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The Gift

Times have changed but family is still family

The house stood at a high vista spot square with the cardinal points and with a clear view all around over the barbed wired fencing to pastures and other houses scattered across the landscape. The single story frame house was moved from its foundation just a short distance away as the crow flies. It had been the farm home of a working family out on a back road just a few miles south. The outside walls were covered with tarpaper shingles that resembled brick but were emphatically not. It now rested stolidly upon cinder blocks.

It was just up the hill from the buyers' farmstead in a small hollow. Their own home was a classic two story clapboard farmhouse of three whole bedrooms. It even had working shutters on all the windows. They had made a good bargain that the house would be free for the taking if they simply moved it off the property. The owner wanted to use the land for crops. Moving the building off the arable land made it easier to plow the fields around it. With some effort it was done and installed on the corner lot they owned just a stroll away, up the rise. If it had not been moved it would have been razed.

The house was now a gift. It was given to a mother from her older sister and brother-in-law. They were the owners down the hill. It was hers to use now. She moved her little family of one daughter and three boys into the home after leaving her husband. She brought them all here, to the Ozark Plateau, where her only close family lived. She was welcomed with this house.

A gift.

The recently installed house had a large front room which one entered from the north side up a short set of wooden steps and across a creaky porch. The living room joined a large kitchen through a narrow doorway to the east and one big sleeping room to the west. On the south, through another doorway, was the storage and pantry area attached to the house and tilting slightly down to a backdoor.

The pantry room backdoor was seldom used. Coming in or going out was all done on the north side over the porch and down to the yard facing a dirt road. Two roads converged and crossed there to the northeast of this corner property.

Inside the walls were covered with old fashioned wallpaper designed with bunches of lilacs. It was curling off in the corners of the walls and ceiling and around the sparse windows. The frames around the windows and doorways, along with the baseboards running around the rooms, were all finished over the years with glossy white paint now chipped here and there. Instead of drapes, there were window shades on rollers that were pulled down at night and left up during the day allowing light to enter the dim, dreary rooms.

None of the furniture was purchased new. Some were contributed by relatives from collections stored in outbuildings and sheds. The second hand stores in the area offered other ancient artifacts. A coffee table was made by one boy in the woodworking shop at school. It was crafted of walnut and cut in a circle. Its finish was a high gloss varnish. Another end table was also created in the same shop from more walnut hardwood. 

The kitchen had its dinette set made of tubular metal with a table and plastic covered padded chairs. There were cracks or slits in the chairs where bits of stuffing escaping had been covered over with tape. The two appliances, a refrigerator, and a propane burning cook stove, were against the south wall. Both were an avocado green dating them to the 1950's. Running along the east wall, with a sink and window, was a countertop for food preparation, small appliances, and canisters for sugar, flour, and such. Above it were cabinets sparsely filled with pots and pans along with inexpensive Tupperware-like containers. On the north wall was a combination dish cabinet and hutch painted white with red trim and decorative flower bloom decals 

The front room displayed a large, well worn sofa covered with worn lavender colored tapestry fabric. The homemade coffee table found a home in front of this piece. Two matching chairs were upholstered with heavy brownish material. Each held a slumping cushion that was a chore to descend into or arise out of. A bright green Ottoman was available to either chair. Straight back wooden chairs were dotted around the edges of the room.

In the bedroom there was a set of mahogany bunk beds and two full size beds made of ancient cast iron. Musty mattresses were laid upon creaky box springs. There were no closets. Clothing, along with linens and such, was stored away in various kinds of dressers, chests, and wardrobes. There was one vanity used by the mother and her daughter.

The floors were bare wooden planks of worn desiccated oak. If they had ever been finished it was long ago. The softer wood grain was worn away and longer hardwood splinters were sticking out sharply to catch unsuspecting bare feet. At one time the floor planks had been tightly pressed together but years of drying and weathering from underneath the rooms had forced the planks apart. Dust and other dried matter filled the gaps now. 

The electrical lighting was from desolate bulbs hanging from wires at the center of the ceiling of each room. The heat for the whole domicile was from a wood burning stove in the front room. It had a vent pipe for the smoke that ascended up and into a hole in the north wall. There it joined the chimney formed from the original, now cracking, bricks rising up through the attic and out the tin roof. That was the only source of heat unless they turned on the cook stove and opened the oven door. The wood was kept stacked out front beside the porch. They had a rick delivered whenever they ran out. They never could afford a whole cord at one time. They had a propane tank out back that was filled occasionally and used for the cook stove.

There was no running water at first. For several months after the little family moved in, they hauled water up from their relatives' home below. At last, after the final frost, the boys in the family dug a trench out to the dirt road to the east. They tried to get it below the freezing line. Along the roadway a waterline had been laid in the village some years ago. They were able to get a pipe attached and plumbed into the kitchen under the sink with a faucet above. Then they filled in the ditch. That was their running water. Nowhere else in the house. 

The family would perform their morning tooth brushing and wash up over the sink in the kitchen. They could all use water heated on top of the wood burning stove or on a burner of the cook stove. The used water would be discarded out back. Bathing had to be done periodically down the hill in the bathtub of their aunt and uncle. Otherwise, they simply had to clean themselves with a basin of warm water, soap, and washcloths.

There was no bathroom. The natural functions of daily life would be performed in the outhouse behind the house. A hole had been dug down into the rocky earth about eight feet deep and an outbuilding was moved in and over the pit. The necessary needs were actually completed with the use of torn out pages from a Sears Roebuck catalog. At least until a better choice could be afforded to replace it.

A chamber pot was kept under one of the beds in the sleeping room. It served for late night emergencies when the temperatures were too frigid to go out to the double seated, spider infested, unlit structure in the backyard.

The house was a gift from family. It was now home. Family portraits were used to decorate the walls. Wildflowers, in season, were placed in glass containers and dotted around the rooms. Music was continually heard on the hi fidelity stereo cabinet that was the only luxury the mother allowed herself. Stacks of long playing albums were always playing Johnny Mathis and Dinah Washington.

And they were together, safe and secure, in a home of their own. One would have to ask each of them, individually, just how happy they were.


This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.

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