Thursday, November 17, 2005

A Four-Bedroom Treehouse: Part 2

Part 1 is here.

I promised to post about some of the old treehouses I used to know, the ones that were never short of bedrooms although they didn't have some of the other frills that usually go along with big houses today.

The first was a board-and-batten house that my grandparents bought in about 1950 and lived in for forty years. When I first read Understood Betsy as a child, I imagined Aunt Abigail's kitchen as looking something like my grandmother's, including the big old dog sleeping under the table. From what I've been told, my grandfather panelled the walls of the kitchen, in rec-room style knotty pine, and built all the cupboards to match. Because the cellar was just a fruit cellar, Grandma had a washer and dryer at one end of the kitchen, and when they were both going at once they made the floor shake, while she worked around the house either whistling or singing hymns, always the same ones. The stove was a gas one, the kind you had to flick a spark at to light a burner. (Unique in my experience, up to to then.)

One side of the room had a door going out to a side part of the house that was my grandpa's woodworking shop...if you can imagine part of a city house that was about as unfinished inside as you can get. In some ways, this wasn't a city house at all, but a farmhouse that had somehow sprouted on a busy street corner. When you came in through the back door, you came in through more unfinished space...but who needed it fancy? It was a good place to leave your snowy boots.

The house smelled of dogs and pipe smoke, and bacon and cake and other things to eat that weren't good for you. There was a piano missing the white stuff on half of its keys, which we could bang on all we wanted (that's probably how the keys lost their white stuff)...there was a big square parking area instead of a driveway, which seemed entirely natural--didn't all grandparents need a parking lot for all the relatives' cars? I've heard stories about how my two uncles, as teenagers, used to sling a jalopy up to the nearest tree with a rope so they could work on its undersides.

There were funny slopy walls in the bedrooms...four bedrooms in the main part of the house, and another room built over the kitchen that you climbed up to from the mudroom. Ownership of the bedrooms got shifted around over the years, especially as the makeup of families shifted around and children and grandchildren ended up living back at Grandma's for a short or long period of time. My sister and I stayed there too, overnight or on days we were sick, or during spring break. I remember once doing something at Grandma's similar to the DHM's children (see her posts about The Equuschick Can Still See). I ran way too fast down the stairs into the front hall and put my hand right through the glass of the front door. I'm sure I wasn't the first person to bleed all over Grandma's house...and she bandaged me up and didn't scold too much. (I guess it was lucky she was a nurse.)

I always thought of that house as a relaxed place. Not fancy, kind of cluttered, not clean down to the last corner (how could it be with so many people coming in and out?); but in tune with the busy, giving, practical people who lived there. The dining room table magically expanded to fit everybody who showed up for Christmas dinner, and the bedrooms somehow stretched to fit as many cousins as required. So different from some of the houses we've looked at of them had a tiny dining area built on a kind of balcony...definitely meant for four and no more, and what would you do then if your grandchildren came for supper? Have them sit on the railing? And what would be so wrong with just building an upstairs with an extra bedroom?

My grandparents' house didn't have any garage at all...actually, most of the places I lived in growing up didn't have garages either. It didn't have air conditioning. It didn't have a rec room. But it did have room.


Headmistress, zookeeper said...

That's beautiful.

Anonymous said...

I find it so totally cool how you can write to make us think we've been there.... you certainly have a gift for description, Mama Squirrel.

coffeemamma said...

Wow! What you have described is a *home* as opposed to a "house". Exactly what we are looking for- and I guess you are too ;-)