Recently I had the opportunity to visit the house where I grew up. My father has lived there for forty-seven years. He bought the house and the seventeen acres it sits on in 1956 from my grandfather for seventeen thousand dollars. The house was built in 1927. Before my family moved in, the lath and plaster interior walls were gutted and new sheetrock was hung. Walls were painted and carpet laid. The kitchen was remodeled with modern appliances. The rest of the work would come later.
I shared a bedroom on the main floor next to my parents’ bedroom with my older sister Teresa. Our younger sister Jane was born the year we moved in. I don’t remember her sharing our bedroom, she must have slept in mother and dad’s room. When she was older, the upstairs was finished and we three girls moved up there. We had two beds to share between us, but I remember that most of the time we shared the same bed. I was the middle child, and often ended up sleeping in between my two sisters.
My brother Joe was born in 1965, sister Melissa followed in 1970. Mother was forty years old when she got pregnant with Melissa. The pregnancy tests came back negative for several months and I remember Mother being worried that she had a tumor growing in her stomach. One day she came home from the doctor and announced that we would have to name her tumor sometime in March of the following year.
Dad started adding on to the house in 1971, the year I left for college. The new addition held a family room, a larger kitchen, and a casual eating area. The old living room was turned into a formal dining room. Down below the new addition a two car garage was built. Dad owned a construction company, and the new addition took quite a while to be finished because the crew would only work on it when there was no other paying work for the company. Finally mother put her foot down and the new addition was finished toot suite.
I left Missouri in December of 1973. At the time I was working in Jefferson City, having failed as a college student at the University of Missouri, so I moved on. There was too much fun to be had that interfered with my studying. I was undisciplined and uninterested in furthering my education, so I left college and took a job. I ended up jumping on a train for Spokane, Washington that December. On a whim I went to the train station and told the ticket agent that I had one hundred dollars, and I wanted to go west, but not to California. “I can get you to Spokane for ninety-two fifty,” he said. “Sold,” I replied.
I went home for Christmas and broke the news to my folks. They weren’t happy. Mother had found an antique conestoga wardrobe, to give me for my Christmas present that year. She and I often went to sales and small shops in the area for furniture and other oddities. That was our special thing to do together. I remember being out in the back yard, with rubber gloves and paint stripper, scrapers, wood stain and varnish, and talks with my mother about everything and nothing.
It is still a beautiful wardrobe. I visit it every time I go to my family home. It never got refinished, and for that I’m glad. Dad put it in the basement and turned it into a gun cabinet, and it now contains bird hunting clothes, guns, and ammunition. Imagine! My beautiful piece of furniture housing that which I loathe. It’s still mine, though, and I reminded Dad of that during this visit. He has no qualms about me having it. The big question always has been how will I get it to my own home? Of course, I could have it crated up and sent, but I’ve always been too cheap to spend the money. The time has come.
Mother died in 1981, when I was 28 and Melissa was 11. Joe was 16. Dad had a hard row to hoe, being a widower with two adolescent children. I was far away by then, living in Sandpoint Idaho with two young children. Trips home were few and far between.
I did travel back in October of 1985, when Dad finally found the second love of his life, Mary. Melissa was 16 when they married and the only child left at home. She accepted Mary for the mother she had lost. Mary has been my mother now for eighteen years. Mary was a widow with five adult children. Suddenly our family had doubled. Not once, ever, has Mary denied us our love for and memories of our mother.
After Dad and Mary married, they found those strange coincidences that happen in people’s lives. She had the same china and silver pattern as mother. Her father and Dad’s father had died the same year, of the same type of accidents. Her husband Charlie and Mom also died the same year, with similar illnesses. It is a twilight zone marriage, we teased them.
My visit to my family home was bittersweet. Dad has put the house on the market for sale. He walks with a cane now due to some knee problems. It’s a big old house, expensive to heat and cool. The only way in is up stairs, no matter which way you go. It’s sad to think of going back to Missouri to visit, and not having the fabulous view out the east window in the morning. There will be no more ancient wine cellar in the basement, and no more rambling around in the attic, poking through the dusty storage items. There will, however, still be family. That is what is most precious to me. I’ll miss that old house, but this too, shall pass.
I wish peace and joy and warm family times to everyone this holiday season.