Friday, April 21, 2006


Weekly Anamnesis

I wonder what our houses say about us. I remember my childhood house in Urbandale, Iowa. It was on a quarter acre lot with a huge front yard that was shaded by huge catalpa and white maple trees. The VA had foreclosed on the property and my parents purchased it for the princely sum of $12,000 in 1970.

When we moved in I remember the backyard looked like a jungle with its weeds and overgrown grass. Closer inspection revealed why it hadn't been mowed. It took the Elder's Quorum from church, a dump truck, and most of a Saturday to remove several thousand pounds of garbage and junk that the former owners had conveniently disposed of by throwing it off the back porch. It had a huge 2 1/2 car detached garage. Behind the garage were two rooms, one behind the other, that were as wide as the garage and maybe twelve feet deep each. These rooms had windows, electricity, and of all things, plumbing that had long since been disconnected. The neighborhood rumor was that in a not-so-distant past a previous owner had kept a disabled relative in the back room of the garage.

The house itself was a hodge podge of mismatched additions, the last of which had probably been added 50 years previously. I can say this with some confidence because the local paper had run a historical aerial photograph that clearly showed our home sitting in the middle of a corn field in the 1920s. The carpet was old and stained. The cupboards were a faded, chalky pink! The asphalt tiles in the kitchen were a dingy, dirty checkerboard of black and white. The entryway was paneled with a cheap, dark wood veneer. The living room was enormous and about the size of a single wide trailer. In fact it looks almost like someone added the living room by parking a trailer and bolting it on, flat roof and all. We thought that an electrician must have added the living room because it had an electrical outlet about every three feet along the walls. The back additions had very nice paneling of naturally finished pine. Perhaps someone who cared and had some cash had done that part.

We lived in that house from the time I was 5 until we sold it when I was 18 so we had a chance to leave our mark on it. I'm sure that the family that bought it could see a partial story of our life illustrated by our former house and property just as we could read the stories of those that had lived there before us. The large side yard had been carefully crafted into a thirty by forty foot garden that yielded hundreds of dollars of fresh produce each year under the industrious care of the four children that tended it. The house was clean and in good repair. The exterior had been scraped, primed and painted by the teenage boys. The new roofing on the house and the garage had taught a skill and self-reliance to the boys who stripped off the old shingles and tarpaper and replaced it under the blazing Iowa summer sun. The carpets were new and clean even if their different colors and patterns bore testament to the fact that they'd been bought on closeout or on sale by a family that couldn't afford the latest fashions. The gold colored paint on the kitchen cupboards and avocado colored stove had clearly been done during the tasteless 70s. The indentations at the top of the door jamb in the kitchen from a chinup bar was evidence of the emphasis on exercise of the residents. More troubling were the shattered doors and doorways that had obviously been kicked in with such violence that the repairs could never really hide the damage. All painted a picture of an industrious, responsible, if not well-off family that tried to do their best to improve their lot in life and that perhaps had some secret troubles that were only hinted at by the house they left behind.


Joseph's Left One said...

We have a few of those shattered doors, too. A house records everything and hides very little.

Cynthia E. Bagley said...

Yea... fist-sized holes. :-) Good job.