The House and ‘him’

I know there have been and will be houses that are far worse, but for my own peace of mind, I simply must let the world know what the house that I grew up in was like. Or maybe it’s just that I want the world to know how my father refused to take care of our house and let it fall down around our ears… yeah, that’s it, that’s the reason I want the world to know.

The house sat on 2 acres of land, surrounded by farm fields, and woods. Parts of the house were over 100 years old when I was a child, one of those parts being my ‘bedroom’, which was merely in the corner of a room. Electrical conduit was exposed and visible as the walls were not finished–drywall on only one side with exposed studs. The other bedroom wall was just wide boards that during the winter, if I happened to leave a light on in the bedroom, bugs would emerge from the wall cracks to get closer to the warmth, such as it was–since the room had no heat. The floor was plywood, and when the ceiling leaked, the floor became wet and warped.  When it was dry, I got splinters in my bare feet–splinters and smashed bugs I had stepped on. For awhile, I had a shaded light on in my room. One evening for some reason–really there didn’t need to be a reason— my father noticed that I was reading by this dim light. He became enraged, ripped the shade off the light, and I was left with a bare light bulb hanging from a socket and cord. This bulb hung on the frame of a mirror I had on the wall, and burned through part of the metal frame.

My room was stifling hot in the summer, and cold in the winter—I once wore mittens while doing my homework. I never had a fan in my bedroom–candles melted, and I would get up in the middle of a summer night, throw cold water on my face, go back to bed, and try to sleep.  The entire house did not have air-conditioning. There was an air-conditioner–it sat in a cardboard box from the time I was about 10 years old til I left home at age 21. I remember my father purchasing the air conditioner from my Aunt, I was excited at the thought of having a cool house in the summer. More than 25 years after purchasing that room air conditioning unit, my father moved it (still in the box) 700 miles and sold it to someone else. The reason for not installing the air conditioner? Money. Cost. Laziness. Selfishness. Those are the reasons for most of my father’s decisions. He wouldn’t part with the money to pay an electric bill, after all, he had a fan.

When it rained, my bedroom ceiling leaked. We saved tin juice cans to place under the drips.  We also saved rags to place in the bottom of the cans so the water would not splash out of the cans. My father became angry because on one occasions, there was not a rag in a can, and the constant dripping was annoying and keeping him awake.  On an especially rainy night, my mother would get up to empty cans so they wouldn’t over-flow.  I convinced her to let me stay home from school on a stormy day so I could empty the cans. I don’t recall my father ever emptying a can…  Eventually, the roof deteriorated to an extent that the ceiling leaked in his bedroom too–even over his bed. He moved to the other side, and placed plastic, newspaper, and a plastic pan on the bed.  This was my environment every time it rained; spring, summer, fall. In winter, my mother would get up on the roof and sweep the snow off so it wouldn’t melt and, which would have caused the ceiling to leak.

We had mice in our house. They got in the kitchen pantry closet and ate right through the cracker box and into the crackers– anything in a box was fair game. Mouse traps were common in our house, Mom set them often. At one point, we had rats in our house. Dad got out his scales, measured up the rat poison, and placed it in the basement. It wasn’t long and Mom and my brother were surprised one morning to see a rat slowly dragging itself across the kitchen floor, dying from internal bleeding. Brother grabbed a broom and killed off the rat. The remaining rats crept into a crawl space under our house and died–and stunk. This happened in the winter; no one tried to locate the decaying rats and we weren’t able to open windows to let out the stench and let in fresh air. We just breathed it until the smell dissipated or warmer weather arrived–which ever came first.

Our basement flooded every rain. The water was channeled down from an incline and funneled into our coal bin–then unused–and into the basement. After the rain, my brothers and mom scooped out the basement, swept up water, laid down newspapers to absorb what was left, and opened a basement window. For quite awhile, we had a salamander living in the basement, which we named.

Our frontdoor was nonexistent. We had to shout through a window to unsuspecting visitors who came to the front to “go round back”. The ‘front’ living room door had one hinge… mom had to lift up the door by the inside and outside handle to open to drag the door open. Needless to say, that didn’t happen very often. Most of our windows did not open, and if they did, they were propped up by wood sticks of varying lengths. The screens had holes… mom stitched them up with gray thread, just as if she were darning a hole in a sock. My father never helped take storm windows in and out… he let mom struggle with that–on a rickety wood ladder while he sat in the corner of the couch in the living room, reading and gaining knowledge.

We had a fairly modern bathroom, but the drainage was not hooked up to a septic tank or sewer system. Whatever came from the toilet flowed outside onto a neighbor’s property. We were not allowed to place toilet tissue in the toilet. A few times the drain was plugged, and my father angrily accused me of placing toilet tissue in the toilet.

Our kitchen was very basic, containing a table that seated all 6 of the family. Mom was a good cook, making 3 meals a day, every day, every year, for years. We had various mis-matched, free-standing cabinets–mom purchased them over the years, and a white, old-fashioned two basin sink–no dishwasher. The plumbing was old– once when Dad was making a repair (one of the few repairs he ever made–with great reluctance and procrastination), in his anger, he turned off the hot water access to the kitchen sink and for years Mom had to heat water for dishes on the range top, or go to the bathroom for hot water. Of course, this was no inconvenience to him.

Dad never mowed the yard, never raked a leaf, and rarely fixed anything. He let the house deteriorate, and outbuildings literally fell down, collapsed. He spent nearly all of his time at home sitting on the couch and reading. Did he have a job? Yes. He went to work Monday through Friday, and sometimes Saturdays, but that was the extent of his physical output.

Fifteen years ago on father’s day,  a pastor of a church I was attending asked our Sunday School group to write down a few things about their father–some memories. As I gazed at the group, others had their heads down, intent on writing. I was finished in a matter of seconds. It didn’t take long to write down my thoughts–and I followed that admonition “if you can’t say something kind, don’t say anything at all.”  My memory consisted of one sentence:  “He went to work.”  That was it. I gave him that. He went to work, the bills were paid, we had food to eat and basic clothing and medical care.

Many have had much less growing up, many have had more. I think the key is ‘what did he have to work with’? We weren’t destitute, we weren’t poor. The money was there for repairs to fix a roof, to buy a fan, to pay an electric bill. I have found that in my later years, the more bare-bones I have lived–the more I did ‘without’, the more my father seemed to admire and approve of me. It’s a warped outlook, and as I stated previously, how he approaches the use and purpose of money, is the deciding factor.

So what’s the conclusion? What’s the point? What’s the purpose of writing about The House and him?  Basically, I don’t want him to get away with it. I want the world to know, I won’t sweep it under the rug, I won’t excuse it. He made my mother, me, and my siblings go through unnecessary hardship for years. We didn’t like him then, we don’t like him now. We don’t want to be around him. We were always glad when he left on his personal vacations or when he was at work. We hated to see him come home.

My brothers and I all have our own homes now–and we take care of them and our loved ones. We keep things repaired, clean, looking nice, comfortable, attractive–welcoming to others.

7 thoughts on “The House and ‘him’

  1. It sounds like you had quite a tough old childhood Joy !

    You’re comment the other day, about me creating the childhood I didn’t have, suddenly makes perfect sense and I see how and why you relish the small things in life that make you smile or bring peace or calm to your adult life. It’s sooo important to do this and even more so in your case.

    It’s also good to get these feelings out and exorcise them. Who knows what your father’s reasons were for being so stringent and mean, perhaps his parents had been worse with him ? Perhaps he had a fear of one day not having enough to support you all… who knows, or maybe he was just a sad, individual who’d forgotten about all about love and nurturing good emotions.

    I hope that by writing this down you can also find some peace with your thoughts about it too.

    Don’t forget to treat yourself, spoil yourself often and for no reason at all, you don’t need one.

    Thank you for sharing these private memories with us.

    • aww Craig, what a kind and thoughtful comment. I appreciate it. My Dad’s mother was cold and unloving to me and my siblings– I don’t know why she was that way. Perhaps that could explain some of my Dad’s behavior. Dad will be 94 and he is still stringent with money–to his own detriment–even though he has plenty. He is an unhappy individual and my brothers and I refuse to be like him. Perhaps one of the reasons my mother named me ‘Joy’ was that she had a certain wish for me. I love living up to my name–although I know I am not always joyful, I do try to be, as there is more than enough sorrow to go around in this world. Thank you again, Craig for taking the time to consider my story and to make a comment. Also, a big thanks for you bringing so much color and life to those who visit your blog. It’s always so informative and delightful. Have a wonderful UK day! I love reading about where you live and the places you visit.

      • Likewise Joy. You do live up to your name, and often spread that message through your lovely comments and appreciation of the work that I do. I’m so happy that my work raises the occasional smile on your side of the pond too. It’s great to know and hear. Stay happy and you’ll notice more of the good things in life. When our moods lift, they’re there for the taking : )

  2. I pushed the “like” button as a way to show support, but not to say I liked the sadness of your childhood. I am glad that you have overcome it. Yes, Jesus knows your name.

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