This was my childhood house. We moved here from a big white farmhouse in Leamington, a home I barely remember save for the black and gold striped tile that lined the bathroom vanity. My mom liked the 2’s in the address; she said it was a lucky number. They bought it for around $18,000 dollars in 1970, and it looked a lot like the farmhouse, with its white clapboard siding and L-shaped porch. But it was a more manageable size, three instead of six bedrooms, and only one tree in the back, a singular apricot, and not an acre of rotting apples.
We moved here so my dad could start working in factories. Farming was hard and uneven, money-wise, and my dad used to like to drink beer early with his friends, coming home late, his truck parked askew in the grass. In the city, my mother felt he’d be findable with a regular job working eight hours a day. He’d be too tired to drink beer.
Shortly after we moved to this house, my dad did got a job at the Chrysler plant, eventually my mother at an answering service, taking messages for doctors, soaking her earpiece in a small glass of rubbing alcohol every night. We were left with a series of distracted, sullen babysitters with long, dark 70s hair parted in the middle. They came from the brown brick bungalows in the neighbourhood where clapboard mini-farmhouses were becoming increasingly scarce. Sometimes I could hear these girls murmuring on the front porch with a boyfriend who’d stop by and smoke cigarettes with them in the dark.
We were instructed to wear shoes all the time. Even in our own yard.
We grew up to be city kids, savvy and unsmiling.
My dad only lasted a year in a factory. He preferred hanging drywall, landing a contract at the new Devonshire mall. We brought him McDonalds on weekends. We sat on the empty beer cases and watched him eat.
Around that time my parent began to fight a lot, the house becoming percussive with yelling. Sometimes they took it outside. I suppose that’s why we needed more room. It was my dad who tore down the wall along the side porch to put in the dining room. He also built the family room off the back. He couldn’t do anything to increase the size of my mine and my sister’s room; ours was the small one to the left of the landing, all pink with the sloped ceiling that I used to hit my head on when I was eight. He also built the shed with a little window in the back, that I swore I could be happy in if they just put a bed in the corner. We all hated the apricot tree, but we loved the apricots. That might leave you thinking we were the kind of people who enjoyed the fruits of labour, not the labour, but that wouldn’t be true. The thing just stank in summer.
Almost five years in, the house now wrapped in green aluminum siding, the L-shaped porch swallowed up by renovations, my parents began to talk about separating, about moving, about someone leaving, about things being better if they didn’t live together. Maybe like tired boxers, they needed to be separated and contained in two different houses. We were sad, afraid, thinking, where would the other house be? Who would live there? And here? What about the dog? And the kitten? She just got here.
But almost as soon as the tears dried and our imaginations became exhausted by all our future configurations, my mother said they weren’t separating, but we were moving, back out to farm country, where my dad was building us a brand new house, a much bigger one, with more yard space and a carport. The neighbours here were awful, she said, they were nosy, they knew too much, said bad things, made living here a total nightmare. In fact, my dad’s un-permitted renovations left our bathroom window lining up with the neighbour’s bathroom next door. We did that, but my mother was convinced that they were doing something worse to us. They were noticing us too much, asking after us kids too often. Today I imagine it’s because they were worried. But back then other people’s children were nobody’s business, even if they were flinty and looked a little haunted.
The new house was a half hour away, in Emeryville, a low slung, triangular split-level, with a depressed willow and dark cedar siding. Visits out to see it made my mother hate the city house more, its smallness, its relative lack of style, its utter proximity to those awful, awful people. She couldn’t wait to leave. The day I see this goddamn house in the rear view mirror, she said, will be the happiest day of my life. During the new house’s construction, my parents seemed to get along again, as though a serious glimpse over the cliff of divorce jolted them back to normal. A kind of politeness crept in, peppered with small doses of affection. I associated this lightness with moving, (and would for the rest of my restless life).
By the time we sold the house ($30,000 in 1977) I, too, was convinced it was the house that nearly did us in with its selfish inability to fix us even as we obsessively tried to fix it. And by the time we pulled up to the new house at 222 Caruhel (+$40k and poised to be lost in a couple years when the recession jacked interests rates to 30%, so much for 2’s being good luck), I’m sure I had already begun to grant it untold powers to finish the repairs it seemed to have begun on my parents. But I couldn’t have known that it was yet another dispassionate container, like every school, every job, every home, every man into which I’d pour similar powers. Because this house didn’t care who or what we were—it just wanted people in it. And I couldn’t have known that that was a good thing, and that, depending entirely on what you filled it with, there was nothing wrong with being an empty vessel that just wants to be full again.
Habitation: 1970 – 1977
House bought for: $18,000
House sold for: $30,000