The word “House” is impersonal. It is nothing more than wood and stone. A “Home”, on the other hand denotes warmth and love. It is a place where you would feel safe and secure.
I don’t remember having a “Home” growing up. Just a house. It was a place with airspace we inhabited and that was pretty much it. I always wanted a “home”, somewhere safe to go to. A place to hide. A place of fond memories. We had few.
I do have memories, but not of any nuances of the house or perhaps they were and I just don’t have a complete grasp of what a nuance is. I have few memories of the structure but mostly those are of me helping Dad nail shingles on the roof and Mom waxing the vinyl floors and us kids sliding across them to buff them up. So, I guess there are a couple of good memories, but that was much later.
Before all that, I remember the hole where the septic tank was to be and where our little ducklings fell into and we had to rescue them. There was nothing there but a big hole, no tank yet. I also remember us kids on our bellies watching as daddy fished them out. There had been a two by four dipping down into the hole and apparently they (the ducklings) walked down it but couldn’t figure out how to walk back up it.
I remember the outhouse out back that served as our toilet until the house was completed. I only once remember mother cooking on a two burner kerosene stove in our one room shack that had once been a chicken coop. There were possibly only two beds as there wouldn’t have been room for more and we kids often shared one bed, two on each end facing away one from one another. Why not? We were little.
What I remember most of the kerosene stove was the stench of the fumes it gave off when she cooked. The one night I remember her cooking on that stove, it was raining hard outside and at that time we were still in the one room. We kids were laying on one of the two beds in the room, I was about six, which then made my siblings, 5, 3 & 1 or thereabout. There was nothing much to do on a night like this except watch mother cook, so there we were all in a row like the three wise monkeys plus one. I’m sure my job was to keep the smallest out of her way. There wasn’t much wiggle room and cooking can be risky business.
What reminded me of it, is that it’s been raining outside this morning.
So, on a day like today we were making do when suddenly the stove burst into flames! The flames flew up so high that they touched the ceiling. We all screamed as mother used her dishcloth to try and put the fire out. Bad idea. It was getting away from her, so she yelled at me.
She yelled at me again before I realized that I had to go for help. I may have been frozen or was going around in circles panicking before making it out the door in the DARK, I don’t know, but I made it out. The last I’d seen was mom grabbing the baby. Outside, I struggled with leaving at all. I was so afraid. Afraid of the night, the rain and to leave the others alone but… they needed help. My help. I started running and running, tears fell as fast as the rain. I had to be the hero and in my head, I felt like one. Yet as my little legs carried me further away, the DARK got darker. It hardly ever rains in California, but it was raining now. There was so much rain I could hardly see and my hair was matted down over my eyes as I slipped and trudged through gooey mud. It was cold.
It couldn’t have been more pitch BLACK out there and I couldn’t see a thing. Was I afraid of the dark? Yes, what if something else gets me? This is wrong, what if they die and I’m out here all alone I’m thinking, but I don’t look back. My heart is pounding in my chest like it will pop out at any given moment. I slip again. There had been a tumble down fence between our two homes and most of the time if we went next door, no problem. I was an expert at separating and maneuvering through the wires but tonight I can’t find them and it was so DARK. Suddenly, there I am tangled in a mesh of barbed wire and I can’t get out. No, NO! I gotta get out. I gotta get out, I gotta save them!
Finally, I break free and make it to the house next door and my little fists pound and pound away but it feels like nothing on their door. Can’t they hear me? So, I scream but nothing comes out. There’s no sound or maybe I just can’t hear for the noise of the rain. Weakly, I keep pounding.
Finally a light switches on and the door opens and I fall through. I barely get the words out “a fire!” and Mrs. Lopez’ 20 boys hit the dirt flying out the door. Me? I fall limp and someone carries me to this massive dining table where I’d seen Mrs. Lopez feed her ginormous family and I’m situated in a chair. I sit there as her daughter, Ernestine quickly mixes me a concoction of sugar water to drink. I think someone says she’s a nurse. I don’t understand how it works but she says something about how it would calm me. Perhaps it was an old folklore remedy or just a distraction but it worked as I sat there slumped and worried. I think there are other people around, but I can’t be sure. She, or maybe it was Mrs. Lopez dries me off, then cleans and bandages my wounds.
The fire department did come out, someone across Hwy 5 had seen the blaze and called but I think the Lopez boys had pretty much gotten it under control before they arrived. The important thing is the fire was extinguished and my siblings and mom were all safe. Where they went while it was burning, I don’t know. I would later return home to a tarp being put over a gaping hole in the ceiling, which did not prevent periodic drips seeping through and plaguing us the rest of the night. THAT is all I remember. I would like to say I was praised for my heroic flight, but I wasn’t, at least I don’t remember. It was actually quite anticlimactic. I even tried sharing my adventure but no one cared. The only thing anyone was worried about was the house.
The place was a mess, Dad had arrived home and that was it. I don’t remember if we ate or much of anything else after that. There were no McDonald’s in those days, but that wouldn’t have mattered. Dad would never have sprung for anything so extravagant.
The rain subsided and the tarp sufficed until the rest of the house was built. This room would later become mom and dad’s bedroom I think, minus the charred wood. Why it hadn’t burned to the ground, I don’t know. Perhaps it was the rain. I would later recall vaguely remembering being a little sorry I’d missed all the excitement.
The next day, I went out to the yard and noticed where I’d traveled, but what had seemed like a hundred miles the night before was only a a couple hundred feet. Not far. It was no wonder no one cared about my adventure. Some hero.
Dad would later incorporate this as part of our house, a U shape structure with a courtyard in the middle. Mom would put a garden out back and I would wander the hills. I didn’t stay home much, because “home” wasn’t safe, unless I was left alone to read a book.
I still long to be coddled, but that’s just a dream. I am glad for what I do have. My hubby loves me, sticks up for me and keeps me safe. We are not rich, but it’s a coddling of sorts. I wonder though, did I ever give my kids a home? Did they ever feel coddled and nurtured? Or, was that something I didn’t know how to do or do well?
I know they know I love them like life itself. They know I’d give my life for them if need be, so I hope that’s enough. They often tell me I was a good mom, and sometimes it comes with a qualifier… considering where I came from and where I’d been. We laugh about that. They do know.