Sunday, March 12, 2006

moving to the mountains

My dad retired from the Army in 1964 and we moved to the mountains. My mom said that after moving 21 times in 20 years, and having to be social and neighborly even when she didn't feel like it, she wanted to buy 50 acres in the middle of nowhere and build a house right in the middle of it, so she could look out her window and not see another soul or house.

Well, that is exactly what they did. It was definitely the middle of nowhere, miles down a narrow dirt road, 50 acres of mountain land. It had a house already (a real fixer-upper). The house had 4 rooms - two bedrooms, living room and kitchen. No hallway, just the 4 rooms in a square with a door going between each one. It was late November when we moved.

The Army had packed up all our stuff and moved it for us via the Bekins Moving Lines. Everything we had was in Bekins boxes and everything had a green Bekins sticker on it somewhere. For years we would still find those stickers on lamps and furniture. Anyway, the big tractor trailer left our duplex in LA, packed full, and headed to the mountains, following our directions. When the truck finally got to our driveway, it was probably a shock to the driver that making that first turn was not going to happen. It was a pretty sharp curve, but not really that noticeable in a car. It took about 5 hours of cutting trees on one side and laying them down on the other side before the truck finally made it to the little house. Then the fun really began, 8 rooms of furniture into the 4 room house.

There was a little cast iron heater in the living room that burned coal to heat the house. There was cold running water in the kitchen sink, running gravity from a spring up the hill. There was the outhouse up by the barn. There was a bathtub in the kitchen which we could fill with water heated on the stove. We spent that first winter without an indoor toilet, and as soon as it got warm enough, my dad closed in the back porch for a bathroom.

The story goes that we were living on $250 a month Army retirement pay. My folks had to draw upon knowledge and experience from their childhoods and we soon had a garden planted, corn, beans, tomatoes. Cows in the pasture and chickens in the yard. It was like going back in time, not just the home life of farming, gardening, canning, etc., but life in the small town and school had the same time warp feeling.

I will never forget my first day at the new school, the kids were all gathered around me to hear the way I talked (you should have heard their accents) and when they heard that I had moved all the way from Alabama, they couldn't believe it. I said it's not that far, just the neighboring state, you know, right next to Georgia. I later realized that the majority of these kids had not been out of the county, much less the state. I was the new kid in school for about 4 years, until we went to high school.

The memories and experiences I left behind in LA were nothing compared to the ones I would have here in the mountains. The solitude and beauty of the country soon won me over, making me wonder why I ever wanted sidewalks or rows of neighborhood houses to live next to.


Motherkitty said...

Susan, I can visualize your parents' little four-room house in the middle of the woods, all ramshackled with an outhouse. I can also visualize your hard-working parents taking that little house and making it into a real home for you and your family filled with love and beauty.

What a great story!

doubleknot said...

Wonderful memories. Though we only had five acres I tried just about everything except the out side bathroom. I need to look through my album I have of my life before the big change - city life - my work life didn't last long but I enjoyed it while it did. Now on disability I can still do somethings. I want to can something - used to do all my tomatoes and vegtables - it was something I really enjoyed doing.

Abandoned in Pasadena said...

In 1962 I moved from California to Kentucky...what a cultural change that was, but fortunately for me I have never had an outhouse. I still cannot understand everything people say to me...they're country talk and accents are hard to understand at times.

Your family lived on exactly the same income that we lived on in 1962 for about 3 months, because of a cut back at work. It must have been very hard for your parents and your family of four. At least you had a garden with fresh vegatables to supplement the family income and it sounds like your parents did quite well, buying 50 acres and having some livestock on that income. You must be proud of them. Thanks for sharing another of your wonderful stories of growing up.

jellyhead said...

Thanks Susan for this charming tale!

Did your family renovate the interior of the house further, or stay with just the 4 rooms?

susan said...

Looking back, I don't really remember this time as being hard, just lots of changes, lifestyle, friends, etc. (I guess I blocked out the outhouse experience). As far as livestock, maybe I should clarify - my brother and I each bought a calf with some savings we had (it was supposed to be an investment - we could sell them later for a profit). I remember fresh milk with the cream on top and even making butter in a churn! As far as the chickens, my dad got a job driving a truck at the local chicken hatchery and would bring home the culled out runt chicks for us to raise. Lots of eggs gathered and sold from that venture. The fresh vegetables were definitely a perk, can't beat that taste. As far as that little house, it was an okay place to live, a roof over our heads, but not part of the overall plan as seen by my parents, so we lived there for about 3 years until my dad finished our new one in the middle of the 50 acres.

Alice said...

Oh Susan, you know how much I relate to this story, don't you? We also had four rooms, for 5 people, which eventually became 9 people. I remember the lack of electricity, running water, any sort of refrigeration, no radio or TV, and of course, the outside pan toilet, which we had for many years. That was in the middle of 100 acres from which we had to make a living by milking cows.

Zoey said...

Loved your story, Susan, though I can't imagine getting up in the middle of the night and having to go to the outhouse!

Kerri said...

Enjoyed reading your memories of growing up years. We too had an outhouse until I was about 9 or 10....can't really remember when we got an indoor toilet. I was growing up in NSW,Australia at the time (now living in upstate NY). Your family certainly had a big adjustment to make! Interesting reading your other posts too.