13 December 2009

Dad’s Dream: A Tale of Two Houses

Thanks so much to Paul for inviting me to guest post during his absence. The piece I’ve written is far more sentimental and estrogen-infused than his normal fare, so I’ve been second guessing the whole idea. I suppose I could have written about my specialty, Kitchen Design. But since my dad passed away thirty years ago this month I have been spending a lot of time revisiting some old memories, especially those surrounding our living spaces. So here I go, with a little Christmas tribute to my dad:

My dad, the electronics professor with the teasing wit and clip-on bow tie, had a manuscript for a college textbook to complete and three noisy rug rats underfoot. “We’ll go to the country for the summer,” he must have said to Mom. So we left the jazzy hum of multi-cultural Monterey for a taste of rural America. Mom and Dad rented a seven-bedroom, turn of the century, Dutch Colonial farmhouse in a small town nestled on the upland slope of the Santa Cruz Mountains. It was 1968.
 Brown House 
The house itself was decrepit, with advanced plumbing issues. I can remember turning a squeaky faucet handle and observing the slow oozing of rusty goo into a wall-mount lavatory. It was minimally furnished, most notably for me with a record player and stack of albums which included The Ventures, Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass and The Beach Boys. There were clawfoot tubs, cold linoleum floors and secret passageways. It was absolutely wonderful; and it was here that we all huddled around our black-and-white console TV to watch a grainy image of Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon.

Christmas 1968
While we kids were enamored with the house and the space to run, Dad was enamored with the close proximity of his beloved redwoods. These are graceful, velvet-barked, tilt-your-head-back-and-try-to-find-the-top kinds of trees. On many Sundays after church we would be treated to dipped cones at Foster Freeze, then a drive through the dense, moist, redwood forests of California’s Coastal Range.

Summer rolled into fall and it became clear that we weren’t ever going back to Monterey. Dad bought several acres of future paradise on a steep hillside with a lush valley view and never finished the manuscript.

For the next five years he was a man with a plan and a long commute to teach year-round plus some night classes. Our occasional vacations meant piling into the Ambassador station wagon (without seatbelts) to visit family, with stops to tour model homes: A-Framed, chalet-style mountain retreats. Dad’s enthusiasm was contagious, and we had all caught it.

So in 1974, when the framing finally went up, we were all totally engaged with the process. I think this is why even today I adore the smell of sawdust on a jobsite or in a cabinet shop. Miraculously my sister and I, as teenagers, were able to agree on one thing: our new bedroom would have lavender walls and chartreuse shag carpet. Deep shag. Life held such promise; we each had ample closet space for our bell bottoms and wrap-around skirts and plenty of wall space for our fuzzy black-light posters. Dad fashioned swinging saloon-style doors to separate the toilet space from our long, double vanity.

scan0019 Dad's Dream House

All of the cabinetry was birch plywood with a simple, flat door, routed on the back side to lip over the face frame. Outfitted with the latest Harvest Gold appliances, the galley kitchen was no more than ten feet long. Mom chose sunflower gold tile for the countertops and a happy blue and yellow vinyl flooring. There was no microwave of course. We didn’t know we needed microwaves in the 70’s. 

There was, however, a small appliance that truly christened the kitchen of our A-framed chalet in the redwoods. On our first Christmas in the new house, Auntie Midgie and Uncle Owen presented my parents with the latest innovation: a Joe DiMaggio-endorsed, Mr. Coffee automatic drip coffeemaker that eventually gurgled and brewed to everyone’s delight. But Dad “wrote the book” on electronics, so he didn’t need directions. When his first coffee-brewing efforts were met without success, Dad proclaimed in his most professorial voice that there was obviously “too much turbulence in the scupper hole." This would become a family mantra of sorts for all future technical difficulties.

Mr Coffee sm
Uncle Owen admires the Mr. Coffee. (Mom & Dad are on the right)

And so just as Dad had dreamed, this A-Framed abode with its pointed nose of window glass, extensive redwood decking and mountain charm, was in harmony with its environs. And a gregarious, hard-working man realized a dream.

Less than two years later, before the new-house smell had even gone, Dad learned that he had lung cancer. Our family went into survival mode and tried to reconcile that what once felt like a shiny new beginning was now the beginning of the end. My courageous dad tried to go back to work for awhile with just one lung. He loved a few things even more than the redwoods…teaching for one, family for another.

Just before he passed on, he briefly came out of a semi-comatose state and lucidly and with a sense of urgency asked us to sing a hymn, In The Garden. My mom, Auntie Midgie and I sang it very poorly, but the look on his face told me he was hearing something more angelic. Here is the last verse:

I'd stay in the garden with Him,
Though the night around me be falling,
But He bids me go, through the voice of woe,
His voice to me is calling.
And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own,
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

He left us, there in his redwood paradise. He had pursued the things he loved. As I squeamishly approach the age my dad was when he bought that piece of property(!), I appreciate ever more deeply the lifestyle he modeled. He is still teaching. He’s teaching us to journey to discover our own unique dreams, the ones that are so divinely designed that they inspire a hope that propels us to act, and a joy that’s contagious.

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Today is a gift; that’s why they call it the present.”

Merry Christmas.

My blog: http://www.highdeserthomecompanion.blogspot.com/
On Facebook: www.facebook.com/CocinaDesigns


  1. That's a great story. Thanks for the estrogen-infusion. “too much turbulence in the scupper hole" is laugh-out-loud funny...for a nerd like me, anyway.

  2. Awesome! Just wonderful. It brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Thanks for following me into the time tunnel! It's so satisfying to be able to keep my precious dad's memory alive. Isn't it amazing that decades later we can still mentally walk the halls of our childhood homes and smell the smells and feel the feelings...

  4. Oh wow Kit, thank you so much for writing telling this story in this space. I'm honored frankly. I'm spending the weekend with my immediate family --my parents, my sibs and their kids and the whole weekend has been filled with my family's versions of there being too much turbulence in the scupper hole. My Dad was an electrical engineer and a lot of our family lore involves his dealings through the years with things electrical and mechanical.

    For us though, my Dad's promised land was in the wilds of rural Ontario. My brothers and their families still go up to that old homestead in the summer and just this morning a bunch of us sat and watched movies of my nieces and nephews running wild in the same places my sibs and I ran wild when we were kids. I looked over and my Dad was getting misty-eyed. He was after all watching his grandkids being kids in the same place he set aside for HIS kids to be kids. We're a fortunate group in many ways not the least of which is to share a legacy that's tied to a place.

    Your post today is perfect and I can't thank you enough for choosing my blog to tell this story.

  5. Wow, Paul, thanks.

    Props to you for making the time to spend with your extended family! It's so priceless.

    I have fantasized about building a house to replicate the dutch colonial from my childhood. I've even drawn the floorplan! But the reality is...it wouldn't be the same. There are just some things we can't replicate except in the deep recesses of our memory files.

    But I learned from this writing exercise that there's a way to get some satisfaction out of my memories: by painting a picture that allows me to invite new friends into those old places.

    Thanks for allowing us to write without parameters! It was a blessing.

  6. kit -- have to say I was pleasantly surprised to find this -- A beautiful story beautifully told. I am glad you chose a topic so reflective and personal, tied too to what you do and how you come to do it.

    The detail to which you recall your childhood, I mean, wow -- something special . . . . Makes me wonder how my girls see me now, and what they might remember of my time.

    Enjoy everyday, my friend. thank you for sharing this. jb

  7. Thanks for your kind words, JB.

    I'm learning to look back, not so much to dwell on the past as to reset my perspective for today...

    Happy holidays to you and your fam!


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