What’s new in the ‘hood–a different kind of house history

Today I attended a writing workshop at our Seattle Public Library conducted by Charley Kempthorne of Life Stories (http://www.thelifestoryinstitute.com/) .  It was a fascinating two hours about writing regularly and often…but I will leave that for another posting.  One of his “exercises” was to draw a diagram of your childhood home and note “significant events”.  As an architect I loved this exercise and had never thought that this was what “writing” could be about! And, I might add, it is another way to do a “house history.”

I was born, raised and educated in a small town in Iowa.  It was a slower time.  No fences divided neighbors and we didn’t have to “stay in the yard.”  The story is that Grampa Jacobson designed and had the house built.  Grampa was no architect!  In the beginning my mom and dad lived next door to this house, also designed and built by Granpa.  As our family grew and Grampa and Gramma were living in the “big house” alone, the families switched houses.

Here is the plan of my childhood home; however, I redid it to make it more usable for the blog posting.  The letters coordinate with the plan.

2013 0817 plan of houseA.  My mom would sit on this porch in a wicker chair on hot summer nights to cool off.  The windows would be open and she would have her vodka and tonic in her right hand and her cigarette in her left (she was left handed.)  It is also the place I got to raise 8 baby chicks that I bought “with my own money” at Easter until they stopped being cute and started smelling.  I sold them to my Dad for $1 each, the going rate on the Chicago exchange; Dad took them out to the farm.  We ate them some months later.  I didn’t think about that at the time.

B. This is the kitchen table where we sat for every day lunch and suppers.  Three items were on the plate, every night meal…a meat (beef or pork chop), a canned vegetable (never green beans; Dad didn’t like them) and a potato, usually mashed.  This is also the spot that my mother and father would play Yahtzee with their good friends, Mary and Chuck.  I would hear them  from my upstairs bedroom laughing, the ice clinking in their drinks and sometimes even the smoke from their cigarettes making its way up the heating duct to my room.  It would be good to have friends like that.

C. The laundry chute to the basement had a tiny shelf in the back.  When I was small I could scrunch up and fit right in.  No one could find me.

D. The house was cold and drafty in the freezing Iowa winters.  I would stand by the heating duct and get warm.  My mom would sometimes do it also.

E.  These are the stairs which led upstairs to my room.  but first I had to walk through my brother’s room to get to my room. I wasn’t into hanging pictures of stars or the rock n roll singers.  I did put some of my art pieces up on the wall, however.  My bedroom was not a haven for me.  It was just a place to sleep.

F. This was my Grampa Jacobson’s desk.  Although by the time I was cognizant of such things he had died.  I remember going through the drawers and finding the accounting books for my father’s business, my mother’s very valuable left handed scissors and all her sewing supplies, and a black metal box which held all the important papers including some $25 war bonds in my name.  I felt very wealthy.

G. The formal dining room table was used for large family formal gatherings.  Mother’s Haviland china would be set on a table cloth of crisp white with her Rose silverware.  The stemmed water glasses were etched glass with a gold rim.  The small etched plate with gold trim always held the cranberry sauce.  The table and buffet were purchased by my Grandmother Jacobson from Montgomery Ward.  I have the set now….complete with cigarette marks.

H. My mother’s bed was against the window.  When either my brother or I got sick this is where we would get to recover  I remember when I got the flu, the doctor would stop by on his way home for lunch (they lived down a block or two and around the corner).  He asked me if I liked that codeine medicine.  I said I did!  He promptly took me off this addictive cough syrup.

I. The Victrola stood in the corner  We didn’t have a lot of 78 records and we didn’t buy any new ones that I remember.  I wonder who did buy them?  I rarely remember them even being played.  I played “Ghost Riders in the Sky” until I broke it.  My brother got mad at me.

J.  My mother could play the piano beautifully.  Claire de Lune by Debussy still takes me back decades to her playing and my reading curled up in the green chair. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-LXl4y6D-QI)  She tried to make a pianist out of me.  It was a waste of money even though it was only $1 a lesson with Marjory Benzler.  Mom when to Drake to major in music but came back after one semester and only said one thing, “It was too hard.”  That doesn’t sound like my mom but I think that was why she was so insistent that I go to college.

K. The green chair in the living room was my father’s chair.  It was eventually replaced by a Barcalounger type chair but I will always remember the green chair.  I loved to read in it in the afternoons; it was comfy and had good light.  Blackie, my aunt and uncle’s dog who adopted me, liked it also.

L.  I don’t have many memories of the sofa before Mom bought the sectional, only that when I saw photos taken by Diane Arbus I thought she had been in my home!  In fact, the whole house did.  Mom would nap in the afternoons on the sofa with a blanket over her when it was cold outside.

M. The grandmother’s clock had a long journey.  When the clock was in our house, the clock it wouldn’t run because Mom couldn’t get it consistently level so the pendulum would continue swinging.  It was black with a round face and classically elegant.  Mom eventually gave it to her favorite sister-in-law, Mary, who refinished it (gorgeous cherry) and got it working.  I saw it about 20 years ago.  It was a knock out.  I wonder who has it now?  I will have to ask my cousin.

N. The storage chest on the enclosed porch was for MY stuff.  All my dolls and doll dresses were there.  I preceded Barbies so I had a Jill doll (http://voguejill.com/) and others that I cannot remember now.  My gramma gave me a doll every year.  I still have the doll (in really rough shape) and clothes in a little doll sized wardrobe in an upper shelf in a storage closet.

O. The sleeping porch had two beds,  I would move from my bed upstairs to the porch as soon as the weather got mild enough for me to tolerate–usually April, I think.  I would sleep there until it was too cold.  Mom “spread the season” by putting real flannel sheets on the bed.  These were extra long thin blankets of flannel like material that were folded in half.  The folded end was at the foot and you tucked in the lower portion of the blanket under the mattress.  Dad would sometimes sleep on the bed by the storage cabinet, but he snored so much I would kick him out.  He probably was kicked out by mom as well!

P. I slept on the bed on the right.  I would continue sleeping on the porch until I had frost on the bed before moving back upstairs.  I loved it out there.  The squirrels ran on the roof–I could hear them patter across.  The crickets started in July and sometimes were so loud I thought they would keep me awake.  The pigeons would softly coo in the mornings.  It made for a delicious morning wake up.

Q. One time at night, my dad and I stood outside in the cold and watched the Aurora Borealis which I remember seeing multiple times.  Another time we laid in the grass and watched a meteor shower.  This is also where Blackie would wait for me to get out of school and come running to see me as I walked down the sidewalk from school.

Why don’t you take a few minutes and draw the floor plan of your childhood home.  It does not have to “architect approved” but rather get those rooms/spaces/furniture in there that have meaning.  Then start annotating the plan.

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last posting:  started the Mastering Genealogical Proof.  So far, I am not sure, we “get” what we are supposed to do.  Took a walk with a new genealogy friend.  Attended a Puget Sound-Association of Professional Genealogists meeting and potluck.  good meeting; good food; great hostess.  Got disgusted with some pettiness of some genealogists on a list serve.  I have to remember that no profession is immune to less than admirable behavior.  Am gathering materials for the SGS newsletter which I hope to put together tomorrow.  Tomorrow I will also go to yoga, attend a Breaking Brick Walls SGS session and get my hair cut.


9 comments on “What’s new in the ‘hood–a different kind of house history

  1. Allen says:

    Great memories and a worthwhile project. I, too, remember the thin flannel blankets/sheets.

    • jkmorelli says:

      Of course I didn’t include the location where I broke a glass over my brother’s head or where I took all his model airplanes and threw them down the stairs, ostensibly to see if they would fly but mostly because I was angry with him.

  2. Karen Stanbary says:

    I love, love, love this idea (as Eloise would say). I will do it when I get back from FGS, in between the MGP proof study group and writing my portfolio! Thank goodness I just finished Progen. I can see the closet right now where our Christmas gifts were supposedly hidden…

    • jkmorelli says:

      Like you don’t have enough on your plate! Add to that you have a bunch of “cats’ you are trying to herd who are refusing to even acknowledge their engagement in the class! Good luck with that. No excuses. They know the class started and they aren’t reading.

  3. Linda in Lancaster says:

    What a great idea! I think I’ll draw a plan of my grandparents home and send it to my 93 year old mother and see if she can write a few things about it . . . Get a few more of her memories this way.

    • jkmorelli says:

      Now why didn’t I think of my aunt who was raised in the same house!!! How shortsighted of me. Can’t wait to talk to her. Thanks for the extension of the idea.

      • jkmorelli says:

        I talked to my aunt and cousin and they are going to annotate the plan of “my” house, which was also my aunt’s childhood home, on Sunday. Sounds like fun. I would like to be there.

  4. Grace Keir says:

    I love this idea. I will try to get the historical society to do something like this as part of a monthly program we hold. I think those who attend would love doing it too. Thanks for sharing.

    • jkmorelli says:

      What a wonderful idea, Grace. I am asking my cousin to “interview” my aunt (90 years young) with the plan. She was raised in the same house I was. I think it will be great to compare. Maybe I should ask my brother to do it also. He would have a different perspective.

      It almost makes a family “parlor game” Each sibling fills it out and then you overlay each ones experiences with another and see what matches or doesn’t!

      I think there are lots of ideas using this as the conversation starter.

      Take care.


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