Archives for September 2010

A Ranch Original

In the rancher next door to the painted house lives Mrs. L.  She and Mr. L built the house in 1954, and she lives there still.  She is 90 years old and a good neighbor from another era.  She bakes cake for new neighbors and bakes for those of us on the street for Christmas. 

Mrs. L agreed to a morning on her back patio to let me ask questions about the 50+ years she has spent in her home.  When she and Mr. L moved in 56 years ago, theirs was the only house on the street.  They had moved from the other side of town from a traditional two-story home.  Mr. L gravitated to this contemporary, new style of ranch homes.  While Mrs. L preferred a more traditional look, she looked forward to one-level living with small children.  The new ranch was in “the country” and had no phone lines.  But they did enjoy milk delivery in the morning until about 1956 when service stopped.

With the new house came the need for new furniture.  Mrs. L picked out new living room and dining room furniture–all of which remains in her house unchanged to this day.  When I asked her what she thought about people today who want to change their furniture at each new trend or at the onset of boredom, she replied, “I’ve always been contented.  I’ve always liked it so why change it?”  Some things had to change, however, because they were old or “weatherworn and beaten,” like some beloved window treatments.  Over these, she lamented, “Lord, I loved those drapes.”

Most of the floors are covered in carpet, but, indeed, there are hardwood floors underneath.  According to Mrs. L, waxing and maintaining the wood floors was back-breaking work.  When everyone started putting down carpet in the late 50s, she decided she needed carpet, too.

There was always plenty of work to do around the house with 3 boys.  Mrs. L starched and ironed all the clothes, underwear, sheets, and pillowcases.  Dinners for the family were homemade–beans, pork chops, dressing, cobbler pies, hamburgers and steaks by the outdoor fire pit.  Sundays were special with one of her jello molds.  She calls herself “just an old country cook.”  She had to make her own chicken broth since it was not available in a can, and she had to buy a whole chicken fryer to cut up herself.

“We ladies today have it easy, don’t we?” I asked her.

She replied, “Oh, honey, Lordy, Lordy!”

Being a wife and mother is hard, she acknowledged, any time–but in a different way.  Women today have help from their husbands, she explained, and they can send their children to kindergarten-which wasn’t the norm when she was younger.  She praises her husband for working years and years daylight to dark to provide generously for his family, but he never diapered one of his boys.

“So he didn’t help out around the house?”

“No, ma’am!” Mrs. L said with a hearty laugh.

As her sons grew older, Mrs. L spent her time volunteering at their school and at the hospital.  She worked in a snack bar where she served homemade food.  Bridge was also a favorite pastime; although she oftentimes felt guilty for playing with cards, considered a sinful item by her father.  And she felt she should be more constructive with her time.

Mrs. L also enjoyed gardening and participating in the local Garden Club.  She has developed her own impressive boxwood garden in her backyard.  Consisting of over 150 boxwoods, the garden is the culmination of over 40 years of rooting the boxwoods from cuttings.  Every single boxwood started as a cutting in her side rooting garden until she could transfer it over to the formal garden.

The bathrooms still have the original tile that Mrs. L picked out in 1954.  Maroon, pink, and grey.  “I don’t know why–I hate grey,” she told me, reassuring me that we all have our decorating missteps.  When I told her that grey is so popular right now, she said, “Lord, here I was wanting to get rid of it!”

When her boys left home, she felt the loneliness of the empty nest.  She worked at a campsite where she “worked like a man.”  And, later, she sought employment in the hardware department of the local Sears.  Mrs. L was a regular customer there and another salesperson encouraged management, “You ought to hire this woman–she owns about every tool we sell.”  Hired!  And she worked for the Sears hardware department for 18 years and “enjoyed every minute of it.”  She continued, “I always got good reviews, and it’s because I worked hard.”

These days Mrs. L enjoys the company of lots of visitors to the house she has made home for 56 years.  She usually has a loaf of banana bread, corn bread, or one of her delicious pound cakes fresh from the oven.  Once I stopped by to give her some homemade cookies and I came back home with warm banana bread.  She is so generous and always has a smile.  I sometimes ask her, “Oh, are my kids too loud outside when they are playing?”  And she always responds, “I love it–it reminds me of the sounds of my boys playing when they were young.”

I loved getting the stamp of approval from Mrs. L when we did our exterior redo.  I had hoped that she wasn’t too attached to the way our house looked over the years.  Turns out, she never liked the color of the siding with the red brick on the side of the house.  She likes it much better now that it is all grey.  It has been so interesting also hearing about the way our house has evolved over the years.  She recounts all the previous owners and when and what renovations they did to the house.

Many thanks to Mrs. L for sharing her history and home with me and the readers here.  I wish I could serve up to each one of you a slice of her pound cake with this post–for just a taste of how sweet she is.