Something’s been bothering me since I visited my home town, Rock Valley, Iowa this August. Like a little bobber on a fishing pole, dipping under the water for a nibble, tug and a miss, then resting back on the water’s surface.
The place was never much to look at, but to my folks, it was almost unattainable, thus putting it on the same level of importance and beauty as the Taj Mahal. Buying their first home after 13 years of marriage (and 3 kids). I’ve talked about the house before so I won’t go into details about the constant work Dad did over the years (under Mom’s strict tutelage and guidelines after several firm requests).
My folks lived in that house from 1955 until 2005. A half century. By the time they moved into the house on 15th Street, it was probably already 50 years old. (Generally once folks hit a certain age they grow weary updating and remodeling their homes). The same was true of my parents, but let’s say they kept updating for at least 40 of those 50 years. During those 40 years they (let’s be real-he) remodeled the kitchen and bathroom. Each twice. Tore off the long front porch and enclosed a smaller one. Added a breezeway with a zinger step, leading to a new double garage with a turn so tight, often rendering an experienced driver into a panic. Landscaping they were so proud of. New siding, roof, windows.
Added a large bedroom on the main floor, eliminating the need to sleep upstairs as they got older. The staircase of our old home was not for the feint of heart. Narrow, steep with a couple of turns that could send you sailing backwards down the steps much faster than it took going up. My bedroom, so stinking hot during August, Mom would pull my bed up to the window facing south to try and catch any breeze. The smaller bedroom behind mine with the wooden covered attic opening which is still home to a killer I saw during the night when I was 7. I had serious issues walking in there when I was in my 50’s. No one can convince me he’s not real or still up there, waiting for me. With a knife. And a wide mustache.
Much like the unique style of the rooms, (fabulous dining room) our house included an odd assortment of steps going from one room to another. Crazy. These were mostly the fault of my father (the builder-without firm plans or drawings), though it was never on purpose. From the tiny 1-1/2 inch step from the beautiful oak dining room floor to the living room carpet, to the enormous/scary/unusual plunging step of 9 inches plus from the kitchen to the breezeway, which was anything but a breeze in utter darkness. (There was a pull string just out of reach until you landed safely with both feet planted. Or not).
With all the wackiness of the rooms and odd steps, add to the mix that our family did not have many years of happiness living in the house in the middle of the block. My brother Larry was killed riding his bike 3 years after we moved to 15th Street. That right there set in motion years of mourning and slowly drifting apart from which we would never recover. A senseless, tragic death that changed everything. For all of us.
I went through my rebellious, teenage angst in that house. My sister Mona couldn’t wait to leave, marrying at 17. I left at 18. But I still have many fond memories of living in that house. Mom, sitting in her favorite chair, knitting up a storm. Her beautiful flower bed and Dad’s garden-loaded with tomatoes the size of his fist. My play house and the swing set he built. The huge unattached garage out back where Dad painted the signs for his highway outreach ministry.
Coming through the door after school, getting hit with the smell of homemade cinnamon rolls permeating through the house. Walking home for lunch and having Mom surprise me with, “let’s go shopping in Sioux Falls this afternoon, I’ll call school.” Mom making popcorn on top of the stove, covered fry pan sliding gently back and forth over the blue flame from our gas stove. Dad’s black lunch pail setting on the counter, waiting to be refilled by Mom (everything wrapped in waxed paper-even his daily banana) for another work day. Me watching (but never helping) Mom make 7 minute frosting (the absolute best, I’m still so intimidated by her ability-I have never tried to make it myself), fudge, penuche or divinity. Dad’s corner of the kitchen table holding the Bible and variety of religious material used during our lengthy devotion time before and after eating supper together.
Not everything about living in the middle of the block was unhappy, which enables my strong feelings for the home I’ve not lived in since the late 60’s. After Mom passed away in 2004, Dad was so done with that house. Duh, he worked on it non stop for 4 decades. I was ok selling the house, but honestly would have (should have) paid to keep the Gerritson phone number intact. Giving up that number (which was a lifeline when I was a teen) still hurts my heart.
So while riding around Rock Valley, we were reminiscing about classmates, homes we’d been in during our youth, places nearby where we hid while making out, old businesses, changes in our growing community. We rode past Hubs house and mine. His old house has seen many changes. New porch, addition on the back plus a garage. My house has seen many changes too, none as positive as John’s. Backyard weeds were tall, shed looked dilapidated. The blue spruce shrubs Mom planted and loved on either side of the front step were gone. Driving slowly down the alley I stopped, idling. The shingles on our steep roof were literally curling like taco shells. Now why should something like that hurt so much?
I know the house wasn’t much but my parents always had (and showed) pride in their home. It was fixed up, paid for and I dare bet, one of the cleanest homes in town. (Mom was anal about cleanliness, floors, furniture dusted, windows sparkling). Some of my friends had nicer homes but many classmates had homes similar to ours. I was never ashamed to invite my friends over. But seeing its dismal condition recently really has me in a funk about it.
A couple weeks ago my friend Wanda messaged me, “hey Denise, I think your old house is for sale.” What, we were just there. I checked but couldn’t find anything until she literally sent me the link. Sure enough, there’s my childhood home. Looking sad, even a bit ratty, but the pictures weren’t too bad (except for that damn roof, geez slap on some new shingles please).
What can I say? That it would make a good investment for a decent rental with a few bucks stuck in it. Maybe the amount of money needed exceeds the income it would generate for a new owner. Or maybe it’s a hopeless case, and the neighborhood would be better served if someone bought it, tore down and started over. As much as it would bother me having it torn down, seeing it go downhill reminds me how much I dreaded seeing my parents fail the last few years of their lives. It’s just a house. I know. A neglected, worn out house. But for many years it was my home and got me (us) through some tough times. I wish it was fixed up, looking spiffy. Nurtured and enjoyed by a family who took pride in ownership again…