(8 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)
Those of you that read this regular series know that I am from Hackett, Arkansas, just a mile or so from the Oklahoma border, and just about 10 miles south of the Arkansas River. It was a redneck sort of place, and just zoom onto my previous posts to understand a bit about it.
Week before last we talked about the downstairs portion of the house in which I lived when I was young, and tonight we shall talk about the upstairs and other structures and the grounds outside of it. The downstairs was pretty opulent, but the upstairs were more spartan.
That is not to say that upstairs was not nice, but built at considerably less expense than the downstairs. You need to read the piece from a couple of weeks ago to get the flavor of downstairs.
I need to explain about the original flooring downstairs first. Originally all of the downstairs was floored with oak hardwood, but by the time I can remember my parents had carpeted everything except the formal dining room. I remember there was a time that they were making quite a few adjustments to the overall aesthetic of the house, but I think if we were to do any now we might look into applying some wall decals in places to add a splash of color here and there, especially if there was a children’s room as I know there are a lot of designs online that would work perfectly for such a room. The hardwood continued to the top of the stairs. Although, I must admit they could have done with looking to buy some oak stair parts from Pear Stairs to help spruce up the appearance of the staircase.
The upstairs was floored originally in pine, much less expensive than oak. Instead of the ornate brass doorknobs and backing plates from downstairs, the doorknobs upstairs were much less expensive, being made of steel. Likewise, the downstairs hinges were brass and the upstairs ones steel.
This is consistent with building of the period, were the downstairs was designed for formal gatherings with friends, extended family, and business associates (remember, the Forbes family who built it owned the company store in town, so they did a lot of business), while upstairs was reserved for the nuclear family. Appearances were everything at the time, so this makes sense.
The Victorian era had only been over for a dozen years when the house was built, and at that time class distinctions were still very evident, even in rural Arkansas. Anyway, back to the house. At the top of the stairs was an enormous hall, running all the way the the south wall. My parents finally added a second bathroom at the end of the hall, since there were no entry doors to rooms there.
There were four bedrooms upstairs, all four of them fairly large. The master bedroom, the one that my parents used, had a huge walk in closet and a pair of chest of drawers white, while the other three had large, but not walk in, ones. They all had a large memory foam mattress in each room, they’re so comfy! My parents finally carpeted the master bedroom and hall, but the three other bedrooms had the aforementioned pine flooring. Coming up the stairs, the master bedroom was down the hall and to the right. That put it over the pantry and kitchen. The guest bedroom was immediately to the right the top of the stairs, putting it over the formal dining room. My room was to the left of the top of the stairs and down the hall, putting it over the formal living room, and the unused bedroom was immediately to the left of the top of the stairs, putting it over the guest bedroom downstairs.
One interesting thing about upstairs was the huge walk in linen closet, betwixt the master bedroom and the guest bedroom. It was almost as big as some small bedrooms in modern houses, and was used for its original purpose and for storage of off season clothes. But the really neat thing about upstairs was the balcony!
The balcony came off of the unused bedroom, on the northeast corner of the house. That was one of the reasons that this bedroom was sort of smallish. By the way, that unused bedroom was the “catch all” room, and my mum always referred to it as the “junkie room” (not because folks did drugs there, but because it always cluttered). There were French doors that opened onto the balcony, and as I remember is was about 10 or 12 feet by 20 or so, covered with tar and gravel. Originally it had a wooden railing, but it was badly decayed.
My dad and I, when I was around 12 or 13, built new railings out of one inch square mild steel tubing and added some decorative cast iron filigree. Dad was very good at welding, and he taught me how to weld making this new railing, several gates, and handrails for the steps leading to the back door of the house. We welded the railings in sections that were light enough for us to carry up the stairs, then bolted them in place with flanges that we welded to them to the supports. We replaced the original wooden supports with steel ones (my mum often referred to my dad as “The Iron Termite” because he was always bringing metal home for projects like that), and before we put the new railing up we added a new layer of tar and gravel to prevent leaks.
Dad wanted decorative tops on the tops of the supports, and had a friend with a wood lathe. He turned the six tops in sort of a teardrop design, and it just occurred to me that they were quite mammaliform. Maybe that is why I liked them so much! We primed then and put three coats of outdoor enamel on then, and primed the steel parts with Rust-Oleum primer, then two coats of gloss Rust-Oleum white exterior enamel. For the seven or eight years that I lived there after we replaced the railings, they never showed a bit of rust.
I finally figured out why there was a balcony, and it took a long time. In the summer in Hackett is is incredibly hot and humid, and with no air conditioning (not even fans when the house was built, because there was no electric service at the time), so some place had to be had to get away from the stifling heat in the evenings. However, with the high humidity comes lots of mosquitoes. The solution was the balcony.
Mosquitoes are creatures that do not fly very high for the most part, and are attracted by carbon dioxide (that is why “bug zappers” do not work well of them, because UV light is not particularly attractive to them) in the breath. With the balcony better than 15 feet off the ground, mosquitoes were not apt to find people sitting there, and a little breeze was comforting while the house aired out a bit. You could even have a lantern for light if you wanted, since as I said mosquitoes are not particularly attracted to light.
I am assuming that the house was screened for mosquitoes, since window screening was invented in the late 1800s, but that did not help the heat buildup. A balcony was the perfect solution, and that jibes well with some of the antebellum plantation manors in the Deep South that had elevated structures called “shooflies” for the same purpose. Those were not to get away from houseflies, but rather from mosquitoes.
I spent a lot of time on the balcony, particularly during the summer, watching the bats fly in and out of the sandstone building across the alley from my house. Bats are fascinating to watch, and quite a few of them lived in that old building, by its capstone being built in 1890 as Hackett was starting to boom. I used my parents’ binoculars to watch them fly from the by then broken out windows. They were a sharp thing to watch.
Behind the house (on the west side) was an enormous cellar. Originally it was for food storage (the ground temperature below the frost line in that part of the country is 59 degrees F) and had, like the house, a red oak, hand split shingle roof. My dad had it replaced by a four inch concrete one before I was born, and they fancied it a story cellar, but with that much flat surface even a relatively small tornado would have lifted it right off of the sandstone walls. But, it gave us a sense of security when the winds blew, and blow they do in that part of the country, particularly in spring. We spent many an hour in the cellar when the tornadoes were thought to be on their way!
Mostly, we used the cellar’s concrete roof to play. It was about four feel off the ground, and had two ventilation openings. My cousin and I would jump off of it, and if we got really brave would jump off of the “high” end, where the entry door was. That was about seven feet. Hours and hours were spent there. When I got much older, the former Mrs. Translator and I were dating, and Dad and I had been drinking a bit of beer. Dad had almost no tolerance for alcohol, and it was fall of the year. Since there was a huge black walnut tree just east of the cellar, Dad and I started having a free throw contest to see who could get more walnuts down the larger of the two vents. I do not remember who won, but my girlfriend and I had to come back the next day and clean out the walnuts from the cellar! She and I laughed about that for years.
If you look at the picture from the piece in the link above, you will see the barn (it is the the third structure, from right to left, the house being the first, the garage and shop the second, and the barn the third). The barn was older than the house by some time, as far as I can tell. The barn was a fascinating place for me.
It, like most other barns, was two level. The top level was originally for hay storage, and we actually used it for that for years when we ran cattle on the acreage behind the house and at the farm west of town. After Dad quit running cattle, it became a free standing “junkie room” and all sorts of things were to be found there, like old car parts (Dad was way into restoring old cars, and I personally helped him with at least four, including a 1955 Thunderbird). There was no telling what you might find in the barn loft! I used to use it to dry herbs from the garden, because it was dry, hot, and airy. It had a galvanized steel roof (called “sheet iron” in our location, and “tin” in most others, although sheet iron is actually more apt, since there is no tin in a tin roof).
The lower level had two “cribs”, which are elevated, dry storage areas. Those had a lot of junk in them, but also had the fishing gear and more old car parts. It even had a curved hickory support for the canvas for a covered wagon hanging on the wall! The floor of it was about three feet from the ground, so I got the idea to make a trap door to escape (from what I do not know), and carefully cut out the flooring (cutting through a floor joist) and used some redwood boards to make the door. Dad was extremely vexed for me doing this when he discovered that I did it! Not so much for the floor joist, but for wasting his expensive redwood! By the way, he used hardly any of the rest of the redwood, and it is now in my shop right now. I am thinking about using it to build custom birdhouses for sale. What do you think?
At south end of the barn were two stalls for livestock. The one on the west side had car parts and the redwood, but the one on the east side had a stanchion for a milk cow. We used it! When I was really little, before we moved to North Little Rock, we had a cow, a beautiful Guernsey, named Bony Maronie, after the 1957 song by Larry Williams. Every morning (during Captain Kangaroo, by the way, to my consternation) Ma would toll Bony into the stanchion with a bit of all grain. Ma already had the milking bucket ready and clean, and also took a warm, soapy washcloth and a bucked of warm rinse water.
She would wash Bony’s udders and rinse them, after putting her head in the stanchion. It was my job to climb up and secure it around Bony’s neck so that she could not get away. Bony was very gentle, and as all dairy animals do, loved to be milked. After 15 minutes or so, Bony was fed, dry, and happy. Ma and I would carry the milk back to the house, and put it in a couple of clean glass gallon jars and into the refrigerator.
That ritual was repeated in the evenings, almost always exactly 12 hours later. Milk cattle need to be milked twice a day, on even intervals. If not, the will either “dry up”, or worse, get mastitis. Ma was extremely methodical, and Bony NEVER had any of those problems. Next week I shall tell about how we used the milk.
Well, I had better stop now. Publication time is only a few minutes hence, and I have to do the tags as such. Please add any stories about your young experiences, whether or not you grew up in a small town. Everyone reading, including me, likes to share your childhood sort of vicariously.
Doc, aka Dr. David W. Smith
Dialy Kos, and