I grew up in an old white American Foursquare farmhouse four miles of gravel south of Dexter, Iowa, on Old Creamery Road. Though none of the rural roads were labeled, and there no longer was a creamery, when we said we lived on Old Creamery Road, everybody knew which one it was.
The house was in the north east corner of the farm with a small pasture to the north against a road running east and west. An American Foursquare typically had four main rooms downstairs and four up.
I loved this house, but my mother did not.
One of my favorite parts of the house was the front porch, toward the road, but we rarely used it unless we had company. But my sister and I played cowgirls there, played with whatever pet we had at the time (and was never allowed in the house), and watch rainstorms from there.
The front door led to the kitchen with a round pedestal table and the white Youngstown cupboards that Dad had installed. Mom decorated the room in pink and green. She even had pink and green square Melmac dishes which were large enough so that Uncle Bill didn’t have to pile food on top of food when he worked with Dad and ate with us. The crank telephone was on the wall near the table. (Our number was 5211, our ring was four shorts.)
North of the kitchen was the living room, with a smaller room off of it to the west, where Mom’s sewing machine was. An oil stove heated the larger room. I remember pulling a tooth, sitting with my back against that cozy stove. The upright piano was in that room, our very first television (black and white), and a maroon plushy sofa where Dad sat with an ashtray on a stand nearby. When the stove was taken down each spring, that room seemed so much larger.
Upstairs wasn’t heated. Gloria and I shared the north bedroom, which had two smaller rooms (above the smaller room below), one empty (about junior high age, that became my very own pink room), and one used for storage—Mom’s trunk with souvenirs of high school and when Dad was in the Air Corps.
The south bedroom upstairs was Mom and Dad’s. It had no closets Dad installed some rods and Mom shirred blue sheets on poles to conceal their clothes. (She’d done the same thing when they were living in a church in Texas during the war.)
Between the bedrooms was our “bathroom” with just a sink and a chemical toilet that Dad had to empty regularly.
The Mud Room
Where did we take baths? Let’s go back down the steep stairs and turn right. We’re behind the kitchen to the west in what we called the “mud room” until Mom changed our terminology to the “utility room.” Our bathtub was a new round galvanized tub placed on the floor by the sink so the soap and rinse water would end up in it.
Men washed up for noon dinner at that sink because it was right inside the back door, the one we usually used from the garage.
That old cob-burning stove in there was handy when the electricity went out. When Mom sewed up a baby pig after its mother had stepped on it, and kept it warm behind that old stove, I decided I’d never marry a farmer.
And when they took out that old stove, Mom let us roller skate in that room. All the floors in the house were covered with linoleum and the floor in the mud room slanted.
How I loved this old house!
The other special places were behind the pedestal table and under the stairway. We called them cubbyholes. Dad’s was the smaller one above, where he kept his watch and billfold and mysterious papers.
The one underneath was large enough that two young girls could sit in there on the floor in the dark and strike flint rocks to get a glow. We kept our treasures in there, birds’ nests and whatever else we’d found as we explored the farm.
What I remember most about those cubbyholes, though, was the strong smell of mice. Mom had to set mousetraps in most of the rooms, especially the kitchen, hating to find mouse pellets among her utensils.
The house had a cellar under the kitchen, but you had to go outside to get to it by a cellar door under the kitchen window. Dad rigged up a shower for himself in that dark damp stony place. It also became the place where I grew moss in jar lids. I’d harvested the moss from the north sides of trees and the soil around them, keeping them moistened in my cellar garden.
The mice, the leaning floors, lack of closets, trying to heat the place. My mother longed for a new house. She’d even drawn up plans for it.
Then one day when Dad’s parents were leaving after a visit, Grandma’s foot broke through a board on the front porch. That triggered some earnest planning and they eventually tore down my childhood mansion.
But my mother got her small green mouse-proof house.