Recent Splats according to Miz Yank

A love letter to the house that has heart

My parents put their home of 45 years on the market on Thursday, leaving me with a burning question: will the new owners let me raid the pantry? Because let’s face it: my decades-long habit of walking through that very same door and heading straight for the kitchen will be tough to break.

Kidding aside, I’m glad my parents decided to downsize and to part with the house “while they’re still friends,” as my sister Suzi put it. She’s right. Mom and Dad have earned a break from maintaining four bedrooms and three levels’ worth of a house, including a driveway that required shoveling six days ago. But it still felt weird to see the listing on a real estate website.

The description of the property included factual stuff –four-bedroom Colonial in Orange Hunt Estates, built in 1972, carport, updated kitchen with granite counters and maple cabinets, hardwood floors on two levels, updated baths, finished basement, central air, .26 acre yard — sterile information buyers want to know about the structure that’s been our house. But it doesn’t tell them a thing about our home.

nagshead

Fishing pole seeing some great Outer Banks action…

The carport, for example, is bounded on one side by a brick wall against which my three siblings and I hit tennis balls and kicked soccer balls for hours, leading our parents to consume horse-tranquilizing amounts of Tylenol. The back wall of the carport has a shed that held a fleet of bikes, including the first one I ever rode, as well as a structurally unsound purple thing we kids saw as the Bike of Last Resort. The purple wobbler tried to kill me and my sister Lynne on two separate occasions, leaving me with a mild concussion and her with road rash.

Rafts, fishing poles, crabbing nets and other essentials we took on our week-long trip to North Carolina’s Outer Banks every summer also lived in the shed, as did the rake my father took out every fall. We kids recognized the appearance of the rake as a sign that we were supposed to help bag up the leaves that blanketed our back yard, a chore we hated. We knew better than to whine –that never worked with Dad –so we punished him with ineptitude instead. The hand-eye coordination that enabled us to hit baseballs and tennis balls with aplomb mysteriously vanished the moment we bent over a pile of leaves.

“When you kids don’t want to do something,” Dad would say/mutter/yell, our cue to slink off in silent victory.

Though we hated the leaves, we loved the backyard. It was our soccer field, gridiron, and baseball diamond, and on summer nights it formed part of a flashlight tag venue that spanned two streets. No real estate listing would mention that. Or tell you how, every so often, a baseball or soccer ball would go crashing into the kitchen through the window over the sink.

We ate dinner in the kitchen as a family almost every night. In the early years, we had a formica table that sagged in the middle like a swaybacked mule. If a person seated at one end of the table needed something at the other, we didn’t bother to pick up the item and pass it. We just gave it a good shove and watched it slide to the other end like an air hockey puck.

We had a more majestic ensemble in the dining room for special occasions like Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. The company of assorted relatives and friends often extended our holiday table all the way into the living room. Whether feeding six people or thirty, Mom would take her consistently outstanding cooking up a notch, producing perfect turkeys, gorgeous pies, and our beloved Easter pizza gaina. But what I remember most of all are the stories we told and the laughter that went on for hours.

And what about the family room, where we napped, read the newspaper, and watched the Super Bowl? The listing takes note of the fireplace but not the fact that we barely used it for a fifteen-year stretch because I had guinea pigs that lived in cages on the hearth. I’d always wanted a dog but my parents refused, opting to let me get domesticated rodents instead. Because I treated the pigs like dogs–there was even an unfortunate episode involving a leash — they lived forever. Mom and Dad probably should’ve gone for the dog.

Pierre-Auguste_Renoir,_1892_-_Two_Young_Girls_at_the_Piano (1)

At some point, Mom hung a framed copy of Renoir’s Young Girls at the Piano above our old Kimball. The girls, and their poses, reminded her of me and Suzi. (Renoir Image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Then there’s the living room. My brother, L.J., took trumpet lessons from a family friend there, and that’s where I learned how to play the piano, a skill that earned me the occasional reprieve from the dinner dishes. Suzi played a bit too, so sometimes we teamed up for throwback duets like “Tea for Two” and “Heart and Soul.” We also hosted dozens of sing-alongs in the living room, though my sister Lynne’s unforgettable, operatic renditions of “Swans on the Lake” always took place from the landing leading upstairs.

Speaking of the upstairs, both full baths are up there. Because Mom and Dad claimed one –something we kids regarded as an injustice but now recognize as a small and well-deserved concession to privacy–the four of us were expected to share the other. We did not get equal time, and it’s no coincidence that Suzi looks good in pretty much all of her childhood photos. Just sayin’.

All four bedrooms are upstairs, too. Mom and Dad once again rudely claimed one for themselves, leaving three for us kids. Until 1976, that worked just fine, but then my brother was born. This destroyed any hopes Lynne had of getting her own room, which probably explains why the one she and I shared for years radiated all the easy calm of the Gaza Strip. We fought constantly and forged short-lived truces of convenience, such as the time we jointly lobbied our parents to divide the room with a brick wall. And there was the color scheme–pale green walls, a fuchsia rug and light yellow spreads on our canopy beds– for which I am chiefly to blame. What was meant to achieve a “Rainbow Connection” effect looked instead like an acid trip.

Suzi’s room, a lavender oasis, was where she honed her clarinet-playing skills until she was one of the best in the state.

L.J. also had a room to himself and went on to play professional baseball, so just imagine what Lynne and I could have become if only we’d had our own rooms. But I digress. The wall above L.J.’s bed was decorated with a huge circle comprised entirely of pennants, most from the Philly teams our family can’t seem to abandon. My brother gave the hallway outside his bedroom a unique accent one day when, while doing strength exercises with a stretchy rubber tube that had a baseball attached to one end, he accidentally let go of the baseball and sent it flying right through the drywall.

Next to L.J.’s room was the laundry chute, a feature that not only made a mundane chore easier but doubled as an intra-house communication device.

Any contents we sent down the chute landed in a box in the basement, the space where we wiled away happy hours playing with the Death Star and Millennium Falcon, holding marathon ping-pong tournaments, creating communities out of Legos, and watching quality programming like “The A-Team” once a second TV set arrived.

Things weren’t always perfect in our house, though. We occasionally slammed the doors in anger. And my siblings and I sometimes begged for more room, never realizing that sharing space so often, unwittingly creating lasting memories together as we went, is precisely what has made us the best of friends.

That house is the place where we took prom pictures, relaxed during Spring and Fall breaks, celebrated my parents’ 25th anniversary, and showed all seven of my siblings’ kids how to yell into the laundry chute. It’s a place where people love to gather, where friends don’t hesitate to drop in unannounced.

Unpretentious outside and rock-solid inside, that house, and the two people who bought it in 1972, gave us an incomparable luxury: a place to feel centered.

It is the only place our family of six has ever called home. Though it’s hard to say goodbye, we and the house part as far more than friends. It has held the heart of our family for 45 years, and we will always love it.

Comments

  1. Mary Jo Titus says:

    Karen I loved this! Growing up in an old house with 6 siblings had stories just like that. I still remember the joy and surprise of coming home after a weekend with my grandmother to find that I finally had my own room! And the house that we lived in in Pittsburgh for 10 years with our 3 kids had so many great memories. It is always so hard to say goodbye. I am sure that they would let you sneak in for a snack when you are in the neighborhood!

    • miz yank says:

      Thank you so much for the kind words, Mary Jo! And for that last line, which makes me laugh. My sister Lynne will be knocking on the door with me! 🙂

  2. Karen, this is just beautiful. You made me cry!

    I can only hope that when my parents sell off my childhood home, I can write something so lovely to honor my copious memories of that black and white farmhouse in Pennsylvania!

    You’re a beautiful writer.

    • miz yank says:

      Thank you for the extraordinary compliment, Beef! It took me forever, and many Kleenexes, to write it. I plowed ahead, confident that the one of the great paradoxes of writing –recording those thoughts and memories helps me both hang on and let go –would come to my rescue. Having read, and thoroughly enjoyed, your writing, I know you’ll do your house justice when the time comes. 🙂

  3. What a beautiful tribute to not just the home but to the family that made the generically described house in the real estate listing into that home. Makes me think about the memories of the 6 of us kids in the house I grew up in (laundry chute and all!). A love letter to your home. ❤️

    • miz yank says:

      Thanks, Tish! I love that you had a laundry chute!! To this day, it’s one of my favorite, and admittedly goofy, things about the house. My brother and his family are coming up at the end of March, and I plan to have one last yell down the chute with the nephews. 🙂

  4. Ruth Powell says:

    I want to come back as a Yank! Of course that would lead to further crowding in the bedroom. But I could promise you guitar accompaniment for the sing-alongs! I never had my own room, so I would be happy to share. Great great story!

    • miz yank says:

      Come back as a Yank, Ruth! Actually, if you’d have made that offer decades ago, I’d have given you both Lynne and LJ so you wouldn’t have had to share a room. (Suzi was relatively inoffensive.) Heaven knows we needed backup on those sing-alongs! 🙂

  5. Carol Currey says:

    Karen,
    What a nice tribute to your home and family! Loved it. Reminded me that my sister and I put duct tape down the center of our room to divide it once! I guess they repaired the dry wall prior to putting it on the market?! 😉

    • miz yank says:

      HILARIOUS!! We should’ve thought of duct tape!! And yes, we got the dry wall fixed!!

  6. Amy DeCarlo says:

    This is perfect! Your old house will always be your home.

    And yes, you are probably right, if you and Lynne had your own rooms, who knows what pro sports you would have excelled in….(not ending in a preposition)

    • miz yank says:

      Hi, Amy!! So sorry for the slow response – for some reason this went to my spam! Thank you for the kind words, and the condolences on the loss of my and Lynne’s talents. 🙂

  7. Have they sold it yet? I remember the last time I was in the house I grew up in. My father had passed away and my mom was getting ready to put it on the market. I loved the house. But I loved the neighborhood just as much. I do miss going back there and being able to hang out for a few days in Central Florida. The people that bought it drastically redid it and then tried to flip it. I get the redoing part. The kitchen still had the orange Formica from a late 70s remodel. Once back in the area I snuck up and peeked in the windows. Though we had been able to see all the changes on the internet when they put it back on the market.

    It’s tough. But good thing your parents are downsizing when they are young enough to enjoy another place. Time does keep moving along. Darn it.

    • miz yank says:

      You’re so right about all of it, Jamie – that it’s the right move and also tough. They got two offers within 24 hours of listing it – amazing (and testament to how well they cared for it) – and they close tomorrow. It’s incredible. The family that’s buying it wrote a letter with their offer, and it makes me feel like it’s working out just as it should. That wonderful house deserves to raise another family, and the buyers are even keeping the piano! But it’s all been really strange. Thanks for sharing your experience – it helps!