My family lived fluctuating between having luxuries and living in poverty. Dirt bikes and a track bulldozed through the woods for them, a monster truck for my father- complete with a ridiculous sound system, a TV in each bedroom, and being sent into the grocery store with almost enough cash for everything on the list, my 11 yr old brain trying to figure out what part of dinner to put back. When we were really struggling, Taylor had to share a bedroom with 4 younger brothers. I bunked with Robert, whom I fought with to keep my Evanescence poster up.
During the few years of steady income my parents attached a double-wide mobile home to the back of our house, taking the room count from 5 to 10. My father even hired a guy (who looked like Thomas Jane) to help build a massive covered porch that started halfway down the side of the older home, followed the length of the new addition and wrapped around the back. This porch had ceiling fans, outlets, and two built-in benches on a landing leading to the huge yard. Grape vines would eventually cover most of the railings along with confetti lantana bushes placed here and there.
Directly in line with the porch steps was an above-ground pool. I got up early one morning to help my father set it up, trying to beat the mosquitoes with no luck. As we filled the inflatable ring of the pool, he said to the pests, “I’ll make you a deal: you can bite me, but I’m gonna kill you.” A chicken coop stood past the pool, at the edge of the forest, a path into the woods behind and to the right of the structure. If you looked right from the steps of the porch, you’d see the back of the garage, a picnic table on the slab of concrete in front of it, and a row of huge elephant ears between them. The new porch railing went right up to the garage and served almost as a step to the roof. I would sit there for hours and tear the cheap deteriorating shingles off the roof.
If you continued along the side of the woods, there was a trail-head next to a pond, which my father paid to have dug for my mother on Mother’s Day. I’ll never forget how pissed she was. “All I asked for was that the house be clean and now there’s a huge hole in my backyard!” she explained. That pond was the worst thing to happen to our property; it quickly became a home, not only for frogs and tadpoles, but long, black plains garter snakes, which my parents thought were water moccasins, and mosquito larvae.
In the front yard, a wooden swing hung from the huge, slightly off-center tree. We would swing for hours on cool nights and hot, humid afternoons. The tree’s growth had begun to swallow the chains, bark finding its way through the rusty metal. Behind the massive tree, 3 cement steps guided by a wrought iron railing led to our front door, black paint chipping from the bars to reveal dark rust. There was a small awning over the porch that would wear down and become a hazard to stand under.
There were two doghouse windows that belonged to the only two rooms upstairs, both of which would be mine at different times. We would switch rooms regularly to stave off boredom. From the front of the house, there was a fireplace peeking from the left and a 3-car garage to the right, past the picket fence which was broken up by a plastic lattice archway for the plants to cling to. The front door was heavy and swelled when it was humid and, being an hour’s drive from the coast, it was often humid.
There was a half-circle of windows at the top of the front door, through which you could see a staircase to the right and a hallway along the left side of the steps. At the end of the hall was a door leading to the bathroom which was drafty, but had a beautiful claw-foot tub. Opposite the bathroom door was a pantry under the stairs that smelled like old library books and had an antique latch mechanism with a tiny, oval-shaped knob. The hallway let out in what was originally our kitchen, an ancient black and white gas stove stood to the left of the entrance.
Upon entering the house there was a room to the right, used for many purposes over the years, and a huge doorway to the left entering the original living room. A huge brick fireplace was centered in the wall opposite the entrance, built-in white shelves and cabinets were fixed on either side of the brick mantle, the left one bearing the weight of our huge boxy TV. Along the right side of the room a wall separated my parents’ bedroom.
When the new trailer was attached to our house, like mix-matched play sets, my parents’ room was doubled in size by removing the wall between the two rooms and adding French doors to the entrance by the front door. Connecting the two houses was a hallway with four doors, one from my parents’ room, opposite that was a door leading into the computer/laundry room of the new house. At the other end of the plywood-floored hallway was a door leading outside and another back into the old kitchen, which would become a bedroom with French doors that let out onto the new porch.
The computer room was connected to the new dining room, which had to be 25ft x 10ft, with windows lining the left wall, an armoire stood catty-cornered in the first corner on the right. After a little use, my mother insisted the carpet in the dining room was destroyed, so we ripped it up and dyed the wooden floor underneath a deep forest green. In the center of the room was a distressed white table that could seat a basketball team, made by the only uncle I had on my father’s side. We had met two, maybe three times. A decent-sized kitchen with an island stood between the new dining and living rooms. Before you reached the kitchen, there was a door on the right wall opening to what was supposed to be the master bedroom, inside there were double doors to the left leading to another room. On the right there was a bathroom door that connected to a huge hallway-style closet with it’s own door back into the bedroom.
In the kitchen, the stove and fridge were on the right and the sink on the left, a window above it looking into Mr. Cothin’s backyard. The kitchen let out into a sizable L-shaped living room with a hallway leading to three bedrooms and a bathroom, along the wall of the common space, a door led first to a 6ft drop and later to a finished porch. Following the porch to the right, past hordes of wicker furniture, took you towards the front house and connected to the garage. As you can imagine, 12-15 people produce a hefty amount of waste. I think at one point we had 10 full-size trash cans. To enter the garage, you would step from the porch onto cinder blocks in the doorway. If you were standing there on the blocks, there was an open space directly behind your feet, leading under the porch. We would soon find out that raccoons thoroughly appreciated our garbage. If you forgot to make some noise before entering the garage at night, 3-5 scrambling bandits would run directly over your feet and under the porch, running under the length of it to the end closest to the safety of the woods.
The messes they would leave smelled terrible. The little bastards would drag trash around and leave it in places you couldn’t get to shy of using a sledgehammer. So, the garage usually smelled like hot diapers. Even a custom-built cage of wire and wood for the trashcans didn’t keep them out. It was my job to take out the trash, so this meant first sweeping up the ketchup-covered papers and rotting produce into an industrial-sized dustpan that got so much use its handle eventually broke off.
When the smell wasn’t overwhelming, the garage was used as a gym. A punching bag hung from an old rafter, a weight bench and free weights took over whatever space was left in the first two bays, which were cluttered with bikes for 10 children. The last bay was divided from the others by a wall, inside were probably 5 dirt bikes and an old workshop in the back with doors made of wood slats. The bay would become a practice room for my eldest brother’s band, “Chozen”. Pink and yellow egg-crate were stapled to the walls and spray-painted black. All us kids loved hanging out with the band and singing along to their overtly Christian songs.
My strongest memory of this room is the time I went to feed our pet gerbils in the old workshop, JC and CJ respectively, only to find our grey and white cat, Sylvester, finishing up his two-course meal.