Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Houses that Built Me: My Great-Grandmother Josey's House

This blog is inspired by my wife's cousin's blog, Unskinny Boppy, specifically, this entry. Beth is a home decor, DIY, photography blogging phenom, and y'all should totally check her site out!

Anywho, enough about her. Let's get back to me. (Sorry, Beth.)

When I think about the houses that built me, the one that immediately comes to mind is my great-grandmother's 100+-year-old house on Pearl Street in Darlington, South Carolina.

Since we never lived near either of my parents' families while I was growing up, summer vacation meant 3 months--you know, back when summer vacation was a full 3 months--of crashing with relatives (mainly grandparents and aunts and uncles). We spent a lot of time in my dad's hometown of Florence and in Goldsboro, North Carolina, where my mom's parents put down roots.

But one special house was alway's Josey's old blue house surrounded by numerous plants that she'd cultivated throughout the years which was just a few miles up the street from the Darlington Motor Speedway. 

We'll start our tour on the back porch. On the old swing is where I lost my first tooth. Dad pulled it, and boy did it hurt! The tooth was loose, but to this day, I don't think it was loose enough to come out! There was also an old stove on the porch. We used to play at it, and some summers, one of Josey's cats would have a litter of kittens under the stove. We'd play with them and name them. Josey had more cats than we could count!

Sitting on the swing with Josey many moons ago.
Walking through the backdoor--because no one ever, ever used the front door--was like stepping back in time. There was an old screen door with a spring that made such a distinctive creaking sound that I can still hear it's metallic whining sound as it was stretched clear as a bell in my mind. And all of the doors were so old that they locked with a plain-looking skeleton key, which in hindsight seems so funny...and unsafe.

The ceilings were well over 12 feet tall (and as a kid, they seemed even taller), and the kitchen was painted a bright, sun-shiny yellow. The white kitchen appliances (really just a sink, small counter space, and a stove/oven) were straight out of the 1950s. They might have been even older, but I'm not sure. What I do know is that they still worked. And Josey would boil water on that stove for her tea that was so hot we never understood how she was able to drink it. (Of course, I guess after decades of drinking scalding tea, she developed a tolerance.) I remember we'd also warm saltine crackers in that old oven. If you toasted them just a bit, they'd become the best crackers you ever put in your mouth.

The fridge wasn't in the kitchen. It was on the side porch that had been enclosed to also add a bathroom some time ago in yesteryear. There was the 1950s fridge that matched the other appliances. It had died long ago, and I remember being told every summer to never, ever open that fridge. Beside it sat an 1980s side-by-side refrigerator, which I always thought was cool since we just had a standard, freezer-on-top model at home. (Didn't take much to entertain me back then...) Also on the side porch was the bathroom. It only had a washing machine, toilet, and a heavy cast iron tub in it. To this day, it's the only bathroom that I've ever used where I had to wash my hands in the tub. Moving back out onto the porch, there was part of an old exterior wall beside the door that lead back into the kitchen. It was painted the same pale blue as the rest of the outside of the house, except the paint was peeling badly. For years, I would go break off tiny chips of paint. Over time, I left a pretty large (paintless) mark on that wall.

Heading back into the kitchen, Josey had a chair by the door that lead out to the enclosed porch. It was where she would sit by her space heater and listen to the radio, which sat on a simple wooden shelf beside the hot water heater that sat out in the open for everyone to see. (Of course, we decorated it with our artwork and refrigerator magnets.) Beside her chair was the wall where me, my brother, and my cousins charted our growth each summer. There were a lot of marks by the time the house was torn down, but my parents cut out that piece of drywall and have it in their home now. Not only is it a piece of my history, but that drywall binds together 4 generations on my mother's side of the family. That means a lot to me.
Me, Popeye, and Zach in Josey's chair. The drywall beside the door is where we'd eventually start the growth chart.

Zach, Josey, Me, and Gran Peg.
Off the kitchen was a small, square-shaped hallway. ("Hallway" isn't really the right word. It was more like the hub of the house, where you could go from the kitchen to the guest room, master bedroom, or dining room (which was also the living room because the formal living room was used as storage). In this tiny hub was a small triangle-shaped shelf where the rotary telephone sat in one corner.

The door to the left would take you into the large guest bedroom that my grandparents slept in when they visited my great-grandmother. The ceilings soared way overhead, and the old walls had spiderweb-like cracks that went clear up to the ceiling. There was also a working sink in one corner of the room. It is often where I brushed my teeth. (Remember, there was no sink in the bathroom.) On the small shelf above it, my grandfather would put his dentures in a clear plastic cup. That always weirded me out...and yet, I always looked at them.

Back in the hub/hall, the next door would take you into my great-grandmother's bedroom. It was always dark in there, and to be honest, I hardly ever went in there much. Although, off of her room was a small bedroom that stuck out on the side of the house. I do remember one summer sleeping in that room, with many nights spent watching the headlights and tail lights of cars driving up and down the street. It was very different from the quiet country life we had in the backwoods of Shelby, Alabama... or at least it seemed that way at the time.

The last door off of the hub/hall took you into what was supposed to be the dining room, but it doubled as a living and dining room. This was the only air conditioned room in the house, thanks to a single window unit. The other window had a large fan that was used to pull air through the house when we didn't have the AC on. Against one wall was an old console television. And in true Southern fashion, when it died, a new, smaller TV was simply placed on top of it.
You can see a mini tea set in the top right corner.

We used to have fold out pallets that we'd sleep on in the living room floor when we'd stay there during the summer. (And we'd gladly sleep on the living room floor in order to stay cool on those hot summer nights!)

The other thing I remember about the living room was the shiny black fireplace and mantle. On the mantle, Josey kept an assortment of ceramic figurines and other odds and ends. She had miniature tea sets, a statue of Jesus, and a bunch of other stuff. Of course, over time the ceramics would become stuck to the mantle, and I would always pull on them to break them free. I'd always put things back exactly where they were, but for some reason, I got a kick out of getting them unstuck. I don't know if anyone ever knew I did that.

This room had more doors than any other in the house. There was one that would lead to the porch (but was blocked by a table). Another would lead to the enclosed portion of the porch leading to the bathroom, but it was blocked by the 1960s sofa. There was the door to the hub/hall, another to Josey's bedroom, and one to the front hall, which lead to the front door and formal living room. I remember thinking that all of those doors were so cool. Of course, I'm sure they were there for improved circulation in the pre-AC days, but you just don't see houses with so many doors anymore.
You never walked too far to the left of the porch...for fear you may fall through!
The small room sticking out on the right side is the bedroom that I'd watch the cars pass by from.
It's sad to think that Josey's house isn't there anymore. It's been years since I drove by the empty lot (and according to Google Earth, it's still empty).
The house stood to the right of the parking lot. You can still see the where the driveway was.
Mom and Dad got married in the church next door. And the small building with the square-shaped roof on the upper left side is the diner that we used to walk to and order chili dogs at. There was a lot of family history on that block.

I try to hold onto these memories. I'm thankful to Beth for inspiring me to write these down before they fade away.

1 comment:

  1. Awwww, Bruce, this is the best story! Wouldn't you love to have seen the house restored to it's original glory? What a beautiful home it was. I love the history of houses and people's memories inside of them. It's like a real life "if these walls could talk".

    Thanks for sharing! You were the cutest kid! And you might wanna get tested for lead poisoning after all that paint peeling. hehe