Your prompt for today:
Write about a time when you felt a shift in your relationship to your home. This could be your present home, your childhood home, or a temporary shelter. Think not only about the physical structure but the people there with you, or those who are not. Was there an event that led to this shift, like a major life change or extended time away? How do you feel about home now? Are there any revisions you’d like to make to how you define home?
I was nine when I moved into the house I remember most as home. It was a four-story split-level home on the corner of 10th and Henry. My dad had it constructed so it was just right for our family of five.
I have two wonderful sisters, and I am in the middle – 2.5 years between each of us. We each had our own bedroom in the lower level. For some reason, my sisters sometimes said favoritism, I had the largest room. Each room was a different colour, with wallpaper that we each picked out. Mine was green – of course. Having the biggest bed meant giving up my room for their sleepovers. I didn’t mind.
Many of our family times took place around the kitchen table. I can just imagine some of the planning that went into that kitchen. The stove was a double wall oven and had a retractable element shelf. I am not sure what bargaining went on between my parents, but the appliances all went to an autobody shop and came out my mother’s favourite colour – turquoise. We were probably the only family we knew that had a dishwasher.
But it was the 4th level that we spent much of our time. It was a long bowling alley shaped room with older furniture and a fireplace. This is where we would find our mother when we came home from school. At her sewing machine, a trusty Elna, sewing all of our clothes, often without a pattern and from looking at a style in Seventeen Magazine. It was here that we brought all our friends, and sometimes even our boyfriends. It was our space when it wasn’t Mom’s sewing room. It was here that we found gifts under the tree Christmas morning, where Dad cooked steaks on the fireplace grate, and it was here where a bunch of giggly girls had sleepovers.
Around the corner from the rumpus room you would find a large laundry /ironing room. Even more time was spent there, not because we liked doing laundry, but that is where the downstairs phone was. We would wait our turn to call our friends, and talk for hours, sitting on the floor by the ironing board. We would hear a knock on the door, and one of us would be begging time from the others.
But it was also in this house that our world changed. It started out with an excision of a mole on our mom’s forehead, and soon became a “radical neck dissection” and radiation. In the winter of 1965-6 she was in hospital and came back with a four-pronged cane and the inability to use one side of her body. . A housekeeper arrived and looked after her while we were in school, preparing wonderful home cooked meals and looking after her with all the care and attention she deserved. It was here that I learned a little about my future career in nursing, helping her eat her dinner, or climb up the stairs or even sometimes to the toilet.
It was in this house, that some words were never spoken. Dying, terminal, Cancer. I remember once that my dad telling that she was not coming home from the hospital, but it was later when I actually did a shift with her in the hospital by myself, that I learned what that meant.
It was in this house that we learned to live without her. My oldest sister went to college. There were just the three of us left at that large kitchen table. I learned to cook the meals and do the wash, and even to iron my dads white cotton shirts. I did that until someone at the office asked who was doing his shirts and chastised my dad into using a laundry service.
Oddly, it was in the same house where she had been such a central figure, that we couldn’t say her name, or talk about her. It was also in that kitchen my dad told me he had been dating and I found out that we would have a new stepmother only eight months after Mom’s death. “Could I cook her a nice meal? “
Somehow, because it was supposed to, and I knew no other way, my life went on. High School football games, dances, dating and lots of friends. Somehow, because I was supposed to, I stayed strong. Somehow having a stepmother who was diametrically the opposite of our mom, became my accepted norm.
Dad and my stepmother sold the house in 1971. The doodling and the friends’ phone numbers on the wall beside the phone stayed with the house. I pretended I didn’t miss it.
But as I walked through another grief fourteen years later, I missed my home, my mom and my anticipated life. I grieved. I healed.