A Porch of My Own

A Porch of My Own

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The House That Built Me

I took a trip back in time this last week, back to see the house I grew up in. My first remembered tiny house! I don't know how old I was when we moved in but the earliest photos I can find show me maybe 6 or 7 years old. A records search gives the construction date as 1955, so this would indicate we probably bought it new. We left Monroe, Louisiana and moved to Houston the summer I turned 15. We returned to Monroe after that to visit family but I don't remember going by the house since then, back in 1964. 

It was a small duplex and my maternal grandparents, Papa and Mamaw, lived on one side. Each side was identical. Two small bedrooms, small - well, it was all small! - living room, kitchen, one bath, and a little hallway with an attic fan. It was an abestos sided house. On the parish property records the square footage is listed at 1000. I think this has to be for both sides of the duplex as there's no way our side alone had 1000 sq ft! It's on almost a 1/4 acre lot in the Ouachita Cotton Mills subdivision. In 1993 it sold for $28,880 but the tax valuation is listed as $12,000.

When there were only 4 of us kids, we all shared one bedroom with two sets of bunk beds. Kathy and I in one, and David and Andy in the other. As our family grew we added an addition across the back of the duplex. On Papa and Mamaw's side this was an eating area, a bit shorter than the addition on our side. We used our side for a dining table (the kitchen really didn't have much room for a table; I can't even remember eating in there), a place for the washer and dryer, and one end was my parents' bedroom, though it was open to the dining/utility area with a small sofa in between. 

By the time we moved, David and Andy had the littlest bedroom that used to be our parents', and we 4 girls had the other bedroom with two double beds, plus our baby brother's crib until he grew out of that. 

Though Monroe has grown a lot and all along the interstate you see every chain store and restaurant as you do anywhere, back in my old neighborhood time has stood still. The streets are just as I remembered. The only difference is our house and the elementary school we went to are showing their age. They need some paint and some trim repair, some love. And our yard that Papa, a farmer before he retired, took such good care of is overgrown and in need of sprucing up. 

The fire station across the street, where we went many a summer day to buy Cokes from their machine, is boarded over and not in use. The Baptist church directly behind that, where we were every Sunday and Wednesday, is now a Methodist church and has expanded. Plum Street Elementary is now Clara Hall Elementary. We walked two blocks to school there, and in the summer we rode our bikes to the recreation center past that to go swimming. Us older kids giving the younger ones a ride on the backs of our bikes. "Hold your feet out so you don't get them caught in the wheel!" 

We sometimes walked downtown from our house, down the street to Texas Avenue (prophetic, considering where I ended up), over the railroad tracks, and a few blocks further to downtown on the banks of the Ouachita River. Our mom worked as a bookkeeper at a shoe store and our Mamaw worked at a printing company and we would go see them. As we drove past the railroad crossing this week it seemed an awful long way for kids to walk! But we were used to walking and we were used to being on our own, the older ones looking out for the little ones. 

The neighborhood streets and most of the houses looked much as they did when we lived there. Tall trees shaded the narrow streets. One of the two pine trees Papa planted, one for me and one for my brother David, was gone and the other was twisted and strange looking from being trimmed off the power lines. Papa's magnolia tree in the corner of the front yard topped off for the same reason.

The chain link fence in the back yard, where we played Cowboys and Indians and Tarzan, was partially torn down, the rest covered with vines. The empty field behind us where Papa planted a big garden has had houses for years. The little store down the street we walked to was still there. Papa always had change in his pockets and he would give us money to go there and for Cokes at the fire station. 

When we left Monroe and came to Houston we had a 4 bedroom house with a living room and den and two bathrooms. We added a room and bath for my grandparents. Our financial situation improved as Daddy went from grading yards for a living to being a master plumber. We moved several times in the early Houston years and all the homes were much bigger and grander than the little duplex in Monroe. 

But I never loved any of those houses like I loved the tiny house. They hold no place in my heart. All the things - the character traits, the empathy for people with less than I have and for those struggling, the value of family, the "make it work" attitude, the sense of a home full of love, the appreciation of a simple life, the love of a garden, the ability to notice the little things and little moments that make up a life - all these were formed in the tiny house and made me the person I became. 

Driving through the pine covered hills of north Louisiana, past names of places and bayous such as Tensas, LaFourche, Delhi, Rayville, and Tallulah, brought back a lot of family memories. Mostly these places and the land brought back to me stories our dad told us of hunting and fishing the area. He loved to roam the woods and hills and bayous. He had moved to Louisiana from Illinois when he was 13 years old. 

My dad and I share a love of the land, the actual physical aspects of our surrounding, though we loved different types of land. I didn't love the piney woods, the humidity, the muddy bayous and rivers. I wanted the dry climate, open skies where I didn't feel fenced in, rocky ground and limestone hills, the clear rippling waters of small rivers and creeks. I have ended up in a place that is the kind of land I love. But it hit me as we drove along on this trip that our dad had left a place that was much prettier than the flat treeless Houston area we went to. And I wondered if he longed for it as I would if I ever have to leave the land I love. And it made me cry to think he left this place, with its own beauty and his history, to go to a place where he could support his family better. Did he dream at night of walking through the pine woods, crossing a creek, checking for deer signs, remembering the smells and the way the air feels on your skin? 

I'm grateful I got to visit my first remembered tiny house - I'm sure wherever we lived before this was tiny also - and glad that my daughter and her family got to see it with me. I'm glad the house that shaped me and led me down the road to where I am now is still standing, though a little worse for wear. 

It's been 11 years today since we lost our dad, and it's my grandson Zac's 19th birthday. Life goes on and we go on with it, taking our memories with us. It's not always the grand memories we carry, sometimes it's just the day to day ones. Sometimes those are the best.