The house I grew up in (age two to seventeen) was an old farm house dating to the end of the 19th century. In the barn was a beam with the date 1898 carved in it, so we assume the house built near the same time. It couldn’t have been built earlier, that year a tornado came along the road, half a mile wide at the ground and obliterated everything. All through my childhood we picked up bits of broken dishes in the ground surrounding the house. It was impossible for the survivors to have picked up them all.
The house was in the shape of a T. The top of the T faced west. The road was on the north. There was a door on the north side, but as soon as we moved in, and Dad put in a bathroom, he boarded over the inside and when new siding was put on the outside later, it was simply covered up.
In the corner of the T on that north side was another “front” door which at one time led into the parlor. We never used that room for a parlor, but we kept the door in order to be able to get the large, chest deep freezer in and out. That was the only time that door was ever opened.
On the west, in the center of the top of the T, was another exterior door. This one was at the foot of the stairs and only used for taking beds in and out, and the antique pump organ. This was not a very usable door anyway – it was four feet off the ground and there were no steps! It was handy when the farm truck was backed up to it to move furnature, so there were never any steps.
On the south side, in the corner of the T was the back porch – the only porch. The floor of the porch was the top of the cistern where water was stored. Originally, a system of gutters and pipes funneled rain water from all four sides of the roof into the cistern, but by the time we got there, the system had fallen apart and was never reassembled. Water was hauled in by a neighbor who did that in addition to his farming. So, water was precious and we would often run out.
Opening onto the porch were two exterior doors: one into the hallway Dad built when he put in the bathroom (in what was originally the dinning room), the other into the living room. The latter was eventually filled in with a set of shelves.
The porch figured prominently in my life in that house.
The first winter we lived there, before there was a bathroom, and I was two, and I desperately had to pee in the mornings, I had to pee off the edge of the porch. I didn’t mind going outside to do that, I did mind my bare feet on the cold cement floor of the porch, or worse – on the snow that winder! There was no time to put on shoes: my bladder would burst!
After that first winter, I slept in the room beside the porch roof. That roof was made of sheets of tin. When a sprinkling of rain came, we were sure to hear it. When rain poured down, it thundered down!! I loved it!!! That rain sound is the only thing I miss about that house.
The two sections of the house forming the T were obviously built at different times and, we thought, at different places, with the top of the T having been moved in because there was no basement under it which the other part had. The floors upstairs were about an inch different and the walls were very different heights. The upstairs walls on the leg of the T were three feet tall. The upstairs walls on the top of the T were about 5.5 feet tall. The upstairs windows in the two rooms along the top of the T were normal size windows, as was the one upstairs window at the eve on the bottom of the leg of the T. The four windows (two on each side) of the leg of the T, in the three foot tall walls, were just over two feet tall – and only a few inches above the floor. There was no way to see out of them unless you were lying on the floor. That part of the upstairs was so narrow that ceiling was only 2.5 feet wide down the middle of the room, That ceiling was only 6.5 feet high. More than once I broke a light bulb when I carelessly swung my hand above my head (and when a teenager is dancing – when are they careful?).
For the first decade we lived in that house, the upstairs of the leg of the T was one long, narrow attic room. All four of us children slept and played in it, but as more children came into the family, the beds took up more and more of the space.
When the north upstairs room was emptied of misc “stuff” and painted for use as the bedroom for the three boys, the long attic room was divided front and back with a wall. The back, far side from the stairway, that room became a private room for my sister, the only girl. The room at the top of the stairs, in front of hers, became mine. At first it was just a study room to separate my stuff from my little brothers, but when I moved my bed into it, it was my room (while still the hallway for my sister). I had no privacy, but that didn’t matter. I had no choice in the wallpaper either. And, when I broke the north window in that room, it remained broken until I was old enough (about 14), and saved enough money, to get new glass and install it myself. Until then, I had to plug it up to keep the winter wind and snow out.
There was no air conditioning in that house and only one large and one small fan. There was nearly a forest of trees to the south of the house, so no summer breeze reached it. One summer, when I had REALLY gotten tired of trying to sleep in my sweat, I took a blanket out to the top of the hill beside the house and slept out there. It wasn’t practical to do that every night, but those nights I did were Wonderful!
If I could have changed the orientation of the house, I would have reversed it east and west. If the kitchen had been on the west we would have been able to see the sunsets while fixing meals or cleaning up afterwards. That would have been nice. Our Kansas sunsets are often BEAUTIFUL!! Not only are there reds, oranges, and yellows, but sometimes purples, and even, rarely – green. Being able to look at that, with the kitchen sink right under the double windows, would have made washing dishes a whole different job. And, dinners might have been more pleasant if we’d had those sunsets to look at and talk about.
More importantly, I would have liked to have been able to turn my family around – from negativity and alienation to affection and acceptance. That is so much more important than physical direction. We lost so many possibilities.