Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Family Makes a House a Home

MPT#2: Preschool-Kindergarten Years

Although I was born on a farm in central Illinois, Dad didn’t farm there for long. The meager proceeds from rented farmland proved too minimal financially to support a growing family, with four young daughters under the age of six. Around that time, the US government needed skilled civilian workers to build LST (Landing Ship Tank) boats for WWII. When they offered a training program in welding, my father was among the first group of eager volunteers.

LST 325

Along with a new job came good pay and a steady income; my parents bought what seemed like a mansion in a tiny nearby town with a population of a few hundred people. That became the first home I remember.

The two-story house was yellow, with a huge white wrap-around porch on three sides, and a distinctive round turret in the southeast corner. There were two massive parlors (such a charming old-fashioned name for a room) in the front of the house, with gigantic wooden doors that magically slid apart to hide inside the walls. An attic occupied the topmost floor and served as our playground for make-believe on rainy days.

The kitchen was cozy and warm, with a built-in breakfast nook. It had a wooden table and benches on each side, with a scrolled design across the back. My designated seat was a red step-stool at the end, but I always tried to quickly scoot into the far corner and snuggle into a comfortable position. I felt so much more grown up there, rather than having to sit on the “baby chair.”

I loved to listen to fairy tales at that age. Looking out the turret window like Rapunzel, I dreamed of lowering my long braided hair to some knight in shining armor. On other days, my sisters and I sat out on the porch, making dozens of dolls from colorful hollyhocks. Just in case you never made dolls like that, we used toothpicks to hold two buds and a full flower for each doll; with more blooms, we made a beautiful layered skirt, rather like Chiquita Banana’s costume. Unfortunately, not many homes today grow hollyhocks, so this simple pastime is fading away.

Hollyhock doll

Continuing the fairy tale theme, my best friend lived a few blocks away in a big, white house surrounded by a huge black wrought-iron fence. Approaching the house, I always held tightly to my mother’s hand and looked for trolls and ogres around every corner. Apparently, I was listening to too many stories at that impressionable age. Many years later, I drove past that house and was completely surprised to discover that the fence I remembered as being monstrous was actually only about three feet tall.

Kitty-corner from our house was a landmark building that was eventually placed on the National Register of Historic Places: the beautiful St. Mary’s Catholic Church. It was also called the Cathedral of the Cornfields, or the Prairie Cathedral. It is amazingly elaborate, especially considering the size of the town in the middle of farm fields. The original builders must have done some serious sales and marketing to convince the community to erect such an impressive structure.

Cathedral of the Cornfields

One Sunday morning while we were all getting dressed for Mass at the Cathedral, we heard someone chuckling outside, followed by another and another until they were laughing out loud. Curious, Mom stepped outside and saw what was going on. My younger brother Pete was standing on the porch, smiling and waving at all the people on their way to church – bare-buck-naked! At just over a year old, he had developed an aversion to wearing clothes. Any chance he had, he was likely to tear everything off, then stand there and giggle.

Picture of Elizabeth at age 4

Even though we only lived in that house for a few years, it is the one that I think of as “home.” Perhaps it is because I have such vivid memories there, or because it was such a carefree time in my life, but I think that place will always be home to me.

What are your fondest memories of home? I’d love to hear about them.


Karen said...

I love your description of the lovely style of your house, with the parlors and sliding wooden doors. Two houses in our town immediately come to mind for me...I always wanted to go exploring in them!

Gretchen said...

My mother and grandmother made hollyhock dolls with us. Great memories. I can just SEE your house!

Jessica said...

I love the hollyhock doll! I wish more children new how to entertain themselves with nature these days. Thanks for stopping by to visit me!

Beth (Elizabeth) LaMie said...

Karen, yes, it was a lovely old house. Unfortunately, about 20 years ago the owners split the house into apartments and (gasp!) tore off the entire porch, which I thought was a shame. Now it just looks like an oddly shaped house with none of its character intact.

Beth (Elizabeth) LaMie said...

Gretchen, whenever I see a patch of hollyhocks growing somewhere, I am SO tempted to stop and talk to the owners. First to see if they ever make the dolls, but also to see if I could make just one.

Maybe one of these days I'll act on that impulse!

Beth (Elizabeth) LaMie said...

Jessica, I agree - I am also disappointed that kids need so many battery-operated & elaborate toys in their lives.

For my grandkids, aged 5 & 6, I try to give them presents that challenge them and make them think.

Of course, I also give them lots of books to open new worlds for them to use their own imaginations, not someone else's.

Dusti said...

great description of your home.
i remember looking for trolls in the woods when i was a kid. :)
making dolls from hollyhocks is such a sweet memory. my daughter made a corn doll this summer...i thought it was so sweet.

Beth (Elizabeth) LaMie said...

Dusti, I love that your daughter made a doll out of corn husks! I've never done that, but may have to consider that for when my granddaughter gets a bit older. There is so much satisfaction in doing things yourself, especially with a loved one.

Erika said...

Oh. my. goodness! Your house sounds like the one I always dreamed about! You described it so beautifully ... and the porch sounds perfect! Thanks for sharing your memories ... I laughed out loud reading about your brother's greetings! ;-)

Beth (Elizabeth) LaMie said...

Thanks, Erika. I debated about mentioning the incident on the porch, but I'll just cross my fingers that my brother doesn't see this post.

denise said...

you are great at detailed descriptions! i especially liked the details of your home and how that is still "home" to you...i sometimes think about that when i see "home town" on for some people that is where they were born/lived most of their life and for others it is their current home...

i have never seen a hollyhock doll! now i must be on a quest to find them so i can make one! totally agree with you and others about the importance of nature and simple things/creativity for children (and adults!)

i look forward to sharing this recording journey with you!

sincerely, denise from group 3

Anonymous said...

You descriptions are so vivid! I could almost smell the wood polish for all the wood in that house! I also love that you captured not only your personal memories, but the memory of the dynamics of your family (namely your brother at that age!) My girls would do that, except they would try to do it in the store! I can't wait to read more of your memories!

Beth (Elizabeth) LaMie said...

MMH, funny you mentioned that - I should have added something about the wood polish!

The long upstairs hallway had a beautiful wooden floor. It seems like it was polished every week, so it made a splendid place to take a few steps running in stockinged feet, then slide as far as we could.

Naturally, there were just a few (ha!) miscalculations when we ran into a wall & bumped a head. But great fun and delightful memories!

Beth (Elizabeth) LaMie said...

Denise, thanks for the comment. I'm so glad I could tell you about the hollyhocks. Just so you know, they grow on a tall stem and have a wide variety of colors.

I'm delighted to see how our group can share our experiences. Everyone has something to share, which is terrific.

Maple Leaf Mommy said...

It sounds like such a lovely home! I love your description. Quite evocative.

I love that you included a picture of your doll. I've never seen Hollyhocks. It's not a plant I'm familiar with at all.

Beth (Elizabeth) LaMie said...

Thanks, Maple Leaf. The hollyhock dolls are still a wonderful little reminder of childhood.