“To everything . . . turn, turn, turn. There is a season . . . turn, turn, turn. And a time for every purpose, under Heaven. A time to be born, a time to die, a time to plant, a time to reap, a time to kill, a time to heal, a time to laugh, a time to weep . . .” The Byrds, 1965.
At the time, it didn’t seem that small. It just didn’t. But, I suppose it was. Throughout the normal year, there were eight of us – six children (four boys, two girls) and our parents. In the summer, however, the number increased. Our grandmother arrived in May for a two month visit, and our cousin joined us in June for the summer. And at least once each day – and sometimes two – the entire group would gather around the wooden kitchen table – oblong in shape with two benches and two end-chairs – to eat. With five to a side and my grandmother and father at the ends, it must have been elbow to elbow. It just didn’t seem so at the time.
When it started, the home was 888 square feet – not including an unfinished full basement and a backyard. It had three bedrooms, one bathroom, and what would now be called an “eat-in” kitchen. As I entered my teenage life, my folks expanded the house, tearing down the small bedroom wall to create a living-room/dining room combo, and adding a family room and a larger bedroom. Finally, well after I had moved out, they added a deck which spanned the entire length of the rear of the house. Again, at the time, none of it seemed small.
There was a need for creativity, however, with only one bathroom and a minimum of eight residents. On school mornings, showers started early and lasted a few minutes or less if possible. The house had two sinks and it wasn’t beyond anyone to use the one in the kitchen to brush teeth or wash hair. As the family aged, my father kindly set up a make-shift shower in the basement – weaving a hose through the ceiling joists, centering it over the floor drain, and encircling it with a shower curtain for as much privacy as a shower in the middle of an open basement could have. It seemed luxurious and we felt lucky to have two showers.
Throughout the ensuring years, my parents added a large round, above-ground pool in the backyard – right next to the two story tree house, built by my brothers, and eventually secured for safety by my dad. We had a one car garage which was fine during the time that we only owned one car. As we learned to drive and bought more cars, we simply parked them in the street as best we could. Everything seemed to fit – nothing seemed too small.
In fact, our small house worked so well that on Christmas in 1976, my parents invited my aunt, uncle, and their four children to stay with us for the holidays. Total home population was fourteen residents, fifteen when my grandma arrived, with my parents welcoming many others on a daily basis to visit with our visitors. For two weeks, we ate in shifts, showered on a schedule, slept wherever floorspace permitted, and, in general, made concessions on almost everything and anything related to space. With a Christmas tree and presents filling up an already full family room, the space should have felt tight and cramped. But again, it did not.
It never did.
Not too long ago, my husband, my son, and I went to that family home to stay overnight. There were only three of us in the house at the time – as my father was staying at my brother’s house for the evening, and my mother had passed away a dozen years prior. As we sat at the kitchen table, I thought back to the times when there would be a minimum of an additional five to seven individuals eating dinner in the same space. Toe to toe, shoulder to shoulder, we would eat, talk, laugh, fight and cry with each other, meal after meal after meal after meal.
Something in the world has changed, however, because looking at that kitchen today with a yardstick and a ruler, it definitely would be considered small. It just would be. In fact, thinking back, there were times when rather than navigating through those sitting at the table, the best way to walk through the kitchen was to exit out the back door, walk around and enter the front door.
The kitchen may have been small. The bathroom may have been small. In fact, the whole house may have been small; but, what wasn’t small was the life of the folks living in that home. From that small house, we learned a lot.
We learned to share – everything – closets, clothes, towels, bedrooms, shower space, radios, cars, food – nothing was sacred. In small spaces, individual ownership of things is tough – making sharing a natural, seamless, normal function. I look back on it and recognize that it was a blessing to learn the concept of sharing so prominently and passionately.
We also learned to be flexible. People – cousins, grandparents, friends – moved in and out of the house all the time. In fact, the house seemed empty without someone staying with the eight of us. We just shifted, moved, and/or switched places to meet the current needs without fanfare or concern. A sleeping bag here – a blanket there – add a couple of pillows – and voila – we found the space. With such flexibility, my parents reaffirmed the idea that it was our family that was blessed – to have so many folks who wanted to live with us. We were the fortunate ones. We were the lucky ones.
We learned that there was a time for everything. Everything was scheduled to make sure that life in the house ran like clockwork. Dinner time – 5:00pm. Shower time – scheduled each morning. Bedtime – on the half hour after 7:00pm depending on age. Everything had its own moment, and it was best to capitalize on those moments.
Finally, as I march deeper and deeper into the 21st century, I only hope that I have learned to share well, to be flexible enough, and to know that “to everything there is a time and a purpose, under Heaven.”