228 Gladstone Road, Amazing Grace, Frontotemporal Dementia, harmonica, Home, Mama, pink house, Porch, redecorating the kitchen, smokehouse, sticky marshmallows, Sunday school, washhouse, Welch’s Jam jars
From a prompt given by Carol at a spring mountain retreat in Roaring Gap
Home…my first one…it’s still there…yet it is no longer what it was.
I wasn’t born when Daddy had it built for a mere $5000, a good deal of money to a young couple in their late 20s. That was the mid-’40s. The simple white-framed Cape Cod with a cement stoop got a face-lift several years after I came along. I remember when the ‘siding men,’ as I called them, turned our house pink and added the white shutters, both of aluminum, the trend of the day in exterior home décor. I told my neighbor friends, Phillis and Kathy, “The siding men are making our house pink.” I’m sure Mama and Daddy wouldn’t have referred to it as ‘pink’; perhaps ‘mauve’ would have been the grown-up word.
I don’t think the screened-in back porch was built with the house originally, but it was there as far back as I can remember. With less than 950 square feet indoors, the porch was a favorite spot for our family on rainy evenings in late spring, during warm autumn sunsets, and especially on those sweltering July and August nights, a reprieve from our more-than-cozy interior. Plus, we had no air-conditioning. It didn’t matter if we were in the house or on the back porch—we were still hot.
The porch floor was hard cement, painted a deep red, a burgundy shade—did Mama coordinate the color with the pink siding? Was she inspired by a favorite lipstick shade? More likely, the paint color was an old stand-by from Wilson-Covington Construction Company, my Daddy’s employer. Daddy was a painter by trade; I’m certain he was allowed to help himself to extra paint from the company. That was the day when employees came home with overstock items—employers considered them as part of their bonuses. No matter the impetus or the source, that burgundy floor cooled our feet on those summer nights when the cicadas hummed and the crickets played their harmonies. And then Daddy would take the melody with his harmonica, playing his sweet music by ear. I was the solo vocal performer most nights, Daddy only stopping to fill in the words I hadn’t yet memorized. Mama was busy sewing or preparing a Sunday school lesson inside if she wasn’t on the porch with me and Daddy. “Amazing Grace…how sweet the sound.” “Hey good lookin’, what ya’ got cookin’?” “Don’t you listen to ‘em Dan, he’s a devil not a man and he spreads the burning sand with water…cool, clear water.” Old hymns, country ballads, trail songs…most of the lyrics I’ve long forgotten.
I remember having a sleepover there one night so many summers ago. Phillis, Kathy, and I started in the carport with a tiny campfire and sticky marshmallows. I liked mine burned until crispy, brimming with carcinogens. We sat on cement blocks and told silly ghost stories, reminiscing about Old Man Vickers and his telling us one Halloween to “trick or treat the devil.” We stared at the star littered sky, wondering if aliens really did exist. However, we were not going to let make-believe ghouls or little green men from Mars spoil our fun. Just in case, we moved to the porch, closer to Mama and Daddy’s bedroom. We latched the screen door for added security.
My playhouse, the washhouse, still stands, with its matching blush of pink. Before I was old enough to help with the wash, I had tea parties in the cement-block building. I took care of my babies and washed up my dishes and swept my floors. Mama would interrupt on summer days, loading the shelves with canned green beans, pickles, and beets and filling the freezer with corn. By the time I started my “pip” as Mama called it, I was past tea parties and baby dolls. I was washing real dishes and mopping real floors. Mama wouldn’t let me go in the washhouse if I had my pip; I would cause the sauerkraut to spoil.
Attached to the playhouse/washhouse was the tool shed—Daddy’s tool shed…my bathroom in my younger days when I was too busy to go inside to use the real one. I would just squat and pee on the dusty, red clay floor. Daddy would come home from work to work some more, always having some hoeing or picking to do in his one acre garden in the spring and summer. Did he notice the small irregular puddles, almost dry, causing the dirt to wrinkle around itself? I wonder how old I was the last time I peed there…5…6…maybe even 7 or 8. I loved to play…I knew how to play. I was a vocal child who would let her Mama know if I wasn’t finished playing.
The smokehouse was Daddy’s domain. Not really a smokehouse, his most important stuff was in there, his electric tools, paint buckets stacked 3-5 deep, bristly paintbrushes soaking in turpentine. It too was painted that same hue of pink. I mostly left the smokehouse alone. Spiders lived in there—I didn’t like spiders. The tang of turpentine and oil-based paints had long ago swallowed any trace of smoke that had cured pork when it was a used for its namesake, a smokehouse. It reminded me of my daddy more than any of the other storage buildings on our two acre lot. I loved the Saturdays that he was home, working in his garden or mowing the yard…I probably used the real bathroom on Saturdays though, afraid to disappoint him.
The inside dwelling of 228 Gladstone Road was humble, modest, unassuming, yet it was brimming with pride—the pride that my mother instilled there. It was as if she was giving our home a reason to be content with itself, regardless of its size and lack of any real decorator’s touches. I remember vividly the year we took on that task—redecorating the kitchen, me, Mama and Daddy. She chose soft tones of yellow and green, not the muted gold and olive that were popular in 1972, to adorn the walls, cabinetry, floor, and ‘kitchenette set.’ The trend was to ‘frost’ the furniture in pastels, so Daddy painted the table and six matching chairs a bright yellow, then coated them with a white glaze. Mama and I thought they were beautiful!
Together we glued bright orange and yellow plastic Popsicle sticks on Welch’s Jam jars, which were created to use as drinking glasses. But we had better plans for the cartoon-characters peering at us through the glass. There were three what-not shelves on each side of two of the windows, so we had nine places to display ‘collectibles.’ We filled our vases with plastic flowers in the same bright hues and set one on each side of the kitchen window. Live plants, souvenirs from mountain and beach vacations, and a plaque with an inspiring quote or Bible verse filled the other shelves…nothing expensive, just things that said ‘home’ to me.
Mama made many suppers in that kitchen…that happy, yellow kitchen with soft green walls that said, “Sit down, eat your vegetables. Now you can have some banana pudding, but you still have to wash the dishes tonight.”
Both of my parents are gone now, Daddy in 1979, Mama, eight years ago today July 1, 1999. My only sister, eleven years my senior and unmarried with no children, came back home from Oklahoma City in 1996 and decided to make this her home again in order to help our mother. When Mama passed away they were in the middle of having the house freshened up with paint and new carpet and tile flooring. They had plans to hire a painter to refurbish the exterior, at least the cement block buildings and the peeling burgundy floor of the porch.
But those things never happened. My sister’s finances alone didn’t allow for further improvements. My sister, diagnosed in late August of 2006 with Frontotemporal Dementia, is in an assisted living facility. I had to ‘place’ her there. Now, the house sits lonely on its tiring foundation. The exterior paint continues to peel, slowly revealing the dull gray cement of the porch floor and the blocks used in constructing the storage buildings. The screens have holes and are blackened with dust and pollen. Mice have moved into the crawl space; spiders live in the musty closets. The kitchen hasn’t felt bright or cheerful for many years, especially since the last few meals with my sister about a year before her diagnosis, when I knew something was wrong with her.
I sit here on my own back porch, the sun setting on this July 1, 2007 night. I can almost see Daddy drawing deep breaths to hasten sharps and flats from his harmonica. I can smell Mama’s biscuits that she baked for supper. I can hear the train whistle in the distance and the dogs barking at its shrill call. But I am suddenly forced back to my reality of what is to come very soon—a for sale sign staked in the front yard.
It is a sad place now…it is a place that is no longer what it was…it will never be that place again.
*Footnote* It is now January, 2013. I sold mine and my sister’s home place in June of 2008. It was one of the most difficult things I’ve done in my life. I told the family who bought it to please love it like it had been for over 60 years. I rode by there recently…I don’t think they’re ‘loving’ it like our family did. I hope there is at least as much love inside those walls–love within their family, like there was in our family, regardless of its faded pink exterior.