It wasn’t much to look at. Our little red bangalow was sandwiched so closely between two larger homes that I could literally reach out and touch the house next door from our window. If shades weren’t pulled down, you could even be part of that family’s festivities. On a recent visit to Chicago, I was shocked to see that they’d torn down one of those houses. Yes, there really was a house between us and the apartments above. I would often yell up to those porches from our tiny backyard, in hopes someone would come out and play. Our neighbors planted gardens in the prairie across the street, which was also the best site for vigorous games of tag or hide ‘n seek. It was there my brother got in big trouble for throwing ripened tomato-grenades from his fort. Railroad tracks loomed high on the hill beside the apartments, so there were no beautifully landscaped lawns on which to romp. The sound of train whistles still takes me back to the thrill of catching a huge ball of white chalk that would come sailing from the hand of a kind engineer. Neighborhood kids would yell at the top of their lungs, “Chalk, please, chalk!” It was the highlight of our day when they would actually toss some from the engine window. I loved their generosity though I never understood why they possessed such a treasure. Who needed amusement parks when you had your own neighborhood entertainment center?
My parents bought the house before I was born, so I never knew what it looked like before the remodel. Hardwood floors throughout were eventually covered with wall-to-wall carpeting. Interesting how carpet is removed today to reveal the beauty of natural hardwood. With only two bedrooms for the five of us, my dad added a dormer with two more bedrooms and a second bath. The steep attic steps became a retreat and playground through my early years. I still remember my mother climbing up and down attic steps and then down to the basement to do the laundry. Who needed a fitness center when life made your own stair-stepping machine?
I hated the basement. The furnace had arms that reached into the ceiling to heat the rooms above. The monster came on with a commanding roar which sent me scrambling back up to the safety of our little kitchen. I rarely ventured down there unless someone was by my side. My mother’s canned tomatoes and peaches were stored in the darkest part of that cellar. If I was hungry enough, those tasty treats boosted my courage to quickly retrieve them for supper. A lonely string dangling from a single light bulb at the top of the stairs illuminated the basement with heavy and ominous shadows. Who needed horror movies when your teasing brother turned off the light and locked the basement door, leaving you alone with the monster?
There was something about the front porch of the bungalow that scared me, too. There were little cement stoops on each side of the stairs on which you could perch to wait and watch for friends to come by. But when darkness fell, I was sure the boogeyman had taken my place out there. I still have dreams about someone trying to break in that front door. It was the time of the Untouchables on t.v. which made me fear my own drive-by shootings. My dad often worked the night shift, and with my siblings away at school, my mom and I were left alone in the evenings. Fear consumed me as a child. My father would walk me through the house, looking through every closet and under every bed before he left for work. He always made me feel safer when he was there, but I missed his presence during the night. Who needed the thrill of scary bedtime stories when you had to face the fears of your own reality?
Those walls surrounded my life for nearly 18 years. Their memory cannot easily be erased from my mind. They weren’t all scary memories, however, because inside there lived a wonderful godly family who were devoted followers of Jesus Christ. HE was a living, breathable presence in that home. It was interesting how my friends noticed the peace and loved coming inside.
I’ve often wondered what I’d learn if those walls could talk. Would they tell me how foolish I was to have been afraid? Would they play back the heartfelt prayers of my mother daily calling out her children’s names in prayer? Would they have recorded my father’s nurturing care over his family? Would they reveal the angels who stood guard over every door and window? Would they have noticed the joy and laughter of family dinners and celebrations? Would they tell us about the expressions of love that were part of this family’s normal routine? Would they have seen the devotion, the faithfulness, the commitment of parents who trained us up in the way that we should go? Perfect, no…but endeavoring to say, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Well, the walls don’t have to talk…I already know.