HOUSES – Part I
You have many houses,
One for every season . . . .
Judy Collins published and sang that song in 1975. She might have been writing it for me.
My first house was the one in which I was born. My father built it—dug the basement, laid the cement-block foundation, then built a garage that he and my mother lived in it while he completed the rest of the house. When it was finished, they moved in and I joined them.
I recall living in that house—fragments of memory: eating my mother’s potato soup at a small counter built into a recess between kitchen and living room; playing records on the phonograph by myself (I was about three years old then); and my strongest memory, shaking my crib because that other baby was in it (my cousin Mike, who had come to visit with his mom, Aunt Virginia, and who had needed a nap; he was younger than I was, but by gum, he was in my bed).
Next came a rental house on Third Street in Charleston, two doors down from Uncle Tom and Aunt Flossie. That’s the first place I recall getting into trouble—a group of neighborhood kids was fooling around, finding minnows (this is hard to believe, even now) in the flooded street, and deciding to roast them on a fire. I ran back to the house, hollering that I’d bring the matches—only to meet my mother, stern of face, who said, virtually, “You’ll do no such thing.”
A great memory from that time, though, is going to see Aunt Flossie. She always had jelly beans. I loved jelly beans! And almost better—certainly right up there in my estimation—she sewed! On a sewing machine! I could sit for hours watching her stitch two pieces of fabric together. Sometimes she gave me little pieces that were left over. That’s what I call ecstasy!
But our tenure in that house was short-lived. My dad was building a new type of house, a flat-top—four-square, one story, with a flat roof. Quite modern for 1946. The basement was a walk-out type, also new at the time; I recall playing there—the smooth concrete floor made a wonderful skating rink.
While living in that house, I first went to school—Clearspring School, one room, one teacher, eight grades. Reading, writing, arithmetic, social studies (with the big kids), recess, treasure hunts, Christmas play (I was one of Santa’s helpers—my first stage appearance), end-of-school picnic and school trip to the movies. I think we saw Gone with the Wind, but that’s such a long film that it might have been something else. Memory doesn't always latch onto some details.
At that point in my life, many things changed. My parents divorced, and I lived with my mother. We left the flat-top house and moved into Charleston, where I’d been born, to live in a converted gas station. Piecing things together in later years, I decided the living quarters went with my mom’s waitressing job at the truck stop next door.
I attended town school, grades 3 and 4; learned to write stories, sing two-part harmony, play with other kids (I was never good at games, not did I ever succeed very much at social interaction), and continued to entertain myself with books (libraries are wonderful treasure troves, in case I’ve not mentioned it recently).
Another life change: My mother remarried. We moved to a town several miles west of Charleston to live for a few weeks with my new step-grandmother, then settled into a rental house just a block away. The town was larger, and a little frightening. City buses became part of the scene. Downtown was a long ways off (to my 10-year-old eyes).
And another unforeseen thing happened—my step-sister Janet came to live with us for the school year. She was three years older, in eighth grade. I was thrilled to have my very own sister! It was for me a storybook come true—I irritated her, she had little time for me because she wanted to be with her older friends. But we shared a room with long windows and high ceilings, and slept in two white-painted wood-framed beds. I couldn't have written a better story.
In that house I had scarlet fever and measles—not at the same time, thank heaven—and learned from my adult cousin Eula how to draw women’s hats. While I recuperated from all my illnesses, I drew hats galore, and then branched out into copying cartoon figures from my comic books. Actually did a pretty good job with Donald Duck and his cronies.
Those were my first five “houses”—in my first 10 years. Not quite one for every season, but definitely one for each new season of my life.
After my step-sister left to return to her mother, our lives changed again and we left Illinois to live in other states in the Midwest. More seasons of life unfolded.