my childhood and one of them still does.  In her basement, a small bulletin board hangs on the wall that still holds the same pictures of my cousins and I as toddlers and my grandpa's beloved dog from the 1980's and my grandpa's teaching awards still hang on the wall.  At my parents' house, the sufficient bedroom space never necessitated the ritual clear out that many grown kids have to face when they leave for college so my childhood room remained like it did when I was a teenager.  The bookshelves in the living room held books in the same arrangement for 20 years and the same old coats and costumes hung in the big storage closets upstairs.  So, although my parents were remaining on the same property in a new house, the move out and tear down process was kind of strange and surreal.
Over the last year, as I finally faced that milestone that many my age have already experienced, I had many mixed feelings.  When we were removing the interior remnants during it's last hours standing, my brother verbalized what I think I have felt, which is that there is no other house like this one anywhere else.  This monstrosity, built in three parts all prior to 1940, was it's own unique house.  There was no floorplan, no style.  With it's six cavernous bedrooms, large walk up attic and terrifying basement it was a remnant of a time when a family of three kids and two parents in a house was a small family where now many people think you are crazy if you have more than two kids.  When that place was built, families had many kids and regularly had older relatives, hired employees, boarders, and newly married children living with them.  My grandparents bought it in 1955 (after a stay with my great grandparents after their wedding, of course) and it had been vacant for a few years and was kind of a wreck at that time after part of it had suffered a fire (true story, the attic burned in the 1940s and my grandpa even watched it as a teenage spectator and some blackened wood still remained up there).  My dad was baptized in the house to avoid taking him out in the January cold of 1958 and prior to that it was the location of births and wedding nights of the family who owned it before (they were named the Mastruds and Soliahs in case any of them out there are searching for information about their family history.  Members of the family visited a few times over the years and told us of those events). 
My grandparents repaired it to make it livable again, although it took years before it looked the way I knew it.  In my grandma's words, "we couldn't afford to paint that huge house!"  Here is Christmas 1965, according to my uncle's sign and I think that is our house because I don't think any of the other family members had a house that old that would have had the radiator pipes and old woodwork like that.  Also, you can see a braided rug which was a craft my grandma knew in those days.  This was probably the room that became the kitchen that I remember. 

Same night, but black and white...the one standing is my grandpa and the others are his brothers and dad.
This was taken by my great uncle.  It's my dad and his siblings on the front porch.  There was a story about this series of photos.  I think my uncle had just bought a new camera or something. 
In the 1970's prosperity came to farmers and it was a common phenomenon for historic houses all around the Midwest to receive 70's era remodels which are now considered unfortunate but at the time were a dream come true.  Out came stained glass windows and solid wood pocket doors.  In went green and gold appliances and fixtures, windows with inserts to add fake window panes, and in the case of our house, the most expensive (and, I admit, reasonably tasteful as far as length) shag carpet in the store and lime green kitchen linoleum that was almost as thick and squishy as a wrestling mat. 
Here are my grandparents in their remodeled living room in front of the main statement in the room, the drapes, which perfectly matched the carpet.  Even the sheers were green to match the tassels.  This room, which my grandparents used as a formal living room for entertaining (they had friends over a lot to play cards and hosted many holidays) was originally the kitchen.  My family used it as our main casual living room and TV room.  It also had a dining area at the other end.
Upstairs, the structure and woodwork remained intact but garish wallpapers and carpets were installed in every room and a ceiling was even painted bright gold.  My dad's room had mint green walls with mint green carpet and my uncle's room had gold walls and a gold and brown checkerboard carpet.  My aunt's room had pink daisy wallpaper.  The hallway had brown and gold striped carpet.  In the upstairs bathroom, out went a claw foot bathtub and in went a plastic shower stall.  And best of all, a second bathroom on the first floor was added, which was a rarity in a house that was built when many people didn't have indoor plumbing at all.  They got a washer and dryer in a laundry room that was walled off from another room, making the gigantic old closeline that we used to hang our beach towels on when we got home from the pool unnecessary. 
So, through the years, similar scenes took place in this house year after year.  The look of it changed from the 50s and 60's to the 70's and then in the 90's when my family moved in and again in the last decade.  The same scenes happened in the same places and the people changed and life went on. 
A lovely late 70's Christmas eve...
Was suddenly a sunny mid 90's Easter...
And all of a sudden it was Christmas 2013,
the last Christmas celebrated here. 
What I am going to remember most about this house, and about most of the other familiar places of my youth, is the atmosphere of it.  As old houses and schools and offices gradually disappear so do the unique qualities, that, although might not have been the most comfortable, made them memorable and unique.  When I look back, everywhere I frequented had specific sensations that, if I feel a certain breeze or smell a certain smell, I am brought back to that place again.  I attended a school that was a crazy maze of different buildings added on through the years to an original three floor building from 1908 that was an orchestra of creaking floors and rumbling stairs and flapping curtains when the windows were open.  I worked at a pool with an open air office which was as good as working outside all day where a damp chlorine smell always lingered.  When I went to college, my dorm didn't have air conditioning and neither did my sorority house so the sounds of whatever was going on outside coming through open windows are background noise that I find soothing.  When I was in law school my apartment was right next to railroad tracks (like 30 feet from it) and I even was able to sleep through that chaos as I dealt with the August and September heat with the windows open. 
The house on the farm had no air conditioning, minimal ventilation, and was heated by old metal radiators.  In the summer, during the hottest weeks, it felt like a sauna and there was no escape.  Fans were propped in the windows but it never was enough.  In the bathroom, moisture pooled under the pipes and the toilet dripped with sweat.  As is common with old houses and churches and building in the country, bugs always made their way in somehow which drove me crazy the whole time I lived there.  In the winter, radiators hissed but could never cut the drafts or radiate enough in that big old place.  I remember my thrill at being able to turn the thermostat up as high as I wanted in my dorm room and putting it at 73 degrees before I went to the shower so when I came back the room would be nice and warm.  I would guess my room was probably about 63 degrees at home during the coldest days of winter.  I still don't really like really strong air conditioning and always feel chilled around the house in the summer but I will always love the warmth of modern heat.  I used to sit on the radiator in the kitchen because I wanted to be by the warmth, kind of like a cat I guess! 
That is me in the summer of 2014 as we were packing up the house, enjoying my favorite radiator spot one last time! 
So, even though I romanticize those days and places, of course no one wants to go back to living without air conditioning or spending all day sweating or having massive heating bills because the attic of your house has visible frost showing on the roofing nails.  I do miss that life though.  Everything almost seems too bland now.  I wonder what my kids will remember about their childhood.  I will choose to remember a cool summer night with the windows open and waking up to hear the soothing sound of trucks from the farm rumbling by my window and the cozy feeling of laying under piles of quilts while the wind throws snow against the house.  I will remember the familiar creak of the hallway floor as my brother crept around the house at 5:00 a.m. on Christmas morning and the way I never slept better anywhere else than in that room.  I will remember the frustration of hearing the echoing slam of the bathroom door that always seemed to be occupied by my brother or sister and dreading having to go through the whole house downstairs to use the other one.   And I will never forget how happy I would be when I arrived home from college, especially in the winter, and saw the place all lit up in the dark.  Right after we moved in, one of the neighbors commented that they drove by and the place was lit up like a space ship or something because every light in the house was on which would not have been the case when my just my grandparents were living there.  That's how a house should be, full of action.  I am almost relieved I don't have to see it's creepy silhouette in the dark anymore because it was just kind of sad.  Last summer I took a few pictures at night will all the lights on and, although they turned out blurry I'm glad I have them.  The only thing that would make them better is some Christmas lights!


 Goodbye, old house!  You had a long life where you had some second chances to bring you this far. 
Oh, the title of the post is from the song "When You Were Young" by The Killers and the overall theme of the song doesn't really apply to this situation.  Just that line does!



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