The Home That Still Holds My Heart

When Mom mentions the remote future possibility of a move, I instantly lose the ability to listen and take a mental meander through the house I grew up in.

To the family, the room off the kitchen is forever the Bird Room. It doesn't have a feather now, but at one time it housed Lovey, Dad's cockatoo. The bird was definitely a one-man fowl, ruffling his white feathers and glaring furiously at any other object of Dad's attention. Lovey barked in our dog's voice and did an impersonation of the doorbell that sent us all repeatedly to the front door where we'd scowl at the empty walk and mutter, "That bird!"

The Bird Room held the current pinball machine where some kid could be found, face lit by flashing lights and the thrill of bonus points. He or she would be pushing the buttons frantically and muttering, "One more game and I'll do my homework." Followed by, "Just one more game...."

In the hallway, time has stopped. There we are, from receiving blankets to graduation gowns. Dad aspired to capture every milestone. He coaxed us, to the chorus of "Oh, Dad, please! Not another picture! My smile muscles are killing me!"

"Someday," he promised, "you're going to be glad I insisted. Now, smile - like you mean it!" Once we were squinting into the sunshine, Dad was sure to say, "Just a minute, keep smiling." He'd fiddle around with the camera, then fiddle around some more, while we muttered through the clenched teeth of our frozen grins, "Take the picture, Dad!"

The snapshots are a kaleidoscope within the carved oak frame of what was once a looking glass. It's still a mirror, actually - the rearview type - lacking only the words, "Objects in mirror are much closer than they appear."

What will always be the Glass Room is a cozy TV room today. Long ago, it was Dad's stained-glass workshop, with huge wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling cupboards, a gigantic littered table, and a gritty floor piled with tools. With the soldering iron burning, the air tasted of metal and fire. The radio perennially sputtered a static-filled rendition of Paul Harvey's "...good day!" Art materialized from the mess: elegant stained-glass boxes and clocks, and a circular window of graceful tulips for the front door of the house.

The Gray Bathroom remained gray for about 10 minutes after we moved into the house in 1965. The name stuck firmer than the bright new wallpaper. It might well have been called the Music Room. The superior acoustics of the shower inspired many an uninhibited solo. When Dad sang, his rumbling bass boomed throughout the house.

"What's that?" visitors asked.

"Oh," we'd say, "it's 'Oklahoma.' You've never heard it before?"

The laundry should have been known as the Can-Can Room. "Come on, guys, kick!" Mom would say, swooshing the sheets she was folding from side to side and stepping high. "One, two, three, kick !" And we would, arms linked at the elbows, brandishing pillowcases or towels and giggling wildly.

"My mom never does this," my friends would say, joining the chorus line.

"Not even when she's folding sheets?" I'd ask, positive that they were joking.

We rarely ate in the dining room. It was the site not only of the dreaded sewing lessons, but also countless cutthroat board games. We kids called them "bored" games and our favorite one, "Monotony," in the hopes that no one would believe we actually enjoyed such childish pastimes. Once we'd impressed upon everyone our total indifference, we'd settle in for hour upon hour, counting our pastel cash with greedy glee and shouting, "I'll buy it!" at any opportune moment.

On a truly perfect rainy Saturday afternoon, a rich, heavy dark scent would float toward us. The fragrance was so powerful it would rip us away from the Monopoly Championship of the World and slide us into the kitchen.

We'd arrive in time to see Mom hand Dad the heavy pan and wooden spoon. Not soon enough, the fudge would be beaten, spread, and cooled, then ready to be devoured. Heaven on a plate.

You could set your watch by Dad's arrival home for lunch each day. He'd walk in just as the clocks were bonging 12. He prided himself on his lunch creations. I craved his sandwiches, which were enormous, loaded with mayo and thick onion slices and liberally salted and peppered.

"Want to trade?" I'd ask, gesturing to my own meager sandwich. "Well," he'd say, "not this time."

A dark winter's day would inspire him to fix his Special Recipe, a concoction of leftovers and canned ravioli, enlivened with a liberal splash of dill-pickle juice. "It's great!" he'd say. "Want some?"

"Well," I'd say, "not this time."

Our custom of holding hands for the dinner-time blessing was strictly enforced. It wasn't unusual to see squabbling siblings glare at each other, join hands for the prayer, and then jerk away the instant Dad uttered "Amen."

Something about our high spirits (or it might have been our musical talents) inspired an ironclad rule: Absolutely no singing at the dinner table, under any circumstances.

THE garage never held a car. In fact, it wasn't really a garage at all, but a 3-D puzzle solidly packed with tools, car parts, Dad's metal sculptures, appliances needing repair, and ancient furniture. There were paths through the maze and a canopy of treasures stashed wall-to-wall in the rafters. But ask Dad for anything and he'd hand it to you in two seconds.

We considered it to be the height of entertainment to show it to someone new. "Look at Dad's garage!" we'd exclaim, throwing open the door.

Our visitor would be bug-eyed in astonishment. When he recovered his voice, he'd say, "Wow! I've never seen anything like this!"

It was most gratifying.

When I tune back in to Mom's voice, she's saying, "About the house...." That's when it hits me. It isn't the house that's important. What matters is: Dad's singing; Mom's ability to turn drudgery into giggling fun; the freedom to try new things and succeed - or fail; boredom transformed to happy memories; utter silliness; time to waste and to dream.

What the house held made it our home. And now - I hold it, too.

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