It started with the rock houses I constructed in the vacant lot behind our family home. I would outline the various rooms and exterior walls with brick-sized river rocks; leaving openings for the doorways. Each room was designated a function and my siblings, friends and I would fashion crude furniture or drag out our baby dolls. Usually there was more than one house and we would visit each other, serving fake tea or real lemonade. Sometimes we merged our rocks to create bigger houses. And sometimes we destroyed each other’s homes in fierce battles that involved throwing our rocks.
When I was in 5th grade my parents built a new home. While I hated the weekends spent at the new parcel clearing trees and stacking future firewood, I was fascinated with the planning process and began drawing my own plans for elaborate houses with tons of rooms. I studied traffic flow and wore out erasers correcting and perfecting my designs.
By 7th grade I was spending my summers at my uncle’s horse ranch. We taught rich girls from the nearby summer camps how to ride and also offered short rides to tourists. My uncle’s ranch was a falling down barn and a house with no running water and no interior walls. We had a well and ponds that served the horses; but that water was the color of root beer. Fresh water was hauled in 5 gallon pails from the local laundry mat weekly (where my ranch hand filthy clothes were washed by my aunt). We used an outhouse; and went swimming at a nearby lake for true bathing.
As far as I know that house was never finished. There were 2x4s dividing the few simple rooms. The electrical wires were exposed; and a few blankets were hung to create some privacy. I slept in the attic with the bats.
I should say that my uncle was actually my great-uncle. This man was born in 1904 to wealthy parents. He grew up on a South Dakota ranch; but was college educated. His properties were ramshackle at best; but he owned a herd of very expensive Arabian horses. While I accepted all this as a child, I now question the weird family dynamics of this. Why did they live this way?
In addition to the “ranch” my uncle owned some other nearby acreage he called the “farm”. It had another tumbledown house on it that I loved. Some horses were kept at the farm and when we visited he usually performed whatever chores were needed while I studied that house. I wanted it. I wanted to raise my 6 kids (all with names starting with the letter “J”) there. I cogitated on how to accommodate 6 beds and dressers in the two tiny, upstairs rooms. I mentally decorated the small bedroom I would share with my husband on the main floor. I spent a lot of time reconfiguring the kitchen layout to accommodate both modern appliances and a counter top long enough to make noodles. I had never made noodles nor seen them made. But somewhere I had read about it and knew it was an important feature that I wanted; and while I raised 4 farm kids – not 6 – I did eventually have my old farmhouse and; when the chickens were laying extra eggs, I did make noodles from time to time.
My uncle’s farmhouse was my first flip. It doesn’t matter that I never actually did any work on it. The planning and design and knowledge that the end result would be good were enough for 12 year old me. I was bitten by the rehab bug over 50 years ago and am still not cured.
The house my parents built.
Copyright July 2018