Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Mrs. Deering's House

It's not just my house that I'm in love with, it's houses in general. I'm fascinated by them and the stories of the people who live in them. A novel rarely interests me if the house the main characters live in are not central to the story. Even though I was too young to have any memory of it, could that fascination for houses have been birthed when my mother and I followed my father around from one Air Force base to another during World War II, living with people who rented out a bedroom in their homes to service wives? All I know is that I have many clear memories of the houses we later lived in, or visited, when I was growing up. I remember colors of walls, furniture arrangements, dishes on the tables. I remember windows, Christmas trees, landscaping.

A vivid memory of when I was not yet four is a fond one. We were moving into our new house, a post-WW II cottage, and Mama and I were alone in the empty house as we waited for furniture to be delivered. We sat together on a blanket on the floor in the middle of the living room, the blanket like an island surrounded by the shiny hardwood floors, not a scuff mark on them. This has always been a completely satisfying memory.

The house was a two bedroom, one bathroom house, but my goodness, how many relatives we crammed into it when holidays and family visits took place. One time it was so full that an uncle slept in the bathtub and another one under the dining room table. So much cooking took place in the little kitchen and outside on the small patio where Daddy grilled in the summer. My parents were both from poor families that had lived through the Depression, but all were hardworking men and women striving for a better life for their own children. By the time I was in elementary school, our family was typical of many 1950s era families, upwardly mobile before the term had been thought of.

There appeared a television, a blonde oak dining room set, and, wonder of wonders, an air conditioner sitting in a hole cut especially for it in the living room wall. No longer did we swelter during the summer with a slight relief felt when we went to bed and, lights out, my father pulled down the attic steps and switched on the large attic fan that sucked out some of the hot Tennessee air, drawing in gentle breezes of coolish, damp night air to move across my sticky arms and legs in shortie pajamas until I could finally pull up the thin white cotton sheet from the bottom of the bed.

My early life was filled with visits to family and friends who lived in houses fairly similar to ours. Each homemaker of these houses, housewives they were always called in those days, kept a spotless house, served wholesome meals, sent their children to school dressed appropriately, and went to the store, church, or doctor dressed like the ladies they were. On the other hand, in my memory, not one of them had the kind of decorating style that made me want to grow up and copy it. That's the truth of it so forgive me, ladies, please?

Then came the day as a pre-teen that I visited a different kind of house. Mrs. Deering played the piano at our church and was quietly elegant with a heavy chignon that shone. I didn't know the names of the labels in her clothes and wouldn't have recognized them if I had, but when I grew up I realized that she was the epitome of "The Talbot Woman" when that used to mean a whole lot. My first visit to her house with a group of girls from our church was a revelation. It was my first impression of realizing that the house "fitted" its owner in a completely perfect way.

It was an old brick two-story and inside was one room after another of antique furniture that gleamed from years of waxing. Lamps were scattered around the rooms instead of harsh overhead lighting, vases held loosely arranged roses from the garden, interesting accessories were mixed with books on shelves, and there were oil paintings on the walls. I felt as if I were in a trance as she showed us through her house, my heart thumping. I distinctly remember thinking, "Oh, this is what a house can be like. I never knew."

Two other things remain in my memory. In the master bedroom Mrs. Deering showed us how their bed, the spread made of a dull satiny material, swung apart at the footboards so that the linens could be changed and yet latched together at night. This was, you must remember, the day when married couples, always on television shows and movies, and often in real life, slept in twin beds. As our hostess showed us their bed, she smiled sweetly and told us, "I didn't get married to sleep three feet away from my husband."


The second thing that knocked my bobby sox off was that she served our group of young awkward girls a full nine-boy chicken curry lunch. It smelled divine and even those of us who were all elbows rose to the occasion and daintily served ourselves the chicken on top of the fluffiest riceI'd ever tasted, and next took tiny servings of the condiments of chopped peanuts, raisins, coconut, chutney (I'm betting it was Major Grey), apples, bananas, pineapple, and I can't remember what else.

It was the first time that I understood that food could be more than the sum of its components. It could look pretty, taste of foreign lands and foreign spices, and be served by a hostess who wanted to give young girls something to remember, maybe even something to aspire to.

From the day I visited Mrs. Deering's house I have had a love affair with houses. So much so that I dream about them. My most recurring dream has been one with different variations where I walk through my house, sometimes the one I'm presently living in, sometimes a former home, often a totally strange house but I know it's mine. And invariably I open a door and discover a new room that I never had known was there. Have you ever had a dream like that? It was not until I read Frances Mayes' Under the Tuscan Sun that I found out other women have these dreams too.

"I dream of former houses I've lived in, or finding rooms I didn't know were there.
Many friends have told me that they, too, have this dream...In house after 
house (my best friend's in high school, my childhood home),
I open a door and there is more than I knew."

Think of that!

I may not remember what someone is wearing if they invite me to their house, but I will remember each room I saw. And I will always remember Mrs. Deering's house. It may not have been quite as large as this one, but in my memory this is the way it looked.

Was the house you grew up in similar to what you wanted to live in as an adult? Or was there one you saw when you were growing up that made you think: "So this is what a house can be like."


  1. Dewena, that was a beautiful story! I was imagining myself there at Mrs Deering's home. Sometimes I wish I was born in that era! People really took pride in their homes and their appearance. life I imagine was so much simpler!
    I too have a love for homes and sometimes I loose myself in peoples homes staring at their decor! How funny that your uncle slept in the tub!
    This was a fun post to read I am now dreaming of Mrs Deering's home!

  2. I love houses too. I have chosen to watch movie because of the house not the plot. I love going on our local historical home tours. I don't really care for the new model home type tours. I want to see where real people live. Lovely post.

  3. For me it's a feeling. I always "know" the house I will live
    in next.

  4. Dweena- I loved this post- It was one of the most memorable posts I have ever read on a blog. I understand exactly what you are talking about. I am going to do a post on this, too, with a link back to your blog. I know those feeling and I dream of houses all the time- xo Diana

  5. This was fun! I love looking at people's houses, which is why I love decorating blogs.

    When I was a kid, we lived in a huge 3 story Victorian house. There were seven bedrooms and, at some point, I lived in all of them except one (my parent's). We kids switched rooms around like musical chairs, lol!

    I love big houses, and I love big porches. Especially wrap around ones. With a arbor in the garden and a white picket fence with roses peering through!

  6. Dewena, what a delightful read and oh, how I wish i had house memories like these...walking into a house of discoveries, finding a fit of home somewhere. Although, I worked decades for a shelter magazine, I've never walked into a room that gave me such satisfaction of coming home as the kind you express here. I'm still looking...
    thank you for this lovely blog treat :)

  7. What a wonderful and interesting post to read and yes I 've had house memories like that over the years too ....

  8. None of the homes I grew up in were anything like our home now. I lived in a variety of homes, similar to what you describe about your childhood homes. J grew up in a farmhouse...fairly primitive, no indoor plumbing. He talks about brushing snow from the quilts when he woke up on winter mornings. We lived in a home in the back pasture of the farm until 2003, when we built our present home. I was 60 that year.:-)

    I remember visiting homes like Mrs Deering's home. I believe those days were when my love of decorating was born. J and I both are interested in architecture. Love actually seeing homes and how they are constructed.

    Thanks so much for your visit. When I put that first photo on the post, I thought the same as you did. It made me think of chicken salad sandwiches and fountain cokes at the drugstore. Those cokes aren't the same these days. There was something about the mix of coke syrup and carbonated water, back then.

  9. Very interesting and fun post. The house is lovely. How special to have visited the house. I grew up in a small house with 3 bedrooms. I always looked forward to visiting my grandparents, because they had a huge rumpus room with a very large bar. Every holidays, the pool table was covered with plywood and the entire surface was covered in delicious food. Very special memories indeed. Thank you for sharing, your newest follower, Linda

  10. Hi Dewena
    Thank you for leaving a comment on Random Distractions earlier. I have just discovered where your blog is and i can see that I'm going to be a regular follower! I love your writing style. I have only read this post so far but I'll be back tomorrow to see some more. It's the middle of the night here in UK but I am happy to have been sleepless for once - I'm going to bed now to think of lovely houses!

  11. What a lovely post! Mrs Deering sounds like a very inspiring lady. I also love the idea of a 'completely satisfying memory' - that's such a nice way to view things. As for houses - oh I dreamed of houses in books, rather than the small suburban terrace that I grew up in (and still live there! Saving for a deposit in London is cruel.) I think I especially loved the house in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe - all those rooms and stairs. And I also liked Roger's bachelor pad in the cartoon 101 Dalmatians - books and paper, a comfortable chaos.

  12. Dear sister, I too have some wonderful memories of Mrs. Deering. She was one classy lady with the kindest heart. I did see her house one time when she was holding a shower for one of my friends. We did get to see a little more of the house, and it was beautiful. Unlike you sister, I don't remember houses but often remember the clothing and jewelry that people wore. I was wearing that night, a navy dress long sleeved. We dressed as you said Brenda for many activities outside of the home. My dress was one of my favorites, and had white linen cuffs and white linen ruffles around the neck. You see where my interests are. Another time, Mrs. Deering attended a weekend church camp for all of us teenagers. I remember reading aloud for a play that we were going to do, and Mrs. Deering came behind me and placed her hand around my shoulders. At it ended, I got the part! One of my very few experiences with acting. In my memory of her, she will always be an Angel.

  13. This is a wonderful thought provoking post.
    I have been thinking of my dream house since I read this.
    Thank you for triggering that memory!

    Have a wonderful weekend,
    White Spray Paint

  14. Oh, my, Dewena. This is a heartwarming post that prompts so many memories of houses I have loved over the years. One of my fondest and oldest house memories is Martha Woodbury's old victorian farmhouse she shared with her husband. it was a magical place. Maybe one day I'll write about it. Thanks for sharing this beautiful memory of Mrs. Deering's house. I loved it! -- Nancy

  15. What a sweet memory, Dewena. In thinking back, the one house that stands out from childhood visits as different than mine was all pale colors. The upholstery in the living room was pale blue and cream. I was never comfortable in that room but I did admire the stairway that had a landing. I've been sitting here thinking about this subject and I realized the personalities of the children who grew up in that house were a bit pale also. Hmmmm...I'll be on this one all day.


  16. Dweena,

    What a fascinating story! I hung on every word. You are a skilled story teller. I watch movies and am always fascinated with the houses that the characters live in! No, I didn't like any of the homes I lived in as a child. My childhood was was not safe. My stepfather was an alcoholic and my mom worked outside the home in the evenings and we were left with my step dad. I do have lots of great memories of spending time with my mom and sisters, but I wasn't in love with our home and couldn't wait to leave. I hung out at all my friend's homes.

    This is why creating a safe and loving beautiful home is so important to me! I've been blessed to create the home of my dreams in real life. I often dream of larger homes in nicer towns but for home suits me just fine!!!


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