The Old Trailer

When I was a child, my grandparents owned a forty acre farm in Eastern Kentucky. It was in Knipp Hollow (prounounced hollar). Morehead was the closest town. My grandparents owned the old farmhouse that was down by the main road, at the mouth of the Hollar. My Uncle had been given a piece of land on top of the mountain (just a large hill, but as a child, walking up the gravel driveway to the top in the summer, it was a mountain), and my parents had carved out a terrace a little ways up the hill and also had access to a large field down by the creek where we planted a big vegetable garden every summer. 

Our family came and went from the missionfield, but two different times, when we were stateside, we lived in the little trailer perched on the side of the mountain, surrounded by pine trees. There were giant pine trees that grew all over the hillside in front of our home, so tall you strained your neck to see all the way to the top. I was told that my great grandfather had planted those trees. Then the hillside behind our home was covered with smaller pinetrees, all about the size of beautiful Christmas trees. My parents told me they planted those trees the year I was born and I felt the kinship of being the same age, having the same birthday as those beautiful trees. I would often scurry up the embankment behind our trailer and burrow myself in the trees. Invisible to the world, in my own little nest. 

Our trailer was a singlewide (none of those bourgeois doublewides for us). It was white and yellow and green. Old. Creaky. A stove pipe stuck up from the roof and there was alo a large onion-shaped oscillating vent, meant to keep things cooler in the summer, but far too inadequate for the job. In the winter my dad would stuff insulation up in the vent in order to make everything as air tight as possible. He would cover the old one-pane windows with thick plastic sheeting, held in place with silver duct tape, and our dear old Ben Franklin wood stove would work tirelessly all winter to keep us warm. To this day, when I smell woodsmoke, I’m instantly transported back to that old trailer. 

When I was a baby my parents had built a large covered porch that ran almost the entire length of the trailer. It was made with two by fours, and thin logs I presume my dad had taken from the woods. The roof was made out of green fiberglass roof panels. Translucent enough that a beautiful green light came through. There was a railing around the entire porch that was filled in with what looked a bit like plastic coated chicken wire. All the spaces were filled with wire because apparently, when I was a baby, the porch was my favorite place to play. Because the trailer was on the side of a steep hill, the porch hung out into the air and there was room under the porch for kids to play if they felt like it. Many a summer day found me under that porch, digging around in the cool dirt, making fancy mud pies with my little tin dishes. 

The trailer had three bedrooms. A separate room each for me and my brother on one end of the trailer and a room for my parents on the other end of the trailer. The rooms were so small. My brother and I each had a bunk bed and a dresser in our rooms. I had enough space to open my drawers and a narrow path from the doorway to my little corner closet, and that was it. It was truly a bed-room. A room for my bed. Nothing else. When I played in my room, I sat on top of my bright patchwork quilt on my bed to play. There was no floor room. I had one window that looked out onto the hill rising almost straight up behind us, only feet away, covered with all my pine trees. Not much of a view, but it felt cozy to me.

The walls of the trailer were all dark, fake wood paneling. Just google images of “wood paneling 70s and 80s” and you will see exactly what I mean. The old shag green carpet had been torn up and replaced with a beautiful beige, but really you could hardly see the carpet because the furniture covered everything. The living room was tiny but it had a large couch, a buffet with a large tv covering half of it, a big bookshelf that sat on top of a small cupboard, a dining room table and four chairs. The next room was the kitchen. Yellow linoleum. Yellow fridge. Brown wooden cabinets and yellow formica counters. The woodstove took up half of the floor space of the kitchen. Then down a narrow hallway, made even more narrow by all the coats hanging up on hooks on one side, a bathroom just big enough to hold a yellow tub, more yellow formica, yellow linoleum, and an old washer and dryer. You could only access the washer if you went all the way into the bathroom and closed the door. Then finally my parents room at the end. 

During my childhood I lived in twelve different homes. The trailer was probably the most humble one, but it’s the home I remember the fondest. Cozy, warm, bright and cheerful. Tucked safely in the woods, deep in the hollar, surrounded by tall hills and trees, a creek at the bottom of the hill. I count myself a rich woman to have had that as part of my childhood. 

The Old Brown Buffet

When I was going into second grade, my family moved back to Eastern Kentucky from the missionfield. We moved back into an old trailer my parents owned, sitting on a mountainside lot on my grandparents’ farm. 

I remember some of the bustle as my parents tried to freshen up the trailer for living again. The old carpets were torn out. I remember going to a giant warehouse filled with giant rolls of carpet. Feeling each one as we walked past, wondering which one we were going to have. I remember the carpets getting laid down in the trailer, how clean and bright they made everything look. I didn’t want any furniture to ruin this perfect carpet. I remember rolling around and revelling in the softness and newness of it all. 

I remember visiting an auction held in a giant barn out in the middle of a field. I remember the auctioneer’s voice going through the call for bids and how wonderfully entertaining it was to just listen to him go on and on and on in his sing-songy voice. I remember that an old solid couch came home from that auction, took up one wall of the living room. 

We also had some new furniture. A shiny round glass top table with four square, modern looking wicker-type chairs with shiny chrome metal as their frame. 

And then there was an old brown buffet. I don’t know if we also got it at the auction or if my parents picked it up somewhere else. It was definitely not new. But it was warm, brown, solid. A cheerful addition to our mix of furniture. 

It sat in the corner of the living room. I think our TV sat on it. It had three drawers across the top and a long drawer underneath. We kept something in it that we used regularly. Maybe our cloth napkins and tablecloths? I can’t remember exactly, I just know that I had to open those drawers regularly, and they were always a pain to open. The drawers were stiff and if you didn’t pull it out exactly straight they would jam and stick. 

Once a week my mom would assign cleaning chores and I remember her handing me an old cloth and a can of “Pledge” cleaner that I would spray on that buffet and then wipe industriously with my cloth. Watching as the wood took on a soft shine.

I have a vague memory of perhaps being on top of the brown buffet when my parents weren’t home and my brother and I were playing some involved game that made it necessary to not touch the floor. (Ground is lava perhaps?)

The brown buffet did not necessarily play a significant  role in my childhood, I just remember it being there. When we moved back to Haiti the brown buffet went into my parents storage shed that sat on my grandparent’s farm. 

After I got married my husband and I eventually settled into Eastern Tennessee. When we purchased our first house we drove up to Kentucky and raided my parents storage shed. The brown buffet came home with us and settled into our dining room. That was about seventeen years ago. The brown buffet has sat in our dining room ever since. 

It is truly a buffet now. Every meal time, three times a day, I lay out the food on the brown buffet and serve the small children their plates from there and then the older kids serve themselves. In the mornings I lay out the bowels and the boxes of cereal on the brown buffet and kids serve themselves. Our silverware has a special container and it stays there permanently. 

Now that my dining room is also my kitchen, the brown buffet has become one of my counters. I lay my electric griddle on it so I can make pancakes. I set my various containers of food on it while I prepare a meal on the stove that sits right next to it. In the afternoons I put out bowels of fruit for the kids or plates of cookies. 

The drawers are still a pain to open so I try to only keep things in there that I don’t need to access regularly. I’ve got a drawer of old framed photos. A drawer of random decorating knick knacks I don’t use anymore. The bottom drawer holds all of the random odds and ends that my husband and I picked up on our international travels. Carved wooden statues from Haiti, tin cars from Nicaragua, pan flutes and a miniature chess set from Chile. Any time my kids need something international for school, the drawer opens and we dig around. I even have some things from my mom’s childhood in India. 

Today as I wiped off the brown buffet, clearing off dirty dishes, putting away random condiments that had been left out, I suddenly remembered myself as a small child, trying to open the drawers. And I had this thought. I wonder if this dear brown buffet ever thought, years ago, that it would come to live in my home one day. That the little girl who pushed and pulled on it, wiped it clean with pledge, and sometimes clambered all over it, would one day be the mom who was working to keep it clean and organized. And yes, you can say it’s just a piece of furniture. No thoughts or emotions. But I prefer to live in a world where maybe fairies really do exist, and maybe my old piece of furniture has fond thoughts about the family it lives with and maybe it smiles benevolently on us as it watches over our mealtimes. 

Another Chapter in the Book of Memories

Over this Thanksgiving weekend the theme has been, of course, thankfulness. Today I was thankful for memories. You think about different times in your life, and it’s like picking up a good book and reading it again. Reliving all the old stories. This weekend I’ve been remembering my 4th grade year.

When I was six we moved back to the States from Haiti. We settled in a little trailer on my grandparents’ farm in Morehead, Kentucky, and my mom enrolled at the Morehead State University. She was going back to school to become a Physician’s Assistant. She did two years at MSU and then was ready to start the PA program which was at the University of Kentucky, in Lexington. We were established in Morehead, had a church, our home was comfortable and my Mom only needed to be in Lexington for one year. My parents made the decision that we would live in campus housing during the school week and then would drive the hour back home to Morehead every weekend.

We got to Lexington before classes started and moved into our new apartment. We didn’t bring much as the apartment was already furnished, and we didn’t plan on spending weekends there. For some reason we were put in the Foreign Student Housing. There was a long road with identical apartment buildings lining the road. The apartments set aside for Foreign Students were at the very end of the road. Each apartment building had 8 apartments with outside entrances at each corner of the building. I remember having a very real fear that I wouldn’t be able to figure out which apartment was ours since each building looked exactly alike. This was the beginning of one of the most multicultural years I have ever had.

Let me introduce you my neighbors. Downstairs, directly underneath us, was an Indian couple who had a little boy, maybe three or four, named Sanjeet. The mom wore saris and had a beautiful red dot on her forehead. The smells from her cooking would waft up into our apartment and my mom, who grew up in India, would long to just go downstairs and ask to eat with them. In the next building over from ours were two brothers, Harry and Franklin who were from Panama. Franklin was my age and Harry was my brother’s age. These were the two that we hung out with the most. There was Ronnie from the Philippines who was in my grade at school. He lived across the street. He was different. He liked to wear his mom’s makeup and sometimes one of her scarves or her shoes. He was unmercifully teased. I tried to be nice to him but he was not the nicest person and so I ended up keeping my distance. There was the kid from West Germany (this was before the Wall came down) who had stair step brothers and they all looked alike, same bowl haircuts, same worn out clothes. There was the Muslim family whose Mom we would see walking around, veiled, pushing a stroller with several other small children walking along. They were from somewhere in Eastern Europe. They stand out in my memory because the boy that was my age liked to pick fights and his five year old brother went down in history as the first person to totally cuss me out. Then there was my friend Katelynn. She was from Hungary. Even though she lived across the street from me, I didn’t meet her until we had been in school for a while. She was brought into my math class and the teacher sat her next to me. The teacher explained that she didn’t speak English and could I please try to help her figure out what we were doing in our math book. This was when I found out that math crosses over any language. I was amazed that she could look at the math book, understand it, do the problems, and do them a whole lot better than me, even though she couldn’t read the English words that explained the problems. This began our friendship and we soon discovered we lived close to each other. At that time Hungary was still a communist country. Katelynn’s father was a scientist who had gained permission to come do some kind of research work at UK. Katelynn wasn’t able to play a whole lot because she had to keep up with her Hungarian school, plus her Russian school, plus she was trying to learn English and keep up with American school. When she was able to play, she would come over to my apartment with her little sister Ignes, and we would play “Mickey Mouse Club”. I wanted a club and Katelynn and her sister loved Mickey Mouse and had all kinds of Mickey Mouse paraphernalia, and so, it became a Mickey Mouse club. I have no idea what we did, but I do remember that we were happy doing it. Little girls, hiding in a corner, giggling. Some things are the same no matter where you are from.

I loved playing with Katelynn, but as I said before, she was usually busy with school work. Most of the time I played with Franklin and Harry. Franklin and Harry are responsible for exposing me to every imaginable swear word in the English language. Their English was actually great. I’m not sure how long they had been in the states. I only ever heard their parents and other siblings speak Spanish. It was quite a shock to come from my missionary kid background plus my small-town country-living, and come to a place where all the kids cussed like sailors and every other word out of there mouth was unrepeatable.

Franklin had black hair and twinkling eyes and he was the life of the party. Everything was more fun with Franklin. I had a pair of skates. Franklin didn’t have a pair of skates. So I gave him one skate and wore the other and we would link arms and team-skate up and down the sidewalk. He was the one that convinced me we could skate down a really steep hill. Come on! We can do it! (No, we couldn’t). It took quite a while for the bloody knees, elbows, and hands to heal from that escapade. Harry and Franklin had very little supervision and they would get on the University bus and ride all over campus. They would go down to the football stadium after a game and scour the bleachers, looking for money people had dropped and whatever treasures they could find. One time they brought back some little pom poms and gave me one. I was so excited. I had, for some reason, decided that having big bushy pom poms and giving cheers would be fun. So Franklin went back and gathered up a giant bag of mini pompoms for me. We divided them up into two bundles, taped the handles together, and created two giant pom poms. I played “cheerleader” to my heart’s content. I would cheer for the boy’s tag football games that they played in the median that was in the middle of our parking lot. I tried to play football with the boys, and they didn’t mind me playing, but after experiencing being tackled to the ground and then having everyone jump on top of me in a giant pile, I decided cheerleading was more my thing.

We all attended Glenwood Elementary School. The school was located in an upscale neighborhood and all of us kids from the UK campus were bused over. The school had a very dedicated music teacher, Miss Markle, who taught daily music classes (she introduced me to the wonders of Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite), had an orchestra, the Swing Choir which was by audition only, and a Glee choir that was mandatory for all 5th and I think 6th graders. I was in the swing choir. That year Miss Markle decided that everyone was going to learn “O Come All Ye Faithful” in latin. Adestes Fideles. There is a part in the latin where it says, “venite adoremus, venite adoremus, venite adoremus, Dominum”  So, the “adoremus” is pronounced “ah-do-re-MOOS”. Harry and Franklin and a bunch of other kids on our bus learned this song. They all loved the “adoremus” part because it ended in “MOOSE”. This lead to the really interesting experience of riding a public school bus with a bunch of rowdy, rough-edged kids, all of us singing Adestes Fideles at the top of our lungs with a heavy emphasis on the “MOOSE”. A definite improvement from their normal habit of flipping off the cars that had the unfortunate luck of getting behind our bus.

During the school year I also got to know a girl named Emily who went to my school. She was Jewish. Her family lived in the neighborhood right next to the school. I think her parents weren’t quite sure what to do with our friendship. I was allowed to come to her house, but she wasn’t allowed to come to my house. I would make the very long walk over the fields behind our apartments, through the neighborhood to her house all by myself and we would play in her fenced-in backyard. Her mother was always dressed very fancy and she was always concerned that Emily not get dirty or mess up her clothes. One time her mom had to run errands and so we got in the car with her and we stopped by the synagogue, which was, to my eyes, surprisingly modern. Growing up learning all about the history of the Jews in the Bible, I found it fascinating to finally be interacting with some real modern-day Jews. Emily’s mom would also bake something called Beer Cookies. My parents were strict teetotalers and so I found this quite scandalous. I tried one, but didn’t think they tasted very good, even though Emily thought they were the best cookies ever.  

All week long I was inundated with culture and amazing learning experiences. Then the weekend would come along. Friday night we would pile into our little car and make the trek back to the farm. It was only an hour’s drive, but to children, an hour feels like a lifetime. We would get home late at night to our cold trailer, nestled in among the pine trees on the hillside. I would go back to my tiny bedroom and jump under the covers, my patchwork quilt making my room feel cozy. All my toys and books had been waiting patiently for me and I would snuggle under the covers, just enjoying being in my bedroom again. I could hear my dad in the kitchen struggling with the wood-burning stove, trying to get a fire started so the trailer could start warming up. Tomorrow was Saturday, I could look forward to playing with my cousins, and the new girl that had moved next door. We would run around the woods, play in the creek, maybe ride my Aunt’s ponies. Sunday we would go to church and see our old friends, then Sunday night, back to the city for another week of adventures. I breathed in the rich smell of woodsmoke, dad had finally got the fire going. I turned off my lamp, snuggled down into my blankets, and fell asleep with a smile on my face.