It’s hard for a kid who’s grown up by the ocean imagining life in America’s largest land-locked city. The trip to your new home is long and you are restless. You already miss your old home, you miss your best boy, and you miss the ocean. Crabby and tired, you just want to get where you’re going and be done with it.
Your new home won’t be ready for you to move into for a little while, so your family stays in a motel for a few days before you see the house. It has been vacant for some time, the inside needs a thorough cleaning and the outside is wildly overgrown. Your parents hire a cleaning crew and get busy, doing everything from mopping the filth off the floors and polishing them to clearing brush that has taken over. In less than a week, the moving truck arrives and you are ready to move in.
The first time you drive up the long gravel drive, you stare in wonder, your mouth agape. Your new home is a mansion. A real mansion, three stories high, ivy-covered brick with Spanish tile roof, and huge trees lining the drive and towering over the 5-acre property. Inside, you marvel at the floors, black and white Italian marble in a square pattern all throughout the downstairs in the living room, dining room and sunroom. The tall ceilings are some sort of raised relief, and there’s even a real crystal chandelier in the dining room. Brass wall sconces with dangling crystals seem very glamorous, and the swinging door that leads to the dining room from the butler’s pantry and kitchen is neato. The front staircase in the living room looks like something from a Hollywood movie, with intricately carved woodwork and a sort of stage-like landing. There’s also a back staircase over by the butler’s pantry and kitchen, right over the basement stairs.
The back stairs go all the way up to the third floor, to the ballroom and the servants’ quarters, which will be your brothers’ bedrooms. An ancient claw foot tub sits in the bathroom between bedrooms, and an attic tops off the ballroom. Downstairs on the second floor, there are three hallways! The main hallway is long and wide, with big closets and four bedrooms. The master bedroom where your parents will sleep is massive, and there are hallways with bathrooms and walk-in closets between the bedrooms on either side of the house. Your bedroom is at the end of the main hallway on the left, across from your parents’ room, and at the very end of the house, there’s a big porch with a slate floor. All told, there are seven bedrooms, not quite one for everyone. The house is huge, and you are completely charmed. You and your little brother explore and play hide and seek while everyone else helps to get settled in.
Either the ceilings on the first floor are very tall, or you are very small. The rooms are enormous. Just the living room is 1000 square feet; the sunroom and dining room are a little smaller. The sunroom has library shelves for your mom’s many books, and windows all around to let in the light. Nooks and crannies abound throughout the house. And there are four bathrooms, not counting the potty hidden away in the basement. There will still be times when even those are not enough for your large family. The full basement is a dark, creepy dungeon, with laundry room, furnace room, coal room, hidden potty closet, and several others that are just there. The kitchen has room for the green formica dining table and matching vinyl-covered, metal chairs, as well as for the refrigerator, two stoves, dishwasher and lots of cabinets that reach to the ceiling. A porch off the kitchen holds another double-door refrigerator and more storage area. There’s even a contraption called a dumb-waiter, but it doesn’t work. Little doors in the walls over the back stairs hide the laundry chute, where you put your dirty clothes and they go right downstairs to the laundry room!
Outdoors, once the brush is removed, you discover an apple orchard, some other fruit trees and a grape arbor. Wild strawberries grow out in the back, and a stream meanders through the property. The house has a well and a pump, with its own little brick house. In the side of the hill, there’s another little stone building they call a spring house. It’s cool and damp in the summer, but it feels good to go in out of the heat. Little bridges cross the stream in several places. The garage has four bays, with a pit for the men to climb in and work underneath the cars, and a little storage room on the side. Woods border the large open field in the back, and beyond them, a ravine with thick vines. On the other side is a subdivision. In the center of the circle driveway is an ancient cistern, disguised amongst a grove of fragrant lilacs.
There are acres over which to roam, explore, run and play, but there are few kids around to play with. You are impatient for school to start in the fall so that you can meet all the new people on your bus. Over the remaining summer days, the house gets painted inside, workmen make some repairs, and your dad puts in a new bathroom with sunny yellow tile and two minty green sinks. He even builds tile bench in to make a sit-down shower, where you can plop-plop your wet fanny up and down and make funny noises. You meet the few kids in the neighborhood, all older than you, but good for playing kickball and hide and seek until dark. By the time school begins, you still miss the ocean and your best boy, but the house has become your home and you can’t imagine living anywhere else.
All the kids on the bus are very impressed by your big house. Now that you have lived there for a little while, it’s just your house. Because you live in what looks like a mansion, they think you are rich. You are far from it, but you have no idea what rich even means. You make some friends, but you don’t dress the way the other girls do, and you have very thick glasses that you’ve worn since first grade. Some of the kids tease you and call you names, and some of the boys chase you and try to bully you on the playground. They call you four-eyes and pull your pigtails, but not for long. You have the advantage of having grown up with all boys and you are a tomboy through and through. You don’t mind getting dirty and you have no problem bopping those boys who tease you. It doesn’t take long before they develop a healthy respect for you.
Winter brings a healthy snowfall. You have a marvelous hill for sledding. It might not be as good as the one you had at your old house, but it’s pretty steep and if you go down just right, you cross the little bridge over the stream before you stop. You have plenty of room to have snowball fights, make snowmen, dinosaurs and forts. The kids come over to your house to play. Your mom serves real hot chocolate and homemade cookies to warm everyone up. Everyone wants to see inside your house. They don’t believe you when you tell them that you can ride bikes upstairs in the ballroom, but they’re impressed by the two staircases and the crystal chandelier. Once they’ve been in the house, where your mom offers them something to eat, maybe even a glass of milk, they are convinced your family is fabulously wealthy. Kids are easily impressed by small things.
What they don’t understand is that your parents bought the house at a bargain price because it was so neglected and run down. Many hours of hard work and lots of dollars have gone into restoring the house, polishing the marble floors, painting all the walls, cleaning the relief ceilings and painting them, scrubbing the coal dust residue off everything and converting the coal furnace to oil, refinishing all the hardwood floors upstairs, putting in the new bathroom, tiling the kitchen counters and backsplash, repairing the leaking roof, and everything else necessary to make the house habitable. Your whole family has pitched in to clear the overgrowth and clean up the outside, to make garden areas ready for planting in the spring, to repair the grape arbor and cut down the dead apple trees, which get split for firewood in the winter. Your father loves nothing better than to sit in front of the fire on cold winter nights. You can’t wait for next summer to pick apples and strawberries, to climb the tree outside your window and hide in its leafy branches with your book, to ride your bike, play tag, kickball, baseball, and hide-and-seek with the neighborhood kids. Life in the old mansion is pretty darn good for a little kid.