Apr 14, 2010

Reject #3

Title: Would You Buy This House?
Date: October 16th, 2009

Actually, it's already sold. Sorry, didn't mean to rip your heart out, in case you happen to love nondescript early 1970's homes that have been abused by large families and come with exorbitant California price-tags. Anyone? What, no takers? (furrowed brow) Surprising.

This is the house I grew up in. What? You didn't grow up in a ghetto, eating shoe leather, and working in illegal child-labor factories to support yourself and your orphaned siblings? (This is you talking, in case you didn't know). Nope, suburban California, eating a variety of casseroles, no orphans around that I remember, though I only got paid $.25 to take out the garbage so we may have a case for illegal child-labor. Hmmm, I would have pegged you as someone with a much harsher childhood. (You again). Surprising, I know.

Yes, I have one of those stories that goes like this: after being born, my parents brought me home from the hospital to the house I lived in until I left for college. Actually that's not true, they brought me home to a different house, and then 5 months later we moved to this house, and then comes the college part. Except there was also a lot of stuff in between too. And since then as well.

But let's skip all that up to a few weeks ago when I went to California to help my parents get their house ready to sell after living in it for 32 years. The house is almost unrecognizable from when we were growing up, as it has gone through so many transformations over the years. It's like the Michael Jackson of houses. We tired so hard over the years to remove the 1970's from that house, and the result was kind of impressive, but only if you knew what it looked like before. As I was brushing my teeth one night, it suddenly seemed a travesty to me that the next people to live in that house would never know that the upstairs bathroom once had dark green woven-grass wall paper, gold-speckled linoleum flooring, and the most hideous caulk job around the bright yellow bathtub. Now it just looks like this:

Which they'll probably think is bad enough. But at least we fixed the broken lock on the door and they won't have to pull open the first drawer as a makeshift blockade. We did not however, fix the drain in the tub, which is still bright yellow.

You would never know that before this kitchen was expanded and remodeled it was a dark cave of brown cabinets, mustard yellow flecked counters, and orange walls. Even the ceiling was orange, and strangely it took until I was 13 to ever notice it. We had a loud hand bell and it was someone's job to ring it every night at dinner time. Like Pavlov's dog, we all became immediately and ferociously hungry no matter how full we might have felt just moments before. Thousands and thousands of meals for a family of 9 were prepared in here, including Bean Burgers (the regrettable family specialty), Grandma's famous rolls, all assortments of Mormon casseroles, crepes on Sunday night, and of course, homemade oatmeal for breakfast almost every week day morning. Being told to eat our oatmeal because it would "stick to your ribs" conjured up disturbing mental images that still haunt me today. When we complained the reply was, "You're lucky it's not germade." I didn't know what germade was, but if it was worse than oatmeal, I didn't want to find out. Eventually I learned to spoon it into my OJ and dump it down the sink when mom wasn't looking.

And what about the family room? In pure unadulterated 70's style, that wall originally had a red brick facade to go with the dark wood paneling on the opposite wall and the ugliest red, green, and orange astro turf carpet that can only be described as "patterned vomit." This is where we would watch VHS recordings of MTV videos from 1985 over and over again, and dance to Thriller while jumping on the little trampoline. And although the floors look clean now, there was about a 10 year period where at any given moment, someone could yell out "Touch the Floor and You're Barf, staring now!" and we would all immediately jump onto the nearest object to avoid directly touching the floor. You could easily make it from one end of the family room, up the stairs, and into the farthest bedroom with never a shortage of toys, books, papers, clothes, the occasional plate, and other miscellany to step on to avoid becoming "barf." We rarely had to use the furniture.

No one will be be able to tell about all the times we slid down these stairs in sleeping bags, eventually ruining the original puke green carpet and probably the sleeping bags too. Later, my brother Arnold would put our pet hamsters in lunch boxes and roll them down the stairs to their deaths. Or about how we figured out exactly how sneak down the stairs to avoid any creaks, and which step to sit on (3rd from the bottom) to just barely see the TV in the family room, where mom and dad were watching Dallas and thought we were asleep. By the way, that banister is brand new; we had to live with a wrought iron railing with most of the black finish chipped off. It's funny to me to see a picture of the stairs completely bare; I have no memories of that ever happening.

Imagine this room with floor-to-ceiling marbled mirrors 0n both sides of the fireplace. We only lit a fire in the fireplace once a year, on Christmas Eve. Even the year that Danny and I threw the unlit duraflame log into the Christmas tree and got sent to our rooms, effectively ruining Christmas that year. Hopefully no one will ever know how, in what can be called the "Extreme White Trash Years," the beloved family dog went senile, and began using one corner of the room as a bathroom, and how eventually the smell became so bad that no one would go in there and it became a storage room for broken furniture and old exercise equipment-- essentially an indoor garage. True story. But before all that, this was the room where we held Family Home Evening (most) every Monday night, the only family argument we had that began and ended with a prayer, as we always said. My dad kept detailed minutes of announcements and family business from those meetings, and if you read those minutes you could see for yourself that my brother John and I loved to announce really important things such as, "we have a brown couch!' and, "we're having Family Home Evening!" Every time we would raise our hands, my dad would ask, "do you have a real announcement this time?" We would lie through our teeth every time and he never learned. Another thing he never learned was that when he made a special request to sing I'm So Glad When Daddy Comes Home, we always changed the words to I'm so mad when Daddy comes home. To this day, I cannot sing that song without thinking of our version.

I don't have a picture of my old bedroom, the only one that was downstairs and therefore the best room in the house for sneaking out. And that's all I have to say about that at this time. It eventually became a pretty decent guest room, I'm sure for the same reason. Someone will probably use it for a home office, and never know that it was once a playroom where we played hours and hours of Q*bert and Burgertime on the Atari. When it became my room, I decided to paint it by myself, mostly to cover up the spot where my little sister Katy wrote her name in large magic markered letters. I chose a green, somewhere between mint and aquamarine, and, inexplicably, only painted 3 walls. For a long time, it was the only room in the house that wasn't painted white, except for the master bedroom which was the color of Marigold butter.

And this spot? I wish I could make a plaque to put on the wall by the door that would read, "Here stood an Alhambra water cooler, complete with a stack of little 3 ounce dixie cups and a bumper sticker on the side that said Get a Real Job, Be a Housewife." And if you thought that hutch ever actually held china, or crystal, you would be sadly mistaken. It was the home to piles and piles of paperwork, office supplies, maps, cook books, and was usually covered in post-its, snapshots, and fliers. But was one hutch enough? Oh, no it was not.

So they had this hutch built in, also to hold paperwork, and piles and piles of stuff. And those piles of stuff propagated and spread to the table and chairs. If it was your job to set the table each night, first you had to remove the piles of things from my mom's spot at the table, and relocate them on top of the piles of other things on the hutch, hoping that they wouldn't reproduce while we were eating. Can you just picture us all sitting there eating meals together? Well, not at that table anyway. It's way too nice. And did you imagine us supping pleasantly together, quietly and calmly discussing current events with no shortage of "please and thank you"? Yeah, I didn't think so.

Notes: I was really excited about this post when I first started it, and somewhere around paragraph 20 or so I started to loose steam. It just got really LONG. To be honest, I never published it because I got bored. By my own childhood. It was a real struggle today to finish it so it didn't feel too truncated. Knowing that I'll never go back to that house is a weird thing, and writing about it is even weirder still. Who knows why? Therapist Aimee? Anyway, I wish I had a prize for you if you made it this far, but let's face it, I'm probably the only one here at this point. Well maybe my parents too. Mom? Dad? Hope you're loving your new house.


Dan said...

The downstairs room was really easy to sneak out of. However, both upstairs rooms were easy to sneak out of too. It just required the skills of a cat to climb down the tree by the garage, or the awning over the fence.

Of course, Dad snores so loud that both he and Mom had developed the ability to sleep through the sound of a freight train in the living room. Once I figured that out I just used the front door. It was a lot easier.

Gabriela Hull said...

Do I get a special prize for not only finishing and enjoying this post immensely but also for knowing how to make bean burgers?

Katy said...

Oh goodness, I forgot about the "don't touch the floor or your barf" game. I think I was pretty young when it died out. That game is definitely one of the reasons the upstairs railing was in such bad shape.

HeatherB said...

That sounds eerily similar to my childhood...the FHE terrets, not touching the floor game, all white walls, I could go on and on. I love it! (and am also similarly bored by it...I keep telling my parents that if only they had traumatized me a little more, I would probably be a much better writer.)

Tiffany said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this post. My parents sold my childhood home last summer and I had so many of the same thoughts.

By the way, your rejects are the best! You're like that awesome factory where you can get half-priced seconds that seem perfectly perfect.

Tiffany said...

P.S. I think we were reading each other's blogs at the exact same time.

Anonymous said...

At least there isn't a sign on your childhood house that says "Condemned by the Department of Agriculture" (yet).

- Mark

Shelly said...

I remember that house. I totally remember the fake red brick by the dining room. And how we looked for change all over your house (AND always found a LOT!) so we could go down to the 7-11 or Circle K to buy push pops. Oh and I can't forget how we would both sit on the toilet together(we were only 4 or something) in the downstairs bathroom! Sorry! I couldn't leave that out!!

Neva said...

Looking at that house brought back so many memories, it's killing me! When my parents sold their house in 2008, I didn't recognize it either. My sister Dana said, "It almost looks like Mom and Dad have money, or something." But I have to say, kids are so rough on furniture and carpet, I can see why parents wait to kick us all out before they make the house look decent. Where do Joyce and Don live now?

Anonymous said...

It is a big deal when your parents move out of the house in which you were raised. So many memories.

Don and Joyce said...

It is hard to sell a home after 30-something years. I am glad that you posted the "after" pictures of the old homestead. Your descriptions were so graphic you really didn't need "before" pictures.

You can learn a lot by reading your kids blogs.