Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Lessons from a House

Grams never had a particular house that she called home. Home was wherever we were living at the time. You see, my parents never owned their own home. We moved frequently from rent house to rent house and sometimes we lived with my Granny in her little country house. A couple of years ago, my sister Bylinda and I counted that over the years we had lived in at least fifteen different rent houses. There were lessons in all the houses that my parents rented.

Granny's house - Bryans Mill, Texas
I loved Granny's house. It was small and cozy and built in the shotgun style of the South. There were no hallways, one bedroom connected to the next bedroom, and there was no privacy, but I was young and I didn't know what privacy was. The ceilings were so low that Grandad, who is 6'5" tall, could not stand up straight inside without bumping his head on a light bulb. It was in Granny's house that I learned about family and love. Life in Granny's house taught me about the wonders of a country childhood. We played outside from dawn to dusk and ran wild through the pine trees. We picked berries and had tea parties with Granny. We slid down the hill into the creek on the seat of our pants. On rainy days we played inside and cut pictures out of magazines and catalogs. We walked to church on Sunday morning and again on Sunday night. We laid in the grass and watched the clouds go by. At night we could actually see the stars that make up the Milky Way.

One of the other houses that I loved was a grand old two-story house in Texarkana. We didn't live there very long and I don't remember much about it except that it was one of the few times that my sister Jan and I shared a room without the two older girls. Our room had obviously been a nursery in the past. It had fairy-tale themed wallpaper that I adored and a huge old claw-foot bathtub. I must have been about seven years old during the short time we lived there. This house had a banister that I loved to slide down. It was here that I began to understand that my brother Jimmy had very real limitations. One day, as I slid down the banister, I collided with him at the bottom. I shouted something like "what's the matter with you, are you blind or something?" For those readers who don't know, he is ... blind. Yep, it was the pinnacle of thoughtlessness. And I got in so much trouble, I got a switchin'! And, yep, I deserved it. There really is no defense for such unkind behavior, but I will say that to me, he was just my brother. I didn't yet understand the difficulties he faced. I just treated him like the rest of my siblings.

In all of these houses we were taught responsibility and we had to do chores. We girls learned to wash, dry, and put away the dishes as well as to sweep, mop, and dust. The boys learned to keep the yard. We were children of the 1950s and 1960s. Women were not yet liberated and bras had not been burned. Mom stayed home and had dinner on the table when dad came home from work. Girls did girl's chores and boys did boy's chores. Most girls of my generation and income level didn't dream of college or careers, we dreamed of having children and homes of our own.

Most of the houses we lived in had three bedrooms. The four girls shared one, the two boys had one, and, of course, Mom and Dad shared one. I learned a lot from those shared spaces ... important stuff like last one out of bed has to make the bed and don't leave your private stuff where your sisters can see it. It also taught me of shared confidences and respect for other people's property.

Another thing these houses all had in common was that almost all of them had only one bathroom for eight people. That taught me to be alert and not lose my place in line. It also taught me not to dawdle when I was taking care of business, because someone else was always waiting. Baths and showers had to be short because there was only one bathroom and only one hot water heater. The last one in the bathtub was fairly certain to get a cold bath.

The summer between my seventh and eighth grade year, my dad lost his job. We moved into a tiny one bedroom garage apartment in central Corpus Christi. By this time, Jimmy and Kay were living at the State School for the Blind, so there were only six of us in that apartment. Mom and dad slept on a hide-a-bed in the living room and the four kids shared the bedroom. We were there for almost a year while dad worked for a local tire company at what I'm sure was minimum wage. I hated living there, partly because I had to share a bed with my brother Charlie. I was appalled and humiliated. Didn't my parents know that brothers and sisters shouldn't sleep in the same bed? What I realize now is that I was lucky to have a bed and a roof over my head and that my parents did the best they could. The lessons in this tiny apartment were many. I learned tolerance and to crave solitude and quiet. I remember that outside the bedroom window was a huge tree that was covered with morning glory vines. I adored waking up to the view of beautiful blue morning glories every morning. I learned that you can find beauty anywhere, you just have to look for it.

From there we moved into a lovely three bedroom home on Corpus Christi's south side. It had beautiful hardwood floors and plantation shutters on the windows. It was bright and sunny and spacious. In this house I learned how to disassemble, clean, and re-assemble a crystal chandelier. That was one of my regular chores. Once a month I meticulously removed one crystal at a time, washed it, dried it and put it back in it's place. I didn't mind that chore at all. It was beautiful and it taught me the value and enjoyment of doing precise and detailed work.

These houses taught me how to say goodbye. When we moved from Texarkana to Corpus Christi I was just a few weeks shy of 10 years old. I'm fairly certain I cried all the way. Unfortunately, the constant relocating also taught me not to make lasting friendships. I don't have a single friend that I've known my entire life. The ability to maintain long-term friendships is something I had to learn as an adult. It didn't come naturally for me. I honestly didn't know how to maintain a friendship and stay in touch. But I've learned its importance and I've built the skills. I know that I have to put forth the effort and I do it when I find someone who is worth the effort.

Interestingly, the transient lifestyle of my parents also taught me that I wanted to put down roots. I knew that I wanted my kids to have a home and a sense of belonging and stability. My kids definitely have a place they call home. We moved into our current home in the summer of 1984. Katy was five and Nick was three when we built this house.

We chose this neighborhood because of it's schools and sense of community. I knew we had made a great choice when I took Katy to her first day of first grade. Her first grade teacher was Mrs. Bode who had been teaching at that school for many years. That morning, as I met other parents who had kids in the same class, I discovered that several of those parents had also had Mrs. Bode for first grade. That was exactly the kind of continuity I was looking for for my kids.

Both of my kids went to the same schools their entire school careers. Both of them graduated with the same kids they started kindergarten with. They have friends whom they've known since nursery school. They grew up in a neighborhood where they know the neighbors and the neighbors know them. They couldn't do anything that I didn't hear about. They have a sense of neighborhood, continuity, and the accountability that goes with it.

I'm proud that we were able to provide a stable home for them. But, you know what? Since Grandad has been sick and not able to help much with keeping up the house and yard, they've both encouraged us to move. They've both told me that home is wherever we are.

So I guess they've learned early what it took me longer to get ... a house is not a home ... home is where the heart is.

Mama’s Losin’ It

This post was inspired by the writing prompt "The House That Built Me" from Mama Kat's Writers Workshop.


  1. Nice piece. Very well written. Home is the people and the experiences, not the structure.

  2. Awesome blog post Vicki. I learned so much about you today - pieces of your past that make you the wonderful woman I am proud to call my friend. Thanks for sharing your heart with us!

  3. I really enjoyed learning so much about you. Just like you, the desire to put down roots was a driving force for me and my husband. This — "Most girls of my generation and income level didn't dream of college or careers, we dreamed of having children and homes of our own" — resonated ... and made me realize my dreams HAVE come true, I just forgot what those dreams were.

  4. It's amazing what we all adapt to and consider normal as kid's. That's quite the adventure you went through. Many would then have spent their adult years wandering as well.
    Is there really a house style in Texas called 'shotgun'?

  5. Beautiful post, and I couldn't agree more that a house is not a home; home is where the heart is. I've always lived the military lifestyle, and houses come and go. As long as my family is with me, that is where my home is. :)

    Thanks so much for stopping by my blog for my SITS day!

  6. Good post.
    Thanks for sharing a good experience .
    You can visit us for getting a good house for spending holiday.