"If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; there is where they should be. Now put foundations under them."
Henry David Thoreau

The small community I grew up in, just three thousand strong, below the Oregon border on the coast was not a huge tourist draw. It was a fish and timber town. The only reason we saw tourists at all were the Redwoods, and they mostly just drove through them really slow, annoying all the locals.

Not a lot of wealth. If money is the only dimension you count wealth in.

I grew up poor. At least by some people's standards.

We lived in a house that was a composite of several out building that were skidded onto the central piece of property we owned. Twenty acres that my father bought for $2.00 an acre. The house was insulated with newspaper, and roofed in redwood shingles. Some parts of the house were built right on bare ground, or cement blocks, certainly no foundation.

It was a sight for sore eyes. Or an eye sore. Which ever way you might look at it. Mom was a gardener, though and had many beautiful trees and flowers around to hide the houses flaws.

As a kid, I loved that house. It had nooks and crannies to play in. It was large and rambling. Mom was a very neat and clean house keeper, even though what she had to start with wasn't much, by HGTV standards.

We lived about four or so miles out of town. Only a handful of neighbors early on. The folks sold a few of the acres over the years, for not a lot of money, but more than $2.00.

My Dad tried his hand at a lot of things over the years, he was never able to settle. He had so many interests.

At one time when I was young Dad started a printing business in town. He was a good printer, but unfortunately he was not an astute businessman.

There were times he was out of work or out of town looking for work, and home not being left with much while he was gone. Mom was a woman of deep faith in God, and one time when we didn't have any food left, and no Food Pantries, or organizations that took care of the poor, no place to go for help, she prayed for someway to feed her kids.

The next day a stranger showed up at our door with two bags of groceries.

Mom did a garden, and canned some. She did the odd jobs she could do from home, which brought in some money. Mom always did volunteer work around town too. We had two convalescent homes (now called assisted living) and ran errand for the people living in them. She visited the shut-ins, and brought cheer to the people in those places. I went with her.

Even though we were a family with very little means, we always had books.

We had one wall in the coldest room in the house that was all built-in bookcases. It was full, as I remember it. There was a small pop bellied stove in that room too, an old pump organ that didn't work, which someone gave to us, which Dad said he was pretty sure he could fix. He never got around to it. Other things he never finished; an indoor bathroom, running water, numerous other things that Mom learned to do herself. Dad did finally put a pump handled sink in the house and enclosed the well house to the side porch of the kitchen.

Dad was a great procrastinator. There were always a hundred things more interesting and fun to do than...and money was always an issue.

He was also a great storyteller. He could spin a tale that would keep us kids on the edge of out chairs, and keep us thinking into the night when he'd stop at a crucial point of suspense. Years later he would tell us that was because he painted his hero into a corner and didn't know how to get him or her out of it, and needed time to think on it, before he gave us another installment.

I am the seventh child. Three older sisters, and one older brother were already living on their own by the time I came along. My two brothers who I grew up with were 6 and 8 years older that me. By the time I was nine they had joined the army and were gone from home. Dad had begun having strokes, and was not in good health.

One day he stoked that pop bellied stove too hot and the chimney caught fire. That was all she wrote.

That house was history.

Mom and I got Dad out. Then made several trips into the burning house to retrieve what we could.

The amazing thing is how much we got out. Even the kitchen table, a round oak table which is in my store today. Family photos, mementos, important written records, clothes. Even some of the books.

At the end, when we could no longer go back in, there was a heap of things in our yard.

The neighbors were connecting up hoses and watering the house to no avail. We could hear the fire truck sirens, all around our area we knew they were trying to find the road in. It was just a maze of back roads then. They never made it till the fire was nearly out.

We watched our house burn to the ground.

Mom and I stood, blackened with suet and smoke, smelling like sulfur and sweat.

We were alive! We were all alright. Somehow we would survive.

There were many amazing things that happened because of that fire.

The community we lived in built us a new house. It was small. A neat little two bedroom, with a kitchen/dinning and good size living room. Mom lived in that house till she died in 2001 at the age of 95.

I had just turned thirteen the year our house burned. My father died two years later, at 73.

Even though we didn't have much money and it seemed like bad things were happening to us, we didn't doubt, we always knew, we were rich!


  1. This is such a lovely and well told story of your family.
    I found myself envying the strength and resourcefulness of your mother. You sound as if you knew you were loved. It sounds as if you were secure and happy. It is a life so different from my childhood and we were affluent by comparison, but very poor in the ways of love. And it's this absence of love that has left me wounded and wanting.

  2. My Mother was a woman with deep faith and a big heart. She knew how to love. I always felt adored. By Mom, my older sibs.
    My father was an other story. I think he loved us as much as he could, but he was a broken man in many ways. And sad. He had a hard childhood, even though his family was fairly well off. He was often aloof. He was great with causal contact, and surface friendships. Could tell stories like a pro, but he was never quite... there.

    But I was a born pronoid, thinking everyone was out to help me. I didn't even realize there were people who didn't like me till I was eight.

    Then I decided that was O.K., they didn't have to like me, because Mom liked me, I must be alright.

    Between love and money, I'll take love every time.

    It sounds like you would too. You can heal. You can be the love, for yourself and others that you don't feel you had growing up. I hear the wistfulness in your tone, that makes me believe you have the power to be, give and receive, the love you need.

  3. Ah those are sweet words. I hope I'm less like your dad than I think or fear I might be. I never thought I'd be a good parent having had such terribly bad ones, so I now and then adopt a young woman who needs a good mother. I'm a very good mother now. I don't give advise or fix anything, but I'm reliably supportive and approving. I'm consistent in that. I'm kind and warm to these grown up daughters. That's what I wanted my mother to be. She just couldn't.

  4. ...a powerful and beautiful story. I'm glad I dropped in to read it...all the little threads woven together perfectly.

  5. Hey Linda,
    Did you get your block problem fixed?
    PS Nice story... I can relate to Dad not really being there most of the time. Mom was always as strong as she could be. I guess Dad was too, to the best of his ability at the time.

  6. That was a lovely story beautifully told. We can't sit around firesides telling our stories but this way sometimes the right one reaches the right person when needed.

    I'm glad you both managed to save so much.

  7. Utah, I bet you are a good mentor. The things most of us, young... (or older), need most is that supportive, caring listener. That is rare. It seems like all to often people want to fix things for you, (their way), which usually doesn't work.
    Sometime the family we collect on the side, so to speak, have the strongest ties.

    Kelly, their is a bird poem for you next door, so to speak. SageWind Voices.

    Marge, thanks for the suggestion, it worked.
    I think we are all such a mix of past realities, present perceptions, and future possibilities, that we are all doing the best we can at any given time.
    And if we toss in the fact that we all make mistakes once in a while, choose the wrong thing, and that none of us make it out of this life without our cuts and bruises. Learning to forgive ourselves and others for these shot comings is the key to a more content life, I think.

    Susan, I like your image, even though miles may separate all of us various bloggers, but we have a virtual fireside in the computer screen to gather us in and share our many stories.
    Isn't life interesting?

  8. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. True life stories of childhood are nearly always fascinating, I find. But what was fascinating about your beautifully written account was the resemblances and differences between it and my own childhood. I was born in the shadow of The Great Depression, and although dad had work we had to live with my grandparents to make the money go round.

  9. Multi generational families are coming back, I think.
    Our youngest son and our daughter-in-law, have her mother with them.
    At my store I have costumers who tell me there are, grandparents, parents and children, sometimes a great-grand child too, due to money issues.
    I think as we see more and more difficulties with lost jobs and lost houses, we will see more families combining.
    America has prided itself on our single family status for years, there may well be need to revisit our past.
    Dave did you teach poetry? You said education was your field of work, you have a wonderful kind of professor quality about you.

  10. lovely story. filled me with warmth. as people have commented above, material wealth is nothing when help in comparison to love and strong family ties.
    the way your community built a new house for you must show how respected your family were. after all, with the poverty you were describing and the fact that your mother still did voluntary work speaks volumes.
    the brokendown barman