I spent my formative years in a space being ostensibly homeschooled. There was also home birthing, home businesses, home gardening, dreams of homesteading, and then home churching.
One of the main contributing problems to the abuse and neglect was that we almost never left home.
Seriously. Towards the end of it I would sometimes be begging my mom to let me go to the grocery with her because I hadn’t gotten out in weeks. I remember sitting outside and staring at the latch on the backyard gate, wishing I could just open it and go somewhere, anywhere, but I was forbidden. The experience was much more like a prison than a home.
Also, of the former fundamentalist homeschoolers who have shown me pictures of their childhood homes, it seems many if not most came from spaces that look either filled with ghosts or trashy people and signs of trauma. They certainly don’t look like small impressionable children should be living and being educated there. I have no pictures, as they simply weren’t taken, but mine was no different.
Among the pile of dirty secrets in the Quiverfull/Christian patriarchy world is the dirty secret that the “home” everything was based around is usually physically more like what you’d expect in a slum or shantytown. Except with actual slum living the people are very poor but at least do their best to try to keep things clean and orderly.
But when everything is spiritual, the physical end of life will suffer outright neglect. Too many kids and too little money for repairs, combined with outsize expectations for tithing (10% of a one-person home business income is gonna be what?), and a view that end times are likely coming in our lifetimes doesn’t bode well for healthy and safe domestic considerations being a priority.
The half of a rented one bedroom duplex house I spent my first decade of life in was neglected and decrepit. Soft spots on the ceiling we put buckets under when it rained. Soft spots on the warped linoleum floor you couldn’t step on or you’d be helping the termites underneath win their quest. Opening a kitchen drawer without expecting to see a cockroach or two running for dear life wasn’t possible.
I shared a desintegrating double bed (straw and springs visible from dry-rotted ripped spots) with four other kids and usually my mom, all sleeping sideways. I got tall enough to where my feet hung off the edge and sometimes cockroaches crawled on them, probably to get to a water source – a drippy AC unit nearby that left black mold and mildew all down the wall underneath, making the room smell about as musty as you’d expect.
It was cluttered with baskets of laundry and toys, but if I wanted to sit down, it was only going to be on the bed or in my Dad’s room with permission (he had the former living room repurposed with a king-size water bed and a desk with a computer, the cleanest and nicest space in the house) or on the kitchen folding chairs, or in the yard. This is because the tiles were coming up in the bathroom and the crushed orange carpet in the bedroom was so filthy you barely wanted your feet on it. Occasionally it got swept, but only occasionally. We didn’t own a vacuum cleaner.
In winter (thankfully rare in New Orleans) it sometimes got so chilly in there that you could see your breath or watch the toilet steam after you’d used it. We turned on the gas stove burners and wore layers when it got that cold, but the only space heater we had stayed in my Dad’s room unless he felt like sharing and leaving it on in the bathroom or hallway.
Overall it was poverty and neglect at a level most would describe as third world and it was utterly unnecessary, only happening because of my parents’ religious beliefs and poor accompanying life choices.
I describe this experience not to shock or harp on the past, but to provide a backdrop for what I’m doing now. My husband and I have been remodeling a 1920’s fixer upper bungalow since May, purchased after its previous elderly owner passed away. It’s in greater Boston, 972 square feet, and has two bedrooms, two baths (one in the unfinished basement).
With the help of my husband’s family, we ripped out parquet wood floors, old carpet and linoleum and tile, and hired someone to restore and repair the hardwood floors underneath. We stripped out wallpaper, had a contractor skim the walls with smooth plaster, and I picked paint colors and repainted everything.
At times this has all been very triggering to me. The smells associated with removing a soggy and ruined bathroom floor, for example. The feel of a gush of cold water when someone else turns on a faucet while you’re showering. The dust and grittiness and general old house problems. Even the creaking floorboards and the rattling noises old wood windows make when large trucks go by brought up memories and feelings.
The bathtub I stripped a poor refinishing job out of is a beautiful old white porcelain-covered cast iron one. And it’s also the exact same type I took baths in as a kid.
Even though there were no cockroaches here, a mouse found its way into our pantry just before Christmas, and when we redid the floors, two floorboards had to be replaced due to termite damage from a long time ago.
So often all these things from my past felt like they were here again, around me. It was sometimes hard to push through. I hung a nice hammock from the shed and the pear tree in the back and would go take a nap this summer when it got to be too much. Then I’d try again. I napped almost every day.
Because more than anything I wanted to take a space like this and make it home. It is what I had always wanted. Something that now that I’m grown and free and away, I could do. So I did.
And I wasn’t alone in it. I was the one there all the time playing general contractor – the person with the vision – but my husband and in-laws helped with the big projects – fixing plumbing problems, getting and installing new kitchen appliances and fixtures, and then we had those that needed contractors, like getting electrical repairs, switching from oil to gas heat, putting in a new on-demand water heater.
I appreciated the help immensely, but it was also hard to have people in and out all day and not feel like I had much of any privacy. So that was also triggering. As was the praise and worship music one crew liked to listen to while working.
I tried to keep busy and work on projects. I saved and rewired some 1940’s light fixtures. I restored a wood bathroom medicine cabinet. I designed a vintage hexagon tile pattern for the bathroom floor and switched out the appropriate tiles with a bent butter knife.
I picked out a kitchen layout, then took a saw and a crowbar to a lath and plaster kitchen wall to expose a beautiful white brick chimney (that now needs a thimble hole patch and floating shelves).
I accidentally killed a working 1920’s doorbell. Some picture molding for the dining room got broken during removal. My husband and I had an epic argument about a poorly painted bedroom door, and the installation of a sink and toilet, and a couple of other random things. But all of these things were survivable and we survived them and we still like each other.
My bank account looked sad and tired by the end of it all, but my arms looked healthy from all the manual labor.
I still have some paint splotches I need to get off the floor, shelves to build, concrete countertops to form and install (meantime we have plywood, yay) and touch up painting to do. There are 18 antique windows that will need reglazing (a planned spring project). And don’t even get me started on the aluminum siding covering up what was once a gorgeous cedar shingle bungalow exterior (handicapped ramp and aluminum awnings since removed).
This is how the place I live in now looks on an ordinary day. I didn’t straighten up before taking this picture or try to make it look like it’s in a magazine. Maybe I’m partial, but it’s still *gorgeous* now, right?
After all that “home”-based stuff and talk growing up I think it’s poignant to realize that this is the first time I’ve ever really felt like I had an actual home.
I think about where I’ve come from and where I’ve gotten to, both in this remodel and in life, and it feels really good. My home dreams were always simple. I wanted to be able to leave and come home to someplace warm and welcoming, shared with someone I loved. This winter I have that.
By next winter I’ll have installed a wood stove and it will be even better 🙂