No, this isn’t about romantic love. Sorry. Maybe next time. It is about love, though—love of place.
We recently returned home from our fantastic vacation out West which I wrote about in last week’s blog post. My journal is filled with musings (which I will return to again and again throughout the year for inspiration as I write). I enjoyed every minute of that time spent with my husband and congenial companions. However, though I loved that place while I was there and will continue to love it in my memory, my true love will always be “home.”
So, I got to thinking: “Where is ‘home’?” My childhood home still comes to me in my deep-sleep dreams—the house, the garden, the kitchen where my mother spent countless hours preparing meals, baking and canning and being “Ma”—the bedroom I shared with my sisters until I was in the ninth grade and finally had it all to myself—the front parlor with its stiff, formal furniture “for company” and the cozy back parlor where we lived, surrounded by family photos and worn chairs and table tops covered with school books and papers and novels and magazines. A home where one felt comfortable.
The home my husband and I have crafted for ourselves and our children and grandchildren is more orderly (discounting my office, which is a terrible mess) but no less comfortable. I miss it when I’m away, always looking forward to returning to “my place.”
Here is something I wrote about my childhood home:
It is a big old house, a two-story wooden frame ramshackle house, the second one from the corner of Division St. and Whitmore Ave. Two maple trees, one on either side, a scraggly lawn, mostly wild violets, and a cement roofless stoop occupy the front yard. In the back is a porch that stretches the width of the house and overlooks an immaculate garden that goes all the way back to Depew Ave. We have hydrangeas, peony bushes, lilies of the valley, a pear tree that flowers prettily in the spring but doesn’t bear fruit and a mimosa that miraculously has outlasted two winters. Way in the back is a vegetable garden—tomatoes, lettuce, onions, garlic, shallots, peppers, cucumbers, and a grape arbor. A corner is devoted to Ma’s herb garden: basil, mint, and parsley. I love that back yard and spend most of my playtime there. For the first five years of my life this house and this yard is my world.
Inside, my favorite room is the back kitchen where Ma does all the cooking, baking, and washing. I know the day of the week by the chore that goes with it. Monday is wash day—summer or winter the coal stove is fired up, water is set to boil, pails of dissolved starch stand ready for Daddy’s shirts and the table linens, pre-soak tubs of bleach for white blouses, undergarments, hankies, and socks. The wringer washer is pushed out to the center of the room and we begin—or rather Ma begins, I watch and fetch. It’s an all day job what with prewashing, washing, rinsing, wringing, and hanging clothes on the line. Ma makes me go outside with her when she pins the clothes on the line. In the summer time I like to press my face against the sheets as they blow gently in the breeze, the fresh scent reminds me of the lake. I hold one handle of the basket when we bring the clothes inside after they’ve dried. We have to stop at lunchtime because all the big kids come home for lunch. On Mondays we have sandwiches because Ma doesn’t have time to cook. Tuesday is mending day; Wednesday—ironing. When I get older Ma will let me iron but I’m too little now. Thursdays we bake. That’s my favorite chore day. Ma begins with the bread and pasta dough—sets the bread to rise and makes sheets of noodles and puts them on racks to dry. Once in a while she makes gnocchi dumplings, if Daddy can make it home at noontime. But afternoon baking is the best. She always makes a chocolate cake in the oblong pan. I get to sift flour and cocoa into the bowl and grease the pan. If it’s summertime she’ll bake a pie—huckleberry maybe. And she almost always has time for a batch of “S” cookies, the kind that Daddy likes to have with his coffee. Friday is cleaning day—the less said about that the better! Saturday we go to the market, and Sunday there are no chores but Ma is always doing something—crocheting trim on pillowcases and hankies or embroidering tablecloths to give as gifts to friends and newlyweds.
I love everything about this house. I love the coal stove in the back kitchen that takes up half the room—the big oven for baking bread, pizza, cakes and pies, and the smaller one for sweet potatoes and lasagna—the cook top and the keep warm bin above it. I love the pot bellied stove in the parlor with its wide smiley face and the door that looks like a red tongue when Daddy opens it to add coal on winter evenings when we’re listening to the radio. I love the front kitchen and the green Formica table with its four leaves that easily sits twelve people. I love the hall closet under the stairs packed tight with coats, overshoes, scarves, mittens, and Ma’s pocketbook hanging on a nail attached to the inside of the door. I love that we have two sets of stairs—one leading up from the back wall of the kitchen and one leading up from the hallway, which has the better banister to slide down. I love the bedroom that I share with Nancy, Mary, and Theresa. We have two double beds and the chimney from the kitchen stove divides the room into two separate compartments. I love to sit in Daddy’s chair in my parents’ room and look out the windows—one is practically in the maple tree, the other looks out over the corner of Division Street and Roman’s porch.
I don’t know that we are poor. Until I start school I don’t even know that stores sell things like undergarments. Since they are “unmentionables,” I think that everybody’s mother makes them from remnants of fabric. I don’t know that it’s unusual to come from a family of ten children or that I should be embarrassed because my mother speaks with an Italian accent. I don’t realize that we are one of the few houses on the street that the ice man still visits or that our house could use a coat of paint. I look at my home and see only that I am loved here, that I am special here, that I am happy here.