In today’s Writing Challenge we’re asked to write about the home we lived in at age twelve. A house, apartment, RV, foster home, etc. Writing about this relates to another piece I’m working on about living in a bubble, to follow soon. Title is:
About the time I turned twelve, the seventh grade, we moved from a beautiful snow-bound northeastern section of the U.S. that was so far north driving south could get you into Canada! But we were headed even further south, back to tropical Florida to my mother’s childhood home of Jacksonville. My father had been transferred yet again to another U.S. Air Force base. It was probably a good move for my mother, not just for relief from the snow, but to be nearer the warmth of family and friends, a support system she must have appreciated as her marriage to my father continued to be challenging.
We had a house there my father had purchased some time before probably with help from the G.I. bill. He’d even managed to keep the house whenever we were away at another base because his mother-in-law, my grandmother, could house-sit. A blessing for her since she was freed from living in “the projects.”
That house was probably matchbook size by today’s middle class standards, with three tight bedrooms, mine not much more than eight to ten feet square. We had an even tinier kitchen but my mother turned out masterpieces and did a good job of teaching me to do the same. While there was only one small bathroom for the four or five of us, there was a large front and back yard that my mother enjoyed making blossom and where we had barbecues and took turns churning the ice cream maker.
But small as that tract house seemed in a new subdivision in the segregated South, especially visiting it in later years, it was large to us, as those houses seemed to most families back then.
It made us feel large!
It meant we were in the Middle Class!
But that meant little to me then. I longed to get out of that house, away from segregation and my parents’ bickering. From infancy I’d been spoiled by the protective bubble enjoyed by military families, living all over the country in nice homes around different kinds of people. Having my vision of the world expanded. I’d been raised to believe life was better “out there” somewhere. I “missed out” on the trials of the working class in general and African-Americans in particular, especially in the South.
Our “civilian” house in Florida provided us a similar kind of protective bubble. Behind well-tended lawns, where there seems to have been far less crime and domestic abuse than seems the norm today, lived a mix of working class and well-educated black families who took care of each other as well as they took care of their homes. Few people cared about ones background and most felt good about anyone who was able to advance. But I took it all for granted.
The grownups probably knew how fortunate they were, even though everyone had to work hard. I was a mature adult before discovering how much worse life was for people without our advantages. Not that we were by any stretch of the imagination rich, or that everyone escaped the typical challenges with jobs, or money, or illness. But it felt more like a group effort than it does today. It felt as if our house was the entire neighborhood.
We were “safe”. We enjoyed a modicum of what society said life “should” be like, free of struggling just to keep food on the table, or embarrassment about our address. We were pretty much shielded from racial strife. I rode my bike everywhere and walked miles to and from school afraid of nothing except an unleashed dog! And there was always someone watching if you were where getting out of line!
Only now do I understand how much my father took pride in his ability to provide such a life for his family when many black men could not. Or my mother, who cared just a bit about appearances, feeling comfortable mingling with just about anyone.
Our house was very large!
Only now when the concept of a middle class seems in danger, with hindsight, do I realize how large.
I was truly blessed.