Dad was a traveling salesman. He traveled the back roads of Missouri selling to small town lumber yards long before there were Home Depots and Lowes. Working for Georgia Pacific in the 1960s, Dad knew all the good places to eat – a BBQ place near rail road tracks or a restaurant in the basement of a bygone hotel that once held a swimming pool. Sometimes, in the summer, we would get to travel with him. I loved looking at the fields, cattle, crops riding in the backseat as the car whizzed along. I especially liked looking at old farmhouses. Grey, washed out clapboard structures, often two-storied with windows smashed out, surrounded by brush. I imagined the stories these homes could tell. Were they built by pioneers? Immigrants? How many children were born in the house? How many died there? Were there picnics on the lawn? Who planted the row of trees that form a windbreak? Did it ever have plumbing or electricity? I imagined what it would be like to go into these abandoned homes (if I could summon the courage, wouldn’t there be snakes in the surrounding brush?). Perhaps I would find old furniture, a chair or two. Maybe a long ago treasure such as a box of papers or a chipped dish left behind.
Now, many years later, I think perhaps the imagined stories of these homes were the beginning of my love for a sense of place. Perhaps those early daydreams account for why I reminisce about the home in which I grew up. 7118 was the house number.
Growing up in Prairie Village, Kansas was not somewhere out on the Great Plains prairie. No, I grew up in suburbia, built by the developer JC Nichols (who also built the infamous outdoor shopping center long before others conceived of such an idea, The Plaza, in Kansas City, Missouri). Nichols built affordable homes for WWII GIs returning home. On the street where I grew up, there were two floor plans, a two story cape cod and a single story ranch. Walking down the street was the pattern, cape cod, cape cod, ranch, cape cod, cape cod, ranch. From 71st street to the arched green bridge over Brushy Creek, I knew the names of every family in their homes. And of course, I knew all the floor plans. Every front yard had a sycamore tree in the right of way strip between the sidewalk and the street. Riding my bike I knew every unlevel piece of sidewalk to steer around. I walked to Porter elementary school (now torn down, now Porter Park). Walk to the green bridge, cross over, turn to the left, and follow the creek to school. When I was very young, Nippy, my parents’ dog before I was born, would follow me to school and then return home. Nippy had her tail nipped off. She was black, short and rotund. The neighbor kids called her a pig.
When I moved out of 7118 for the last time at age 20, I sat on the basement stairs that had once terrified me and cried. I had to say good bye to this house, this place, this home, for it was part of my family. So many good things and so many bad things happened here.
On January 25, 2018, my 62nd birthday, 7118 sold for $390,000. I had long been tracking the value of my childhood home on Zillow. I had dreams of being able to purchase it one day. 7118 has been lovingly updated and remodeled. It is difficult to see it as it once was. I poured over the photos on Zillow figuring out what walls were removed, doors relocated, new walls and doors put in. I was obsessed to understand how my childhood home was reborn. Zillow tells me 7118 was built in 1949. I don’t know for sure, but I think Dad bought it 1960 for about $15,000. He once was shocked at the price of milk over a dollar. I think he rolled over in his grave at the value of the home where his children were raised.
I have often thought how to tell my childhood stories. I don’t know if they are unique. Somehow I believe they are important. I believe the rooms of 7118 will help them unfold.