What are the earliest memories of the place you lived in as a child? Describe your house. What did it look like? How did it smell? What did it sound like? Was it quiet like a library, or full of the noise of life?Tell us all about it, in as much detail as you can recall.
To me our first house seemed big. I’ve been back to see it as an adult, and I was fooling myself! Sometimes I prefer not to go back to places in my past because I runs the risk of having some disappointment ruin my memories. In this case that didn’t happen. But when I saw it well cared for years later, it wasn’t my house anymore, nor had it been for a very long time, so detachment saved me.
Funny, I remember my grandparent’s house had a particular smell — Blindfolded, I would know I was there. I don’t recall that about my childhood home — perhaps that’s because it was “our” smells.
One of the best aspects of growing up where I did, in a far western suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, was the freedom. We had an acre lot and so did all our neighbors. Our house backed to a turnip field, then the country club.
In the winter, our sizable group of neighborhood kids would wander off for hours seeking the best place to sled, or to build an igloo, or to find the deepest drifts to break through. Often I would return home after hours with feet that had long lost any feeling, and pink hands like icicles. Reddened cheeks with white areas in the middle, I discovered, are a sign one has been out too long! We’d even be out after dark, but I don’t know if that’s because of shortened days, or adventurous spirits. Then we’d warm up somewhere, have hot chocolate, and probably go out again. Kids!
One of the coolest things about our house was the heat. Our house was built on a concrete slab and had hot water pipe heating in the floor. I recommend it. Like radiators, it’s a system that’s a bit hard to control, but ah! the warmth. I’ve found that if my feet are toasty, my whole body feels warmer. We also had a fireplace that was well-used in the winter.
The cold winters in Ohio are not relieved with moderate summers. It got hot, and, of course, we had no air conditioning then. My best friend Susan’s house across the street had a shaded breezeway and that was one of the nicest spots in the summer. We’d play lots of board games, gossip. sometimes argue (but then I’d have to leave), and generally laze.
Our neighborhood was blessed with a number of above ground swimming pools and Susan had the one I swam in most often, staying in until our fingers got water-wrinkled. But then there were the Leuenburgers: they had a real pool, in-ground, with a diving board, and a screened-in pool house with a built-in barbecue. An invitation there was not automatic, but welcome when it came. I remember standing on their diving board for a half hour or more as it grew dark before I had the nerve to jump in! What a wimp. (I’m still not fond of jumping from great heights. (I think a bungee jump would kill me — after I was pushed off.)
As with winter, we roamed freely in the summer. Up and down the street to different friends’ homes, and up and down the creek that ran through our neighborhood. It was as filled with fascinating critters as it was with potential adventures. We’d go home when we got hungry, unless we packed a lunch or decided we were running away. (No we never did, but it was a fascinating prospect.) What splendid imaginations we were developing.
It was a different world then, and better in some ways. We knew all our neighbors, the majority of women stayed at home, many women didn’t drive so they were stuck in the house (how my father hated Saturday grocery shopping). In the summer, windows were opened, or people spent more time outside. That meant much safer neighborhoods. No one feared for our safety from “stranger danger” when we went off wherever we chose; parents were fine with that. We explored, pretended, projected our futures, learned from nature, and had a lot of fun. No computers, minimal TV, and more freedom that kids have today.
We never had a pool. I had a workaholic dad who barely managed enough time on weekends to mow the lawn, all 5,820 square feet of grass. He was so funny. He was quite a smoker. He’d be doing his circuits of the lawn as quickly as possible, then stop dead, reach for his chest shirt pocket and pull out cigarette. Poor Susan’s mother would see this from across the street and thought he was having a heart attack! After he died when I was 14 (not from a heart attack), lawn-mowing became my responsibility — a half day of work — and how I hated it. It was made even worse by my allergy to grass pollen. I’d mow half a day, then sneeze the rest. The smell of lawns being cut still reminds me of that onerous summer task.
(We did end up selling the house about the time I started college; my mother, as a sheltered, cared-for woman of the forties and fifties, wasn’t up to the task of maintaining a single family home.)
My growing-up-house has many fine memories; it has some bad ones, too. But for a child 8-17 it was a great place to grow up — not pretentious, not rich, but we had everything we needed to be kids.