Goodbye to My Childhood House

I spent the last two weeks, about five hours a day, cleaning out our childhood home, getting it ready to sell.

Here's a photo of my sister and me (dressed inexplicably like little Dutch girls) in the front patio of my mother's house, in better days. It was the early 1960s and my mother's roses were blooming, there was still grass in the yard, and the foundation hadn't yet cracked.

After my father died in 1972, my mother spent the next 20 years paying off the house, working, and putting three kids through SMU. The house almost fell down around her -- she stubbornly refused to move, and lived in the house until she died recently at age 81.

My sister and brother, both who live out of town, came in to help box up more than 40 years worth of memories -- much of it disintegrating in the closets. I had to wear a mask to breathe.

We found hundreds of sacks full of yellowing bills and bank statements (she even kept my grandmother's bills and bank statements going back to the 1950s). But we also found some beautiful things. Here are some of my favorites:

My grandmother's hat boxes.

And hats. My brother, a mountain man who loves to kayak and camp and hike, shocked us all by taking a bunch of them back to Minnesota with him. He's going to display them in Plexiglas boxes.

His sentimentality didn't extend to old family photos like this one, which he wanted to toss because there weren't any names on it to identify who the people are. "How do we even know they're our relatives?" he exclaimed. I think it's pretty obvious. These are our hillbilly great, great whatevers from Kentucky.

LinkMy mother was fascinated with Henry Moore after he came to Dallas in the late 1970s and set up shop at an airplane hangar for two weeks, to work on a huge sculpture for City Hall. We all went to see him work on it one Sunday afternoon when they opened the hangar to the public. Shortly after, she bought this beautiful maquette at the Dallas Museum of Art.

We also found a few scandalous things. Such as a pair of silk scarves with the Confederate flag on them. These must be from the 50s or 60s. My mother, who was born and raised (like my Dad) in Arkansas, was proud of her Southern heritage. When they first came to Dallas in the 50s, I'm not sure she'd really ever met anyone from New York. It might as well have been a foreign country. She was prejudiced, yes, not against blacks, but against anything Yankee. We were forbidden to put ketchup on hotdogs because "it was Yankee" (I liked ketchup.) And we were admonished if we said "dinner" instead of "supper", because, that, too, was "Yankee". I'm making her sound backwards, and by todays standards it would be. But she was actually a liberal, long before being liberal was popular.

We also found these 38 Specials on the top shelf in her closet. I was shocked. The top one must have been my father's, because it is marked as a service issue. Back in Arkansas, my mother was really good at using a hunting rifle, and I'm sure she felt OK about having these guns in the house. They weigh more than she did, I think, by the time she died.

More unmarked family photos. We found thousands of old photos, many of them stuck between old papers and bills. I'm keeping them all, in hopes of identifying them one day.

A pair of wonderful 1950s era liquor bottles. These were special promotional bottles that liquor stores sold and held bourbon or rum, from what I remember my mother telling me. My mother loved cocktails.

This pocket sized Bible has a strong metal cover. My grandmother Marie gave it to my Dad when he entered the Army, to wear in his breast pocket, to protect his heart against bullets. He was 16 or 17. They shipped him to Germany. She must have been distraught. I don't know if the metal would have stopped a bullet, but I know what's written inside the book most certainly helped him come back safely.

At left is my great grandfather's Bible. Known as "Daddy Doak" he was a Methodist minister in the Ozark hills. At right, two beautiful crocodile covered books from the 1800s that belonged to my great uncle Elmer Busch.

A stunning beaded handbag from the 1900s that belonged to my great great grandmother.

A stash of silver dollars and coins, which my mother stored inside an old tea cannister. Each time my sister and I lost a baby tooth, we put it under our pillow. The Tooth Fairy left one of these coins in its place.

My mother kept this gorgeous old wine bottle from the 50s in her bathroom window for as long as I can remember. The color and shape are unusual for a wine bottle, don't you think?

There's a story behind this big purple vase. In the mid 1950s before my sister and I were born, my parents had a big argument. My father came home carrying this vase filled with red roses as an apology. My mother kept it filled with purple irises from her garden, and later painted them, in this wonderful abstract way below:

The painting hung in the den of the house we grew up in, until just recently. I always thought it was a self portrait of my mother. The way she painted the irises reminded me of her flipped up hair-do:

What do you think? She's definitely an iris.