During the last visit to my home town of Des Moines, Iowa, I had an experience I’m sure many old-timers like me can relate to.
I took a good long look at the house in the Beaverdale area in Northwest Des Moines where I lived while growing up. It’s located at the corner of 38th Street and Urbandale Avenue. I parked my rental car in front of the house, then walked up the 38th Street sidewalk about a block – the same sidewalk I used hundreds of times as a kid going to and coming from my elementary school.
I then returned to my car and took a thoughtful look at the front of that old house on the hill. If neighbors saw me standing there, they may have suspected I was casing the neighborhood. But I was just an old guy looking at a 100 year old house that sparked a lot of good memories.
I looked first at the steps leading up to the front porch. It reminded me of the times I sat on those steps during clear evenings and looked at the stars and moon. I wondered how those stars got there, how many there were, how far away they were, and if there were any people living on them.
I then looked at the enclosed front porch. That was my bedroom during the first couple of years after moving to Beaverdale when I was age 9 and 10. At that time, my uncle Dennis and Grandmother Woodard lived with our family of five, and there wasn’t a bedroom available for the youngest kid. So I was relegated to the front porch. But I really enjoyed that situation. No one I knew had a bedroom on a front porch. It made me feel special. My mother always made sure I had plenty of blankets to keep me warm. And my brother John made a crystal radio for me that I listened to while lying in my porch bed.
I then looked up at the two second floor windows. That was my second bedroom, after my uncle moved out. It was the first time ever that I had a bedroom of my own. I even turned my walk-in closet into my own radio station (JMW), but that’s another story.
I then took special notice of the roof area just outside my bedroom windows – the roof covering the front porch. At times when I was upset about something (sulking, perhaps), I would climb out of one of those windows and sit on the roof for a while. While sitting there, my thoughts would quickly move from whatever was troubling me to what I saw in the sky – the clouds and blue sky during the day, the stars and moon at night. This quickly calmed me as I gazed at “the big picture” of nature. Like music, looking at the sky tends to sooth the savage beast.
I then looked to my left and saw the attached greenhouse my father had built during World War II. Those were very busy, stressed-filled days for father. He was a physician with many patients, some being referred to him by other physicians who left for military service. He needed a diversion activity, and that greenhouse was the perfect answer. He raised huge, luscious red tomatoes using special chemicals that he set up to continuously feed into the soil. Chemistry was one of his first-love interests.
An old house is more than just wood, bricks and mortar. It brings back a lot of fond memories.