Brooke: Old house, great style (column)
Special to the Daily
I grew up on a Kansas road called North Hills — a poetic name for a street in the flatlands. We had block parties where, as kids, we decorated bikes and posted fliers along the street. Even if our only job was to bring the hot dog buns, every gathering was special, and all the neighbors knew each other’s names. The neighborhood was a mix of homes — from stylish French-blue shutters for windows that rarely opened, to cluttered driveways with beat-up cars used by the teens learning to drive. When there were tornado warnings, we would call up neighbors from our basements and exchange information about what we could see from our window wells.
At the North Hills house, the kitchen decor was brown — brown cupboards, brown refrigerator, brown pleather chairs. The only trace of color was the white protective cap on the bottom of the metal chair legs that prevented scratching brown-tiled floor. Ugly as it was, the kitchen chairs were the perfect height from which I could kneel as a seven year-old and reach the dye to color my Easter eggs. Mom didn’t seem to mind a little dye splattered in her brown kitchen — it was all part of the case she was secretly building to convince Dad to remodel. Every birthday, good grade card and first time eating frog legs was celebrated with cake and ice cream at that same table. The kitchen also offered plenty of space in which Dad could fly the Thanksgiving turkey, terrifying his young children and yelling, “Kaw, Kaw!” before he stuffed it into the brown oven.
In the center of the family room was the fireplace, where above the mantel, the family portrait was mounted with the name of the ski resort, branded in the lower right corner. I remember the day that family ski photo was taken — a peppy, goggle-tanned photographer at the top of the chair lift had shimmied my family into a 1980s styled pizza train. Mom was so excited: She had the photo enlarged, sealed in a protective tube for safe handling in the mini-van across Colorado and custom framed. That ski photo hung above the mantel for over twenty years, by a seasonal resort photographer, whose personal name we will never know.
Dad kept a pile of logs on the back patio for the family room fireplace. It was Kansas, and there were only a few oak trees and hand-planted evergreens in the yard — none of which ever disappeared. Dad kept the source of the wood pile a mystery, but he was always proud to make a log burning fire with his own hands, all the same. The gas start and fire starters were only if the wood was wet, he would say.
Watching television in the family room was a form of sport — who got to watch their show, who got to sit in the recliner if Dad wasn’t home, who would start wrestling in the middle of the sitcom until someone would scream, “Wait for the commercial to talk!”
In the corner of the family room, there was the cassette player for Mom, who used it to adjust her Bing Crosby Christmas songs when she hung her hand-made stockings — each stocking personally named in red glitter and sized in proportion to each family member, including the 3” stocking she had custom sewn for the family dog, Pupper.
As I look back on the North Hills house, there was comfort knowing neighbors, especially in the big storms. The house had its conveniences, yet it was nice to leave certain things for us to do on our own. The kitchen and the family rooms weren’t that great for entertaining, but they held a place for family on all the special occasions. Sometimes it takes the years, to see the life in a home.
Taryn Brooke lives in Breckenridge.
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