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This summer in August our state of Washington has been under siege from wildfires. Many have had to be evacuated, their lives disrupted for weeks while firemen put their lives on the line and try to curtail this fiery destruction. Some have lost everything except that which they could remove quickly. Their homes are gone, and now they are faced with rebuilding.
I lost my childhood home, not to a devastating fire, but it was a shock, all the same, to learn that a bank had purchased the land, and had the house demolished and the land cleared. My house was gone! Heartbreaking. True, our parents had sold the house many years ago, but whenever we would visit Council Bluffs, Iowa, we would drive down Avenue A and past our house, turning on 21st street so we could get a glimpse at all the sides of the house. It looked different from our childhood days, and honestly, in my mind I see the past, not the way it ended up divided into several apartments. My sister Kay was going to attend a high school reunion just a couple of weeks later. She was going to go visit the house, and pretend to be a potential renter so she could go inside. Now she can’t. Our house is gone forever.
I lived in the house from the time I was born until I left for college. So many memories. I want to remember every little detail, and know that it is impossible. So in my mind I take a walk through the house and write down my thoughts. Come along with me, and let’s see what memories surface.
The big house on the corner. 25 North 21st Street was the address, or we described it as on the corner of 21st Street and Avenue A. A big house that my grandparents, J. Fred and Jennie Evans had rented when they moved from Salt Lake City Utah. My father was 10 years old at the time. They lived in the house for 8 years, and when the owners wanted to sell the house, my grandparents purchased it.
When my father grew up and married my mother, they purchased the home from his parents, and added a bedroom with a sun deck above it, and another room off the kitchen. This is the house that I was acquainted with.
I am walking up the sidewalk, and up 4 steps to go into the front door. A long narrow hallway with a big upright piano is before me. That is where I practiced my piano lessons for years. At the end of the piano was the door to the coat closet. On the back side of the piano were stairs going up to where my grandparents, J. Fred and Jane Elizabeth lived. As I walk up the stairs, my hand glides over the dark brown wooden banister. There is a small window that looks out to the street and another window at the top of the stairs. Turning right, I enter into my grandparent’s apartment. It is small, but seems adequate for them.
On the right side is their living room with a couch where Grandpa Evans sits, and a rocking chair where my grandmother sits. They really like to watch the Lawrence Welk show and play checkers. There is a round table and on it is a lamp that has cut glass that hang like prisms under the upper part. I love to touch the hanging glass. My grandmother’s hands are crippled with arthritis. I feel so sorry for her, her fingers disfigured, bent and twisted. It is hard for her to do things that the rest of us can easily do. She had to give up playing the piano, something she did very well when we was younger.
I like to go upstairs and help her. I roll her hair in pink sponge rollers, and then comb and style her hair. Even in her elderly years, she wants to look attractive. She always wears a dress. Women do NOT wear pants. She gives me a few coins, and tells me not to tell Grandpa. It will just be our “little secret.”
They have a small kitchen, and a small table for two where I watch my grandfather take out a box of soybean tablets from the refrigerator and fill up a plastic pouch with the vanilla smelling pills and put them in his large pants pocket. He likes to eat them and he eats a lot of them! My grandmother makes poached eggs and toast which are very tasty. But my favorite dish is the one she makes with green jello, whipping cream, cottage cheese, and fruit.
Down the hallway is their bedroom on the right. A double bed has flannel sheets, and I love to lay in their bed and feel the warmth of the flannel. My grandparents like my company, and I like to spend time with them also. Their bedroom closet is actually a double closet, for you can get into the library by going through the door on the opposite side. Book shelves full of books adorn the walls, with two wicker chairs. My grandfather sits in the library and reads a great deal of the time.
As teenagers, Kay and I would “lay out” and sunbathe on the deck off of my grandparent’s bedroom. Much to the dismay and worry of them, for their son-in-law, my uncle Myrthan, had told them about the damaging rays of the sun and the potential of getting skin cancer. I can’t say that we were very good listeners, because we continued to sunbathe despite their warnings. And now, of course, we know they were right!
It is sad to me that no one can enter into this home forever more. In my mind I continue my tour of the house and walk down the varnished stairs.
When I walk into the living room, I see large framed pictures of Pinkie and Blue Boy on the wall on each side of my parents’ bedroom door. The living room is where we gather to read scriptures, say prayers, or visit with friends and neighbors. Our home is like an open door to many and we often get visitors.
In the adjacent dining room we gathered for meals at the beautiful table that could be expanded with its three leaves. Matching chairs and a buffet completed the set. There is a large framed print of Christ on the wall, called Peace, Be Still, by Arnold Freiberg. Another framed print in the dining room is of an elderly man praying. “Grace,” by Eric Enstrom. Mom says that the man reminds her of Great Grandpa Babbel. Mother is a wonderful cook, and she bakes bread, cookies, and pies, often, if not daily. She is always making a lot of whatever it was she cooks, and shares it with others. During dinnertime we talk and it is always pleasant. We always say a prayer of thanks and blessing on the food before we eat, and after the meal, we all help with the dishes. My father always tells my mother how good the meal tasted and thanks her. He is always so kind and respectful.
Off the dining room is another room that is a bedroom or a sewing room, sometimes both at the same time. Mom makes almost all of our clothes, so she always has a project or two or three going at one time. When we were young she would make herself, my sister Kay, and myself matching coats! I remember the hum of the sewing machine as she stayed up very late sewing for us. She said once that she taught herself how to sew! By the time I was getting married, she was an expert seamstress and made my wedding dress, bridal veil, and bridesmaid’s dresses.
In the small bathroom off the sewing room, I have a memory about my Dad. His combs kept disappearing! Likely it was Kay and I that would use it and lose it and he got frustrated. One day he solved that problem when he brought home a box of 144 combs. They sat on the back of the toilet, and after that he didn’t have to worry about us taking his comb.
The house was filled with music! My mom loved to sing while she worked, and she had a beautiful voice. My Dad loved good music like Classical, Pops, and Musical Soundtracks. He put speakers throughout the house, and if we slept in too long we would be awakened by a Sousa march! I grew up loving the music my parents did, and Bolero was one of my favorites. Dad had his rack of 33 1/3 rpms in the sewing room, and it was fun looking at the covers of those records. I started piano lessons when I was 5 and didn’t quit until my senior year. Kay learned to play the flute, and it was fun to play duets together.
Off the kitchen are the stairs that lead to the basement. That is where Kay’s and my bedroom is. We always shared a room our whole lives. More children were born into our family: James John, Sherie Sue, and Elizabeth Ann. When I was in the 10th grade my sister Mary Kristine was born, and Jared Patrick was born shortly after I left for college. There was a lot of activity in that house and seemingly mountains of laundry!
It was in the basement, just at the bottom of the stairs, where my husband proposed to me one night after our date. I said “Yes,” and later I watched him through the window of that door at the top of the basement steps as he stepped out onto the patio, and happily leaped into the air before he disappeared into the blackness of night.
One cannot talk about the house and leave out the large back yard. A big weeping willow tree held a swing. Our family and friends would play kickball, softball, freeze tag, and many more games. In the winter time we’d play Fox and Geese and make snow angels. Often our parents would flood the back yard so we could ice skate. You see, the back yard dipped down creating a perfect place for ice skating. Hot chocolate was always waiting when we finished. On Christmas Eve we would go to bed, and quietly watch out the window as our parents carried Christmas presents from the old barn we called a garage to the house through our bedroom window.
We kids grew up, married, and now have families of our own.
My grandmother Jennie (Jane Elizabeth Pickering Evans) passed away a few days after Christmas when I was a senior in high school, and my grandfather J. Fred (John Frederick Evans, Sr.) followed three years afterward. My father, John Frederick Evans, Jr., passed on into immortality last year on July 31, 2014. Now a year later, our childhood home is no more. I wonder what will become of the cleared lot? Though the house is gone, it still lives on in my memory. I hope that my story will allow others to know what a wonderful house used to exist at 25 N. 21st Street, in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and hope that whatever is built on the land at the corner of 21st and Avenue A will be a source of goodness for families in the community.
But when I visit Council Bluffs, Iowa, I will drive by and remember the house that used to be.