Recently a cousin sent me some slides from my parents’ household auction in 1978. They moved to an apartment at the Rockhill Mennonite Community after living in their house for 48 years, so they needed to divest themselves of many household effects.
The slides got me thinking about my childhood home, half of a duplex at 125 W. Chestnut St. in Souderton, Pennsylvania. I warmly recall the setting where I grew up. I knew all our neighbours and enjoyed my playmates. My church occupied the end of our block; my elementary school sat just across a side street from the church. Grampop Clemmer and Aunt Esther lived just two houses beyond the school. And I could easily walk the two blocks to the family feedmill at the center of town.
It all felt safe and comfortable to me as a little girl. And fortunately, a woman up the street knew my name and phoned my Mom when she found my three-year-old self walking alone up the middle of the road, heading “towards town.”
As for the house itself, the place where I most liked to hang out as a young child was the padded bench in the kitchen. It hid a radiator, making the spot warm and cozy. The bench belonged to my Dad at mealtimes, but the rest of the time I could lie or sit there while my Mom prepared lunch or baked for the weekend or did the laundry or canned peaches or froze corn.
During my primary school days and beyond, I often gravitated to the rocking chair in the dining room. From there I could look out the big “picture window,” which faced our side yard. I loved reading there after school or in the evening; my Mom often joined me in “her” chair, which faced the rocker.
In that dining room, the larger world came to us, as Mom made Sunday dinner for various pastors in our extended families, and for foreign missionaries amongst our kin when they came home on furlough.
In the living room, my Mom claimed an easy chair by the radiator as her favorite spot. I preferred curling up on the couch, where she helped me through the chicken pox by reading aloud Laura Ingalls Wilder books. And in younger years, I loved the corner hideaway where the couch from one wall and an easy chair from another wall came together, giving space for little ones to play on the floor. Sometimes an adult helped me and my friends create a roof over our hideaway with a blanket.
I enjoyed hosting my cousin Helen on sleepovers. But by the time we reached junior high and found boys fascinating, we discovered another use for the bedroom. We knocked on the wall with a hair brush, thereby alerting Jonny – who slept on the other side of the wall – that we were ready to hang out the window and watch for the Sputnik with him. My Mom inevitably heard the racket; more than once she showed up with her pillow and bedded down on the floor, ending our fun for that night.
The unfinished basement of our house did scare me. My Mom sometimes asked me to go down to the fruit cellar to bring up a jar of peaches. But that meant I had to run past the furnace and the coal bin, both of which seemed creepy.
The Souderton Mennonite Church up the block bought our house when my parents moved on. They used it for various purposes for 20 years, then tore it down when the church expanded down the whole block. Since my nephew Gerry was one of the pastors, I got to go through the house with him shortly before it was demolished…a lovely trip down memory lane.
In that house and that neighborhood I felt nourished as a young girl, and for that I am most grateful.
Questions for Reflection
- What were your favorite spots in your childhood home or homes?
- What warm memories – if any – do you have of your childhood home(s) and neighborhood(s)?
- If your childhood home was not a secure place for you, where else in your childhood environment did you find grounding for life?
Next week: The Gift of Hospitality