Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Vacation Reveries Part 2

I left off my vacation reveries with our time in my hometown, Grand Forks, North Dakota..

After Thomas Wolfe published his novel "You Can't Go Home Again" in 1940, the notion that you can't return to your childhood home because it has changed and you have changed achieved the status of cliche in American culture. Somewhat mangled into "You can never go home again," this adage is well-known and frequently cited. The Google search I conducted a moment ago brought up 47,000 citations for the phrase. But I think you can go home again if you have the right attitude.

Perhaps this feeling stems from the fact that I actually did stay in my childhood house during my vacation. My sister Janet - the only sister I have among six siblings - and her husband Dave - who was in my high school class - purchased my parents' home when my father became chief of laboratory services for the state of North Dakota and moved to Bismarck, the capital. This is not to say that the house remains the same as I remember it.

In their thirty-odd years of occupancy, Janet and Dave have made many wonderful improvements and updates to the house. Nature aided them somewhat in this endeavor by inundating the whole town in 1997 in a terrible flood that forced them to replace outdated equipment, like the old furnace. Other changes they made without catastrophic prompting, like renovating and redesigning the kitchen and creating a master suite out of the old master bedroom and an adjacent bedroom. Everything turned out very well and, oddly, the house retains the same ambiance it had when I lived there as a child.

It has always been a special house. My mother designed it for the needs of her large family and my father built it with the help of my brothers, a carpenter, and the carpenter's helper. It had nothing in common with typical tract homes of the 1950s. I'd venture that its New England saltbox silhouette is still unique in Grand Forks.

One of mother's special touches was a laundry chute from the upstairs bathroom through the first floor bathroom and then into a hamper in the basement bathroom adjacent to her laundry room. We may have carried clean laundry up the stairs, but we never had to carry it down!

Another special touch was in the kitchen. A set of cupboards hung above the dishwasher and sink, like a suspended island between the kitchen and dining room. The doors opened from both sides, so you could set the table in the dining room and unload the dishwasher in the kitchen and put the dishes in the same place. Also, the simple fact that we had three full bathrooms in 1959 was marvelous, but that is the one place where my mother missed the boat.

Four boys and one girl slept in upstairs bedrooms. Being the one girl had its perks, like my own bedroom (with very nice Ethan Allen furnishings because it was the guest room, too). The boys doubled up in two other bedrooms. The final two kids hadn't appeared yet, but when they eventually did, they slept in the extra bedroom downstairs until a few of us older kids grew up and left home, letting them "move up." But the upstairs had one big flaw, especially from my point-of-view - only one bathroom.

Mother had done quite a good job designing that bathroom. The commode and shower/tub had a locking door so you could have privacy without tying up the rest of the facilities. The main area had two sinks and lots of cabinet space for linens and storage. So far so good. But mother could have - dare I say should have? - divided it into two bathrooms, one off my bedroom and one off the hallway for the boys.

I admit I would have loved to have my own private bathroom for selfish reasons, but it was completely justifiable from a guest's standpoint, too. Many, many years later I asked Mother why she hadn't put two bathrooms upstairs. "It never occurred to me that you would need privacy. After all, you were only nine years old when we moved into that house," she told me. I have pictures of myself at that age and, with my flat chest, pigtails, and freckles, I admit young womanhood did not seem to be eminent, so I have to give Mother a pass on this.

Now that you have an idea about my state of mind relative to returning "home," I can move on to our activities. They included long walks on the beautifully-conceived flood plain greenway built after the terrible water disaster in '97, a fabulous photo exhibit at the North Dakota Fine Arts Museum, and a trip to an artist's studio in Alvarado, Minnesota that I had been planning for a long time.

I will move on to the activities, but not tonight. I need to pace myself or I'll be up too late and that will make it hard for me to get to my morning Artist Way group meeting. As the Mouseketeers used to say, "See you real soon!"


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