What is it that turns a house into a home? Every house seems to have an atmosphere that oozes from the walls and floors, you can go into different homes and immediately feel comfortable but not all houses make you feel that way.
The humblest home can make you feel welcome and happy to stay a while. I think this is something that it has absorbed from the people living there over the years.
During my life I have lived in a variety of houses but not all of them have felt like home. My first home, my mother’s house was kept immaculately clean, it smelled of furniture polish and there was never a hair out of place. The “front” room, as it was called was kept for “best” but I honestly never remember it being used as it was always cold. Like most English homes of that time period, it was heated by individual fireplaces in different rooms, even all the bedrooms. However, I never saw a fire lit in any of the rooms except the family room, so this is where all the action took place.
It was a fairly small room with a dining table and two chairs plus two big comfortable arm chairs. My mother and older brother lived there. I lived a couple of miles away with my grandma. My parents had separated when I was two so my mom had to go out to work. My brother was seven years older than me so he stayed with my mom and got himself ready for school. I was packed off to grandma’s as I needed care and stayed there until I was eleven. This situation meant that I hardly ever saw my brother and we both grew up as an ‘only’ child. He was a bully and used his fists on both me and my mom so we never became close. As we aged he and his wife never had children and were not particularly fond of our noisy four, so visits were kept to a minimum. My family came to Canada when I was twenty nine so we never really got to know one another. He passed away several years ago but, sadly, it didn’t leave any hole in my life.
On weekends Grandma and I would take the bus to my mom’s house and stay there till Sunday night. On Saturdays mom and I cleaned the house. She would apply furniture polish to everything that wasn’t covered in fabric and my job would be to buff it all to shining glory. I asked my mom why all this was done weekly when nobody ever sat in the best room of the house, she had no answer for this so we just kept cleaning it. Grandma took care of making the big Sunday meal while my mom and I went to church. Sunday afternoons were spent reading or playing Monopoly, probably the only time my mom had money in her hands. I was always glad to get back to the easy going atmosphere of Gran’s place.
In summer the big Sunday meal did not happen, instead gran’s entire family met at grandma’s house at 1.00pm for “the walk”. Between the four brothers and sisters present were at least a dozen kids, I was the eldest as my brother never came to these events.. Two other sisters lived in different parts of England but if they happened to be visiting they joined us on the walk.
Gran’s home was about a three mile walk from The Barn. This was an old Saxon barn with a manor house situated in what had once been fabulous grounds. The grounds had long since been returned to their natural state but peacocks still remained strutting around. The old barn had been made into a tea room and was a very popular place for families to go together. Mom would get a huge jug of tea and a cup for everyone and we would eat our sandwiches from home. Each family would contribute something, a home made cake or cookies and it was nice to spend the afternoon playing games.
However, it seemed to be a tradition that one of the sisters or sisters-in-law would be out of favour so she or sometimes her whole family would not be present that week. I never thought about it then but what an awful way to be. My mum was always in attendance so I think that maybe she was the instigator of who was to be picked on that week. I was always a bit of a dreamer so didn’t think to ask why auntie so and so was missing. Grandma didn’t seem to get dragged in to whatever feud was going on but I don’t know why she put up with her family being in constant turmoil.
Grandma’s house was a treasure trove, she also lived in the family room with the big fire that always had a huge soup pot on one of the hobs and a big kettle simmered constantly on the other hob. Within minutes if going into grandma’s home, the visitor had a cup of tea. It was a welcoming home but had lots of space and drawers full of wonderfully mysterious treasures that made life interesting for a small child. The house had become a repository for all the left-overs from each of her six children’s lives and, sometimes, grandma would remove some of them and tell me the stories that each article had been involved with.
Grandma was not a person to be fooled with, she handed out swift, harsh punishments when she felt they were needed but she forgave just as quickly. Her house seemed to have warmth and love oozing from every pore.
It was my sanctuary and I always felt loved and secure. Sitting with gran, by the fireside, with a cup of cocoa and some fire browned toast is one of the warmest memories if my young life.
When I married Dave we moved into our first home, a run down terraced cottage with no indoor plumbing except from a cold water tap in the kitchen. This was what I had grown up with so no big deal to me but Dave’s parents home had a bathroom and instant hit water. He soon adapted to the lack of amenities and the trek to the outdoor toilet was no big deal for him. While he felt it was inconvenient, I found it downright scary and wouldn’t go there after dark unless Dave came too. The first flush of married love soon waned when he had to stand at the back door and talk to me while I performed my bodily functions.
However, we both worked on making our little home into a bright and cheerful place to live. I inherited an old treadle sewing machine which I soon learned to use. A nearby cotton mill sold fents. These were end pieces of woven fabrics, sometimes towelling and sometimes a fabric called candlewick, which was used for bed covers. It was cotton with rows of yarn stitched to one side. You cut between the yarn and it made little fluffy tufts stick up. I would dye it various pastel shades but the yarn stayed white giving a lovely contrast to the coloured background. When this was hemmed it made beautiful bed covers which I used for the baby cribs then, as the children grew, single beds. The towels just needed hemming and they were good to go. These fabrics were acquired for mere pennies but made our home look warm and cosy.
I honestly do not think that it takes much money to build a home, it takes hard work and lots of love. Money can buy all sorts of beautiful things but a home is not represented by antique furniture of quality paintings hanging on the wall, it is the atmosphere that gives it character and this cannot be bought.