When political news threatens to overwhelm – a daily occurrence of late – I soothe my frayed nerves with episodes of House Hunters on HGTV. I can count on its predictability: a couple with opposite architectural tastes looking for a house on the beach in the center of town with a separate bathroom for each child in the family chooses the least likely home of three toured – almost always at the top of their budget.
Beyond wish lists and deal breakers, however, I most enjoy hearing about all the rooms these prospective homeowners desire. At my age, I am somewhere between the drawing rooms and parlors of yesteryear and the man caves, media rooms, and breakfast nooks sought after by the Millennials. By the way, I cannot even imagine my father ever sitting in a “nook” of any kind. And both parents should have been thrilled with the bathroom connected to their bedroom – except that everybody else had to traipse through their sleeping quarters to the only “facilities” in our drafty, old farmhouse.
Our family of seven sort of rattled around in the house on River Road, living mostly in the two rooms with coal/wood burning stoves and closing the doors to four or five other rooms that remained empty for the fifteen years of our residence there.
The house, built for the lifestyle of another century, was oriented differently than our use of it. We never used the formal front door that faced River Road and led to a narrowish entry hall and beautiful, curved staircase. Instead we entered from the back of the house into the kitchen, where we spent lots of time amidst the usual collection of appliances and furniture.
In one corner of the kitchen stood the pantry, outfitted with shelves for the groceries Mother brought home from town each week and a pile of the cardboard boxes she had used to transport her purchases, as well as a supply of brown paper bags that Grandma Maurice called “pokes.” Our River Road pantry was serviceable, but a far cry from the glorified broom closets today’s lady house hunters seem to covet.
Also branching down off the kitchen was the cellar. This place was no finished basement with a “second living space” and a big screen TV. The stairs leading to this dungeon-like underground space had no banister, and spider webs covered spider webs. There were other steps, too, that led from the yard down into the cellar, the ones we could use to escape any tornado that might storm through.
We spent our non-kitchen time in the next room over, the only other area with a heat source that both my parents were adept at filling with kindling and coal and emptying ashes from. This room served basically as our living room space. I remember our referring to it as the dining room; but my sister disputes that recollection, reminding me that the only meals served there were at the big round table set up with leaves inserted to feed the neighboring farmers each year when they came to help my father fill silo.
Whatever we called the room, it was the hub of family activity. The “great rooms” of our modern times with their open concepts cannot begin to compare to with all that transpired in our living/dining room.
It was the playroom for four little stair-step sisters and the one more that came along later. True, there was a toy cupboard in the corner, where our little table and chairs stood. But what kind of kids would we have been if we had not strung toys wall-to-wall and knee-deep?
It was a sewing room, too. With the Singer sewing machine in its cabinet standing in front of one of the south windows, we stitched our 4-H projects, usually with Mother and her hawk-like attention hovering over us when our seams veered from the straight and narrow.
It was also a home office of sorts whenever my dad set up the card table for his monthly “settling up” sessions with the landlady. We also addressed valentines and Christmas cards on that foldable table and played board games there on lazy Sunday afternoons.
I am not sure where we were supposed to do our homework. Mother was forever complaining about our “lolling around in front of the television” with our textbooks and Goldenrod tablets. Still, we brought home honor-roll-level grades, so we must have been doing something right in the schoolwork department.
And, of course, that centrally-located room frequently served as something of a hospital ward. The one bedroom for all of us kids on the unheated second floor was too far away when we had the mumps or measles. Any infected child lay on the couch with, if necessary, the white enamel up-chuck pan close by.
These days my living room is twice the size of the one in my childhood house, and I have two whole bathrooms for just myself. However, in this day and age of playrooms and mudrooms, powder rooms and craft rooms – and even that gift wrapping room I saw once on House Hunters – I continue to be the product of my upbringing: reading, sewing, working on the computer, visiting with friends – and taking naps, too – in my central “living space,” much as my family did all those years ago in a farmhouse on River Road.
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.