Tags: 1970s, hometown, houses, my childhood
It appears quite often in my dreams. It’s a part of who I am, and how I was made. I don’t get the occasion to drive by it very often…which is good. It’s different now. Someone else owns it. It’s belonged to someone else longer–I have to admit–than it ever was mine. Still, I drive by and see it, and I feel like I’ve been betrayed by a lover. It was mine, dammit! It…it was mine…
All in the space of three seconds that it took me to drive by my childhood home, I had those thoughts, while taking in the details. The barn is gone now. It was a shiny kit barn that my dad had built, and I remember I helped, as a preteen. Maybe that explains why it didn’t make it through the years. It started to lean, then lean more, like a horse on its reins, leaning away from its owner and trying to break free, and follow the wind.
Curiously, the pony shed still stands. A mere six foot on each side forming a cube, with posts as a frame and rusted tin sheet metal covering it. It peeked from the tall weeds to tell me it was still there, and it remembers.
The garage is gone, replaced by another. The ghost of the old one is still there, and I can see its image shimmering in the light and shadow of the new one. Ha–“new one.” This one has been here for twenty years or more now. But the old one was there longer, and maintains a lasting legacy in the collective memory of the land. It was a simple structure, with a regular garage door in the front and a people door on the side. For a long while it housed Dad’s antique car, until the collector in him forced it out to make room for excessive miscellany. The car moved first to the side of the garage, then to the barn. When we first moved there, the outhouse still stood. I was young, and don’t remember its random disappearance into the ether. Eventually, Dad put up a large pole, and we had a streetlight in our yard.
Directly behind the house was the wash house. I don’t know what its original purpose was, or why it was called that. I remember it was filled with all random collectible stuff. One summer my friends and I “cleaned it up”–and tossed most of the stuff into the garage. Not in any order, not stacked neatly, and not taking care of fragile items. Children are one of the single most destructive forces in the universe.
But it was cleaned out, and now we had a club house. Even my parents could use it now as well, and saw how it had a purpose. We had two deep freezers in it, to store random sides of beef and also the catch from my brother’s hunting and fishing expeditions. There was also a wood-burning stove, and a chimney. In the winter, it was a cozy, rustic place to be.
The wash house was directly behind the main house, and there was only three feet between them. There had been more, but Dad had added a room on to the house. A room and a back porch. Why is this so familiar to me still? I can feel myself walking through their bedroom to the back door, and going onto the porch.
Just beyond the porch was the cistern. We had a cistern and well, and so I know the difference. The well was full of…well…well-water. Water from under the ground. The cistern collected run-off from the gutters and downspouts in a complex and ultimately unreliable system. We used the water from the cistern to feed the animals: the ponies, when we had them, and generally a variety of dogs.
The well was not deep, but deeper than the cistern. Both were four or five feet in diameter and brick-lined, going down into the abyss of the earth–perhaps twenty feet. Water from the well was pumped into the house into the basement, and thence to our water system. We had a twenty-gallon tank, I reckon, and when we used down to a certain level, it would automatically pump.
Of course, the well collected run-off from the rain also, just not intentionally. But somehow it got in there…and when it first went in, I guess dripping or pouring in from the top, it would stir the water up, along with the mud at the bottom.
So you didn’t want to run too much water when it was raining, or the water would come through the faucets muddy. To this day, I’m automatically leery of turning on a faucet when there is a storm.
This was in the basement, and the basement was small. It was about one-fourth the size of the house. Dad cleaned it up really well and there was nothing down there but the furnace and the water pump, and his wine that he made. He wanted me to play down there.
Ha! Not on your life! It was clean, and fairly well lit, but the light would shimmer in time with activity from the floor above. And it smelled like dirt. Fresh dirt. Like a grave. It smelled that way because the brick walls of the basement had openings that went under the rest of the house. It was essentially a crawlspace…into the deepest, darkest, scariest part of a 150 year old house. No, I did not want to take the rickety, creaky, narrow and steep steps that were almost a ladder down to the basement to play.
The house was old, and you could tell from the layout. On the main floor were three big rooms and a bathroom, and the stairs going up. Seventeen steps to go up–the ceilings on the main floor were ten or eleven feet high. When we first moved in, Mom and Dad had the upstairs, and my sister as an infant slept up there. Carl and I shared a room in the downstairs.
Then the remodel came. We actually moved out–moved to a town closer to the city–while work was being done. Dad hired a local handyman to do much of it. But he built the room addition himself. I think that came first. That became their bedroom. It was off the back of the house, from the kitchen, and looked completely out of place on this majestic brick building.
The room that had been mine and my brother’s became the bathroom and laundry room. Where the bathroom had been became a hallway–which I imagine was it’s original purpose. By this time my brother had moved out, and the upstairs was mine and my sister’s…
Except I don’t believe she ever slept up there. It was one big room, with the stairs on one end, and window, and a window on the other. Eventually he did build a wall with a doorway, but I never got a door. Unfinished projects are the story of my life.
As in a typical story and a half house, the walls were slanted. On the side they went up about three and half feet, then turned inward at a sharp 45 degree angle, and then flattened out in the middle for about four feet of ceiling space, not much more than seven feet. On either side of the room were the doors–those dreaded doors–that led to the attic crawl space and have contributed to most of the nightmares I’ve experienced in my life. I always kept heavy furniture of some kind against them. Always.
The walls were a slatted wood covering, and until we moved in had never been painted. The original wood, from a hundred and fifty years ago, with square-cut nails in it. And the wood was so hard–cured, I suppose–that we could barely drive a nail in it. I surely could not put a tack in it, to put posters up. I had to use tape. Lots of tape.
The window by the stairs held the air conditioner. I usually set a fan on a chair to blow it into my room. The window in my room overlooked the driveway and the well and the big pecan tree.
That tree is now gone.
It must have been at least a hundred years old. Maybe older, with all it had experienced. Often, my friends and I would open the window and shoot at birds and squirrels in that tree with my pellet gun. Early on, Dad had made a tire swing and hung it there. It was a fixture for 20 years, long after we stopped swinging on it.
That window was above the side door to the house, and the only one we used. There was a front door. No one used the front door. In the typical German style of that era, the front door was tall *and* there was a transom. It matched the front windows of the house, also very tall.
The house was very solid. Brick, through and through. The walls on the main floor were a little over a foot thick–three or four layers of brick. I do recall staying upstairs in my room during a tornado. That house is not coming down.
And as it was solid, and my parents’ room was an addition, I could actually play my stereo pretty loud before they would even hear it in their room. As an older teen, I could more or less come and go as I wanted, and they rarely knew. It was a comfortable, cozy home. With the kitchen remodeled with the latest style and technology from the 1970s, we had the perfect eclectic mix of modern and antique.
The shape of a home…plays a part in the shaping of a family.
And so it is, and so it was. We moved out in 1984. I don’t know if it was because I had flunked out of college–I’m sure it played a part. Mom and Dad might have been on the verge of a divorce. If we wanted to stay, she would move back to the city. I remember her asking if I had to live here or could I live in town.
I didn’t realize the serious implications that it held…but I knew something was up. I said, “I can go anywhere.”
And we did.
We moved. We moved to town. Moved to the suburbs. First we moved to a big townhouse while they looked for houses, then they bought a house, and we moved there. And that’s the house I have now.
But a part of me has never left my house in the country. I never felt a closer connection to the earth than I did there. And that’s an odd thing to feel and I don’t know why I feel it. But the ground was near to me. The dirt was alive and made itself known to me there.
Here, I feel like I rest atop the asphalt.
And my spirit, when I sleep, travels back there. It’s not about my childhood, not always. Just my connection to the gestalt that formed the maps in my mind. How I think, how I act and react, how I feel…
I can trace back to there, the home of my spirit.
Tags: 1980s, cars, hometown, my childhood
I actually had three first cars, so it’s hard to remember which was the "first" first. My parents had lots of cars sitting around–none of them on blocks, oddly enough. My first three were the 70 GMC pickup, the 74 Ford Galaxy, and the 73 Ford Maverick.
But the first one that was mine-mine, my dad got for me. It was the Maverick. It was two-tone: sky blue on top, and rust below the trim line. Dad bought it from an old man down the road that was a friend of his, old man Heberer. He wanted to give it to Dad for free, but dad gave him a hundred dollars for it, out of friendship.
It was a three on the tree–a three speed manual with the shifter on the column, with a 250 straight-six engine. It had a vinyl interior, of course. It was a two-door with a bench seat, so the whole bench-back leaned forward to get in the backseat.
It was my first car that was mine, so I wanted to customize it, and fix it up. The dream of the car was much more shiny and sparkly than the reality of the car. I bought bucket seats from some dude I knew at school. They were dirty and a little torn, but they were in better shape than the bench was.
After that Dad found me a floor shifter kit. It was used, so it looked like someone handed me a piece of rusted metallic intestines. My friend’s dad put it in for me. Of course, it wasn’t made for that car, so it didn’t line up correctly. Instead, it did this:
A three speed shift pattern is an H. With the shift kit, it translated differently on the floor. It was…distorted. It was a tall, skinny H. Reverse has the shifter knob all the way up to the dash, grazing the left knob on the AM/FM in-dash stereo.
For first gear, simply drop the shifter straight back, and it traveled in a wide arc almost all the way to the floor, or the hump. It stopped near the driver’s side seat belt buckle. If it weren’t for the bucket seats, you couldn’t shift into first.
Now for second. Pull it straight up, and somewhere in the middle of the path–near your knee–push it an inch to your right, and continue to raise it. Second gear has the knob grazing the stereo knob on the right, the one for tuning in stations.
For third gear, just drop it straight down, where it stops near the passenger seat belt buckle. Shifting through the gears was much like operating a rowing machine, and anytime I happened to experience some traffic I got a real workout, similar to being on a rowing machine.
I had my first experience being stranded with a break down in that car. It was on a very hot day in July or August, back in 81 or 82. I got on the highway and drove to the mall, 20 miles away. On the way back, I was only a few minutes out when the car mysteriously died on me.
I say "Mysteriously" because I was 17 and didn’t know jack shit about cars. It had something to do with the engine, I know that. I pulled over, popped the hood, and looked at, wondering what the hell I was looking at and what the hell I was going to do.
Lordy, it was hot. It was really hot. This was 1982, so it was before Al Gore invented Global Warming, yet it was close to 100 degrees that day.
I stood there waiting and hoping for a car to give me a ride. I wasn’t ready to walk, not yet. After about twenty minutes, a car pull over.
I wish I could say that the person who pulled over was a hot chick and this was the beginning of a Penthouse Forum letter, but it wasn’t. It was a guy, a middle aged guy.
Luckily, this wasn’t the start of some other kind of letter, either. The man was a project manager at Chrysler–from the Chrysler plant in the St Louis area, in Fenton. He was on his way to a family reunion in Kentucky, or something like that. And–what he was driving was the very First Chrysler Lazer off the assembly line.
Back in 82, this thing was modern. It was cool as hell, very sleek. He showed it off to me briefly before we got in. I wasn’t a prospective sale; he just wanted to brag about his baby. This was one of the first talking cars: the origination off the ol’ "The door is ajar" thing.
He gave me a ride to an exit of my choosing. In retrospect, I should have chosen a different exit. But since I was new to driving, I didn’t get the distortion of space-time between driving distance and walking distance. I was picked up near the 14 mile marker, heading west. I should have had him let me off at exit 41, which would have put me a few hundred yards from the truck stop that my brother worked.
Instead I did the very brilliant thing of having him drop me at the 27 marker, which is the New Baden exit.
It’s the New Baden exit, but New Baden isn’t right there at the exit. There, in a heatwave the likes of which we would not see again until Al Gore sets the planet on fire, I walked a good three or four miles. I walked the distance to town. I continued, and walked all the way through town. Then, once I was on the other side of town, I continued to walk towards the tracks, and near there was a house that belonged to a friend of my dad’s.
They took my pathetic ass in, and from there I was able to get some water, cool off, and finally get a ride. The guy towed my car–and charged my dad. What are friends for? It ended up just needing a thermostat. I didn’t do the work; I didn’t know anything about it. It just magically came back to me fixed, and I have no idea how that happened. I just continued to drive it.
One day–sometime after that–I started having the oddest problem with the car. Whenever I would give it some gas and try to take off, it would start to go, but then it would suddenly slow down, almost like it wasn’t getting any gas.
We looked a couple of different possibilities, Dad and I did. Finally he decided that it must be the fuel filter or something like that. We trace the line from the gas tank to the fuel filter, but we never made it to the filter. The gas line came from the gas tank and went under the trunk. It was pinched between the leaf spring and the rusted body of the trunk that the leaf spring had broken through. The forward momentum of acceleration pushes the back end of the car down and pinches the rusted opening against the line and cut off the fuel. Well, at least we know what the problem is.
Now, how to fix it?
This is what we did: We jacked up the back of the car, pried the leaf spring back through the hole where it belonged, and then got a piece of wood and put it between the hole and the spring, and the got the drill and some screws, and screwed the piece of wood to the floor of the trunk, and put some screws from the spring into the wood, to hold it all together. It worked for as long as we had the car, until we finally sold it at an auction for 225 dollars.
We actually made money on it.