The Green House Effect
Do you ever dream about the house you grew up in?
What is it about our childhood homes that stick so deeply into our memory? I have dreams about the house I lived in as a child. I think it is so interesting how imbedded that place is in my psyche, even though I have lived in about 20 different places since.
House and Home
I came across these photos, taken in 1967 for the Worcester Sunday Telegram. Our home was featured on the front page of the House and Home section. “Unusual Ideas Spark Décor in Green House” by Audrey T. Zook. (FYI…We weren’t botanists living in a Green House, although it was painted green. The article headline referred to our last name, Green).
The focus of the piece was on all the unusual decorating my parents had done after purchasing the home in 1963. The highlights were in the ingenious refurbishing, recycling, and recreating of things my mother designed. My father helped her with his tools and carpentry skills, but we all know who was the brains behind that operation. She sparked the ideas, glued and stapled, and he drilled and cooperated. Always gathering inspiration from magazines, my mother could have invented Pinterest. Ms. Zook described the light fixture made from an old bed post, and one from a fishing basket. She wrote about the handmade drapes and lampshades, and the desk made from an old door. They did things like move the mirror from the fireplace to the bathroom, and put flagstone tiles in the front entrance.
I don’t remember a lot from my early years, perhaps because I once got my head stuck in between the wrought iron railings on the front porch, but I definitely remember the house projects. There were eras of steaming wallpaper off the old horse hair walls, shopping for fabric, and laying the wood parque tiles. My parents were DIY, before it was in fashion, and they did it all on a budget, long before there was a Home Depot. My mother is quoted in the article as saying, “There is a certain amount of graciousness in an old house that you don’t get in a new one, and after working on the redecorating ourselves, seeing the over-all effect coming to life is very pleasing.” They created a home that was both beautiful and functional. It had all the style worthy of a feature page, and kept all the charm of an old New England home.
What if I knocked on that door today?
I would walk up the stairs to the second floor where my brother would hide around the corner and attack me a la The Pink Panther. Cato’s Self-Defense lesson #999. Sometimes, I was able to tackle back and pull his ears to make him stop, but I usually lost, and crumbled into that laughing-while-crying thing.
I would go to my bedroom closet and peel back the wallpaper to see what secret messages my sister and I wrote before it was re-papered. I’m guessing it says something like “I love Paul” or “I love John.” Why did we think the closet was big enough for her to hide in when she wanted to run away? We actually planned that I would bring her food each day as she lived under the shelf in the back of the closet. As if she was the original Harry Potter. We were sure our parents never would have found her. The best part is that we planned for her to run away without actually leaving the house!
I would look for the hole that was punched in the dining room wall during the famous party that happened after the football game. My parents were away. Things turned a little Animal House. I think I told my sister to hide in the bathroom so she wouldn’t get beat up when we had to tell everyone to go home. Wow, Worcester was really a tough town in those days! My parents literally never knew about that party until after I was married. I don’t remember how we explained the hole punched in the wall by an anonymous drunk teenager. (Whoever you are, come clean!!)
I would be sure to tell the current owners that this house is a vessel holding the memories of my family.
House of Magic
I recently read about a poll conducted in the UK in which 6 out of 10 adults still consider their childhood home to be their “true” home. The reasons were just what you would imagine: Nostalgia, mother’s cooking, the yard, and feeling safe. People spoke about the “story” their childhood home tells. Over 50% of the 2000 polled said they felt at their happiest and safest in their childhood home. I found it a bit disheartening to read that almost 40% felt their current home lacked the magic of their childhood home. This is not my experience at all. I do dream about that old house, but the home we have created for our kids has a lot of magic.
I inherited my parents’ passion and took the graciousness of our 1898 Victorian home and turned it into a mini version of House Beautiful. While others had lived here, we knew the house belonged to us. It was perfect for us, in spite of all its imperfections. My parents made the magic in Worcester, and we made our own magic in Alameda.
Our girls will also remember the sweat and work. I think we have painted every room in this house at least three times. Just like the Golden Gate Bridge, as soon as we finished, we started again. I could see all the potential, but was never satisfied. At one point, we could no longer deal with everyone at the kitchen table simultaneously doing work and homework. The girls’ clothes no longer fit into their little closet, and the bathtub was pink. Need I say more? One day, my husband and I took a really long walk and figured out how we could finally manage a remodel. Best. Day. Ever.
The girls got their own rooms, the bathtub is white, the granite is like nature’s artwork. I have sunny office space, and the yard is our little patch of heaven. We even have a Harry Potter closet! We preserved the history of the house’s Victorian roots, and yet it functions like a modern, warm, and streamlined home. Like my childhood home, the stories this house tells are many, and I’m sure my kids have some in their secret vaults.
Although this nest is empty, it is full of magic. Not to mention, it is my favorite place to sip decaf and look through old photos.