03 March 2008


I have spent the last few months fighting a hereditary winter depression, but with spring right around the corner, and all my girls' birthdays underway, I am feeling like posting again. I recently posted a question to Greenpa over at his blog about housing design, and today he did his best to answer me. I am so honored.

I thought I would use this post to talk about the house that I consider my childhood home. When I was 2, my parents bought a 5-acre parcel in a backwoods town that was so small it had no traffic lights and a one-lane bridge that went to the next town over. When I was 4, we temporarily lived there in a trailer for a couple of months until my folks found a small house to rent where my youngest brother was born the next year. When I was 8, my parents started building on that property. They had a nice house planned, with a 2-car garage attached by a breezeway. They started the garage first, since it was smaller and the plan was to move into the garage while they built the house so as not to have to pay rent any longer than necessary. The house never got built, and we lived in the garage for just over 3 years, but those were the happiest years of my life.

They built this "house" with their own two hands, and I was proud to help whenever I could. They did have a cement truck come in and pour the floor, but they built the framework for the cement (I don't know what it is called) and leveled it themselves. They did all the framing and putting up the exterior walls themselves, and our church held a work day when it was time to put the roof up. It took several months to complete the house, and we moved in in January 1985, two months before I turned 9.

The house was situated about 300' in from the road. I know our driveway was incredibly long to walk up and down, and impossible to shovel. My folks always hired a plow when the snow came. Being so young at the time, my impressions of size were distorted, but I think I remember my dad telling me that number as the length of the driveway.

Our house was 20'x24', with a 12' loft along the southern 24' wall. The door was on the western 20' wall, and since it was supposed to be a garage, we had two huge windows in the south wall, which were going to be the garage doors after the house proper was built. Those windows had no glass, just two sheets of plastic over them inside and out. Lots of sun, lots of winter warmth. We got upstairs by way of a ladder that was too steep to be called stairs, but just flat enough that we could go down facing forwards if we wanted to be naughty. Upstairs were five windows, three along the south wall, and one each in the eastern and western walls. I have not seen this kind of window anywhere else. They were square, probably 3' to a side, with just one sash, and to open them we pushed them up and out from the bottom and stuck a pole in to hold them out. No screens. My cat used to like jumping out my window, then coming back inside and doing it again. There were no windows in the northern wall, and the roof was saltbox-like. It was two stories high on the south side, went up to a peak, then down to the first floor on the north side. It was covered in asphalt shingles. The walls were insulated, and half of them were sheetrocked, the other half just had clear plastic holding the insulation in so it didn't fall out. None of the sheetrock was painted. The ceiling was also insulated with plastic over it.

There were no interior walls, either. The ultimate in open-concept living. There was a railing along the edge of the loft so we didn't fall down onto the woodstove. The woodstove was in the center of the house, slightly offset to the north so that the stovepipe went up beside the loft instead of through it. We had a propane stove that we used in the summer when it was too hot for the woodstove or when Mom was baking. Our woodstove was not designed for cooking, though it did work well for it. The northeast corner was the kitchen area with the stove, some salvaged countertop for storage and workspace, and a small table for the two dishpans which constituted our sink. The southeast corner housed the table and chairs, which sat right in front of one of those huge windows. The southwest corner was the living room, with a sofa and an easy chair, and the northwest corner had the ladder upstairs, the woodbin, and some bookcases. Upstairs we visually divided into three "rooms". I hung a blanket from the rafters to segregate my 8'x8' "room". My two younger brothers had the middle 64 square feet, and my parents had the western 64 square feet. The front 4 feet of the loft was for walking, and at the end (down by my room) was the "indoor pot". This was a 5-gallon bucket with a toilet seat set on top. We were only allowed to use it at night or if we were sick. Mom emptied it into the outhouse when it got full.

We heated entirely with wood, and when I was 10 or 11, I used to start the fire each morning. My dad worked second shift, and although my mom stayed home with us kids, she kept his hours. We weren't allowed to wake them up until at least 10 am. Being a kid, I naturally got up at 6 every morning. We were homeschooled, so I would get up, go downstairs and light the fire, have a bowl of cereal for breakfast, then start my schoolwork. I remember the woodstove as a long, cast-iron box on legs. The stovepipe came out a short end, with the door on the other short end, and the long sides had a hunting scene on them. It was a beautiful stove. The top had a single level, so it was easy to cook on it. We always had a big stockpot of water sitting back there to keep the humidity up. It also provided conveniently easy hot water if you weren't going to drink it. If you were going to drink it, we had a teapot so the water would stay clean. I suppose we used the stockpot like the hot water reservoirs I have seen on pictures of wood cookstoves.

We had no electricity or running water. The house was wired for electricity, but my folks never had it run in from the street because they were going to wait until the house was done and do both buildings at the same time. We lit our home with kerosene lanterns, had a fridge only in the winter (the entire outdoors was our fridge then), and had a 13" TV with rabbit ears that ran off of a 12V car battery. We had a well that sometimes worked and sometimes didn't. I don't know why it didn't work in the end, but it was near the bottom of the driveway and had a red pitcher pump on it. I remember watching my mom dig the hole for the outhouse, which is featured in some very funny stories that I tell my children. (Like the time the baby goat jumped down there. Eeew!) The outhouse was situated off the northeast corner of the house, probably 10'-15' away from the house. It certainly wasn't as elaborate as Greenpa's THWASPCO, but it served the purpose.

I have great memories of that house. I wish I could buy it back and move my family back there again. It has probably been brought up to date in the almost 20 years since we moved out, though.

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