The Big House

I remember when the house was big and we were little.

A big house.  A lot of family.   More little people than big people.

Cowboy stew.

Knowing neighbors and walking to school.

Believing in Santa Claus.

Crying baby.  Laughing baby.   Big brothers and little sisters.  Baby brother.  Baby sister.  Oh God do I have to baby sit again!   Stinky diapers for years it seemed, no, for years for real.  Lots of little people added up to a big family in a big house.

Church on the weekends.  The holidays and holy days.  The smell of candle wax.  The smell of incense.  Our Father.  Saying prayers and singing choirs.

Birthday cakes.

Fighting over the best chair -‘calling it’  meant it was yours even when you left to go to the bathroom.   Squeezing in around the kitchen table where there were plenty of chairs.

Mad about having to do the dishes.

Getting yelled at.   Running through the big house.  Riding bikes and roller skates.  Big wheels and little people.   Ice cream man.  The trash men.  The mail man, George – who was tall and skinny and tanned.   The newspaper boy Lawrence who was incredibly responsible.

Life was school and uniforms.  Lunch and dinner.  Sometimes dinner was breakfast, and there was nothing better than pancakes for dinner.   Breakfast meant oatmeal or cream of wheat.  Mom said to say “grace” and we all yelled “GRACE” and she never thought that funny.  Any meal was big even if the meal was plain.  Feeding lots of littles oatmeal, toast and glasses of milk can be a production.

Play was loud and meant for outside.  With footballs, kickballs, brothers, sisters and neighbors.  We got dirty and tore holes in our jeans.  There was nothing that cost much and we didn’t have much to spend it on anyway.

Pop was a treat and no one heard of eating out unless it was an enormously special occasion where kids sat quietly and meekly surprised at the specialness of sitting in a restaurant.   And being served.  And one of us being so relieved at not having to do the dishes.

Everyone in the big house would quiet down when the television screen crackled coming to life in it’s glorious green screeny kind of way.  Watching a man step on the moon.  Watching how other families lived in black and white, then how they lived on a mountain.

There was a thing called war that we only knew by playing it.  And it was over when just  one of us got tired of playing it and wandered off and the rest dropped our arms by our sides begging the wanderer to come back.  Shoulders were shrugged.   War was over.

The big house had a front door that visitors used.  Side doors that kids used.  Back door for quick access to the back yard.  Plenty of places to hide in.  But never enough room to find escape and peace.

Music lived in the big house.  It was alive with Johnny Cash, The Kingston Trio, Dead Skunks, Johnny Horton, Petula Clark, The Beatles, The Dubliners, Barry Manilow, The Mamas and The Papas, Simon and Garfunkel, Three Dog Night, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Peter, Paul and Mary, Pete Seeger, not to mention a couple hundred other musical acts.  And when dad laid down on the living room floor with the stereo blaring and his songs playing, no matter how big the house was, the house wasn’t big enough to hold in that sound or know that man of the house was laying claim to the entire house as his musical chamber for the entire day.  So you better be enjoying his music.

 For awhile the big house seemed to get bigger as the family grew.   The attic turned in to “the third floor” and new residents inhabited new bedrooms.  Eventually the basement turned into “the basement” where another bedroom was inhabited and no one was fooled by the older inhabitants having easy access to that old side door that was traditionally used by little kids running in and out with dirty feet.

Suddenly it seemed like the big house stopped growing but the residents didn’t.

Years went by.  The family went by.

I went back to visit the big house a few times, long after moving out.  I was stunned at how small it appeared.  When did dimensions become so small?   When did it become so narrow?  Where was the gargantuan structure where the ceilings loomed, the doors withstood the slammings, the walls withstood our rough housing, the entire existence of it seemed to be thriving with life?

It seemed to be so quiet and forlorn.

And though I knew someone lived there.

I walked away kind of sad.

Knowing it didn’t feel like it was a big house any more either.

The Growing Up House

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44 thoughts on “The Big House

  1. It’s all relative, isn’t it? You captured the memories well, Colleen. Nice imagery!

  2. Anonymous says:

    :’) Oh, the memories that came flooding back…. how I love that house and wish we could all go back, even if just for a day, to a time we were all together and the house, and mom and dad, were bigger than life.

  3. Robin says:

    Wow. You brought back a ton of memories for me, CM. Thank you. 🙂
    One of my brothers bought my parents home when they decided to move into a small in-law apartment that is attached to my sister’s home. It’s strange how the house seemed to shrink for me over the years, but I bet my brother’s children (as they were growing up) all thought it was big.

    • You’re welcome Robin. I know. It’s amazing. My uncle bought his parents home. It is literally ten, if not fifteen times bigger because he built on. But otherwise, our homes seem to shrink in size compared to our memories of them. If I had to choose, I would choose the memories to get larger any way. 🙂

  4. Anonymous says:

    Oh, the memories that came flooding back as I read! So bittersweet. It is so much more than a house, it’s like a portal to our youth. What I’d give to go back, if only for a day, all of us together, when mom and dad and that beautiful house were all bigger than life.

  5. I loved that! You said so much in such a few words. Thanks for taking us with you down memory lane. 🙂

  6. Good question: how does that happen?
    I went back to visit my old house from more than 55 years ago and had the same experience. I had the same feeling about the village we lived in, which seems so huge. Walking anywhere took forever when I was young. The last time I visited, I walked from one end of the main street to the outskirts in a little over 30 minutes.
    We were smaller than. Now we’re taller and we know much, much more. ❤ ❤

  7. April says:

    Sometimes it is kind of sad that we have to grow up, isn’t it? We used to live across the street from a 10 acre park. The thing was HUGE. Today, not so much and unfortunately houses have popped up all around it, making the park seem even smaller.

    • Yes, sometimes April. Or at least that we outgrow some of the things that were so valuable about our childhood. We get in such a hurry to be “big” that we quickly relinquish what is wonderful about being small. And we lose it. And can’t go back to it. And when we realize it….we recognize we didn’t pay enough attention to even retain enough details sometimes.

  8. Heartafire says:

    Oh I love this nostalgic trip back to childhood. That big house that doesn’t seem so big anymore. Fabulous writing Chatter!

  9. Jean says:

    What a great picture you painted. Thank you so much!

  10. tric says:

    I think we lived very similar lives. Thankfully my house still has my mom and sister in residence, the back door is always open, and my bedroom waiting, with a hot water bottle in situ.

  11. markbialczak says:

    Oh, my dear buddy Colleen, it still holds such big memories!

  12. Anytime! I’ll be happy to walk with you. 🙂

  13. jmgoyder says:

    I so love the way you write (and draw!)

  14. pepe says:

    you let me walk down my childhood memory lane…thank you for such a nostalgic writing and i am glad that i have those wonderful memories with me.

  15. Patty says:

    thanks for the memories! It got me thinking about my childhood and how when I went back to the one house we lived in it I relived all those memories, the happy and the sad ones. I often think back of when I returned which was 30 yrs ago, and I pray the families who have lived there over the years were as blessed as we were with happy memories and that the sad ones would be few.

    • I hope so too. And what a nice prayer, that the sad memories would be few. I wouldn’t mind going back again. I took one of my daughters to the house I talk about here, years ago. To her it seemed huge. To me….so very small.

  16. reocochran says:

    I missed a few days of blogging, was already behind and now, sorry to be posting comments when the place is closed down!
    I used to go back to houses where we lived while I was younger, they look so small but the trees (especially Christmas trees) sure did grow to tower over the houses.
    Your beautiful account was touching. Loved the game of war the way you described begging the ones who were quitting to keep on warring. Also, the noisy kids and different aspects of the family warmed my heart. I love all of the music you shared, especially feel like your Dad and mine would have been just fine together. My Dad loved kids and dogs and talking! He listened to music with his eyes closed transported out of himself, then he would get up and dance and shake, to Elvis or Johnny Cash!

    • Thank you for loving this Robin. 🙂 I forgot about the trees! There was one tree, right smack dab in the middle of the front yard. It was a little front yard. Precious little grass because of the huge tree and lots of little feet. That tree seemed like a monster. I remember writing: I look out my window and see, a beautiful lovely big tree. 🙂

      I don’t remember my dad dancing and shaking!!!!!!!!!!! 🙂

  17. Jim McKeever says:

    Colleen, as I read this post, a whole movie of memories played across my mind — ping pong table in the basement, old vinyl records that skipped (everything from Johnny Mathis to CSN&Y), green plastic Army men, Wiffle ball, my Tiger Joe tank, intense Scrabble games, my dad’s beat-up transistor radio, etc. — and I kept thinking, “I wonder if she went back and found the house to be much smaller …” And there you did. Sigh. Another one of your fine examples of the unique & universal human experience. Thank you for that. Jim

    • You’re welcome Jim. As I was reading YOUR comment it’s funny, I was having a replay of the 8 mm in my head my dad took of us as kids. It’s wonderful that we can be so intertwined with the concepts of our childhoods.

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