Many years ago, my parents brought home their first and only child to a little white house that my grandfather built in the years before the depression really set in, here in the mountains of North Carolina. My grandfather used to tell me stories of a man offering him a thousand board feet of lumber for a thousand dollars. From that, he built a little four room house in the neighborhood where he lived. Everyone referred to it as the “Little House”.
Many friends and family got their start in that little house over the years. Too many to count, at least for anyone still alive today. Years later, my grandfather bought a farm about a mile up the valley, and when I was 17 months old, my family built a house down the road from them.
I don’t remember anything specific about that house when I was a baby, we moved to our new house when I was only 17 months old. I do remember the long list of relatives and friends who had lived there over the years. It was unbelievable how many families go their start, or perhaps wrote the last chapter of their lives in that little white house.
When I was born, there was a white picket fence around the yard and the road was dirt. It was basically a little one lane road that some ‘smart’ person had planted shrubs and trees and blocked off the street from the main roads, not long after the houses on that street were built. No one wanted our little street to be a cut-through to another road that circled the hillside.
When I was a little girl, my aunt ran a “country store” behind this house, on the larger, but still unmarked road. There was a foot bridge between the store and the yard of this little house. A lot of my cousins, aunts and uncles lived there and I spent a lot of time in that neighborhood. Before the city took our land into their ‘double tax nightmare’, this little house was in the city, and the one across the street and down the road a few houses (where I live now)was in the county. Nothing good last forever, in the 19080’s our road was paved and the city extended it border up the main two-landed road. Nothing good last forever.
Even though I was visiting on that street a lot , I didn’t live there in that little white house until I was very pregnant with my first child in the mid-1970’s. Soon, my marriage fell apart and I raised my first two children there as a single parent for nearly eight years. I have decided not to concentrate so much on what happened there, so much as my gentle memories of that time and what that little house meant to so many for close to 90 years.
When the road was paved in 1980, my oldest daughter was a baby. The city tore up my white picket fence and cut down the pine tree, took about five feet off my small yard and along with it my sense of privacy and protection. A lot of memories flood back from my days there, some very precious, and some equally painful. I remember my friends and I playing our guitars on the back steps or cooking meals together in the little kitchen. Nothing quite fit right, it seems, the cabinets leaned just enough to make the doors hard to close, I had room in a corner for a used washer someone was going to throw away. Spilled drinks gently flowed to the middle of the room.
I could still name every piece of furniture I had in that house-there weren’t a lot. I remember every detail of how it looked, my hippie beads on doorways, my posters, the stereo and stack of albums, the tiny 12″ black and white TV. There was wicker furniture with cushions in the living room, along with a cabinet where I sat books and the little TV. There were glass figurines and photos in frames of my children sitting on the top shelf.
I remember years there when I lived “wild and free” and I remember years when I was going to the university and trying to study with a baby screaming and a preschooler wanting attention. All of those years had their moments of joy and sacrifice, heartbreak and unrelenting joy. That is what most twenty-somethings did in the 70’s and early 80’s, I suppose. We laid boards on cement blocks to make shelves, our dished didn’t match, but , oh, how good those sparse groceries tasted when they were steaming on the table as we ate. There ware always flowers on the table. Placques that i painted decorated the walls.
A lot of people were in and out of my house and my life at that time. I know I would have never made it through college without the company of my cousin. Before him, his older sister kept me company on many adventures. I walked mountain trails, played in the snow with my kids, slipped on ice when my oldest was about a year old, leaving a tiny scar, right at his hair line. There were all sorts of adventures with the children, teaching the oldest to read, dressing his sister in fancy dresses I bought from a friend whose child was in pageants. I sewed a lot of my clothes and theirs, myself. I loved the old metal advertizements that were once used in stores. I had a topographical map of the Western Appalachians that my father got when he worked at TVA. (Tennessee Valley Authority)
My kids shared a room that was oddly built by the kitchen, instead of on the side as the bedroom I slept in and the bath. I couldn’t even walk through the house without the creaking floors disturbing them, it seems. That made getting through a four year college in three years, very difficult. Remember, this was before the days of the internet. And with two children, it was rarely that I could go back to campus after my classes and work-study job in the university library. Those were definitely very stressful times. The sink was what I called a “trough”. I hated it. It was just one metal “sink” like you would use by a washer in the basement, with a curtain wrapped around the bottom to hide the boxes of bags and boxes of kitchen things that the few cabinets wouldn’t hold.
I painted the walls in pale yellows, blues and white. I would paint the doorways brown to make them look more like wood. I would keep a few rugs around to help cover and insulate the worn wooden floors. The only room I really liked was the bathroom, which had one of the old-timey footed tubs. My nightly bubble bath was my only relief from a hectic and often frustrating life. (I have a tub like that in my house now too.) Most of the lights on the ceiling were turned off and on by a string that hung from the light. I hated that-it exemplified the life of poverty that I often felt trapped in.
My bedroom held the bedroom suite I had as a child and not much more-a small closet-the only one in the house. There was a window on the front and side of the room. Some uneven book shelves had been built between the chimney and the space behind the door. There was no fireplace-it was one of those chimneys that when with the original heating system I guess. Also, in my bedroom, were my dresser drawers which shared my shirts and other clothing with mementos from my elders, having added to this collection over the years.
I had house plants everywhere, it kept the house from looking so gloomy. They would sit on old end tables and the small, oddly shaped tables that were hand-me downs from someone that didn’t want any more. I liked them. I still have a lot of them. It was good that I didn’t like fancy things, because I sure didn’t have any.
What I did have is curtains that matched the beds, or the walls, or the furniture. I was ‘big’ on things matching. I loved to paint pictures, write poems and stories, and I loved taking photographs of the forest and my family. I listened to Lynyrd Skynard and other popular rock music groups every chance I had-loudly! Living there was a blessing when I moved there, but somewhere I was desperate to get away from there. When I moved to my families “Big House” as they called it-just down the street after I graduated from college. I felt like it was a mansion-itisn’t, but its ;home; and I still live there.
I bout the property that the “Little House” sat on last year from my cousin. Though an elderly man still lived there,it had obviously seen its better days. When he passed away after a series of illnesses last November and I finally got to see inside the house again, it was immediately apparent that it was no longer fit to live in. Sadly, I decided that I would have to demolish the house.
Today was that day. My husband and other family members had taken out the tub, (which I kept), the bathroom sink (which my daughter kept), the doors and window that remained were stored in a garage. The floor was warped, the walls were coming loose from the ceiling, lines could be seen where sheet rock had been put on the ceiling. The odor was one that I can only kindly describe as unpleasant. The chimney that help with kitchen, a flue, I suppose fell right over when my husband went up to see how “sturdy it was. It wasn’t. I feel it is important to save what we can, re-purpose it, you might say, so a neighbor got the front door, we kept the bricks and blocks that we could, and I tried to save a tiny piece of a snowball bush that had a decent root on it.
My husband had gone out of town, and with my youngest at school, I slept until about 9 a.m. when my oldest daughter called, offering to stop by with food from Mc Donalds. We spent a lot of time reminiscing, watching with small crane easily knock over sections of the building. Neighborhood children and friends would stop by for a minute and watch, talking with us about their memories of the house, or my daughter and I sharing memories with the newer neighbors. We went down there when the men took lunch break and picked up bricks and pretty pieces of crepe myrtles, lovely smooth wood that my husband had cut down. The children were, of course, fascinated. It was only mid afternoon when the lot was leveled and the fragile pieces of the “little house” gone forever.
Somehow, we never forget a place where we spent part of our lives. Its memory is as clear in my mind as the people I shared those days with. I fought back tears as I realized that the next time the sun came up, it would be without that “little house” there as I went out my side door. But the memories are still there, they will always be there, part of us, part of life, part off that old structure that held our memories.