What Story Will Your House Tell?

In the kitchen of the house I grew up in.

When I was a little girl, we lived in a big old house in North Bend, Nebraska. Most of my childhood memories were created there and if that house had a voice, oh the stories it would tell! You would hear tales of little girls playing house in the attic and performing Barbie funerals in the backyard, a boy who talked to plastic cowboys and rode a big wheel until the tires wore thin, and maybe just maybe you would get an answer to the age old question, “How many children will a tire swing hold?”

But what of the stories that go beyond the memories that linger within its walls? What of the physical traces we left behind? What kinds of stories will they tell? A banister worn smooth from the rear ends of a thousand sliding descents, a matchbox car dropped through an iron grate in the floor, and yes, somewhere in the backyard, buried six inches deep, a Barbie in a shoebox.

You’ve heard the phrase “If these walls could talk.” There are a few walls in that house that actually can. I remember when my mom was remodeling the office just off the living room and how her plan was to wallpaper. Before she did, she handed us each a marker and allowed us to write on the walls. I was small but I must have been thinking this must be what heaven for children is like. Writing on the walls with permission! What joy! We weren’t the only people to sign those walls. Everyone we knew, every person who stepped through those doors, placed their mark on our walls. I remember it looking like a graffiti mural of poems and signatures and drawings. When the walls were full with no room left to write, mom covered it all with wallpaper. I am sure that at some point some future occupants grew weary of the 1970s print. To this day I smile when I imagine the thoughts that went through their minds when that wallpaper was removed.

The home I live in now has stories of its own to tell. It has been witness to our most profound joys and deepest sorrows. When we leave it one day we will leave behind traces of us, some of which will be mere echoes of moments past and others are physical signs that we were here, that we existed. But what will those signs say about us? What stories will they tell?

Under the floorboards in the hallway should they ever be removed, one will discover a shocking story of murder and mayhem revealed by the chalk outline of a victim and a trail of blood. It tells of his last desperate moments as he crawled the length of the hall in a vain attempt to escape his tragic end. Of course, no one was really murdered in this house. We spilled some red paint and one thing led to another. Before we knew it we had a created a crime scene that will one day have people scratching their heads. Some might say a sick and twisted person lived here, but others will say, “Maybe she was a writer.”

While the crime scene is fiction, there is one thing under those floorboards that provides a chronicle of very real events. It is a poem I wrote with the help of a girl who used to live here. She hasn’t been home for a while but there are still signs that she was here. This poem is one of those signs. I warn you, the rhyming is bad, the structure is awful, and the rhythm will make most poets cringe, but this is the poem that tells the true story of a house and the family who lived here.

River House

Bought this house in 2001
For the river and the sun
Mom and Dad, two girls made four
Brought one dog, then got two more

Lou and Gus and Hobbes made three
Lou went to Heaven, then we got Lucy
Cats Jo and Asha came here too
Add a bird, that’s quite a few

Had a fridge that wouldn’t open
Turn on the oven, you’re only hopin’
Kitchen crammed in the corner and gutters for light
A railing in the living room, oh what a sight

“It’s time to remodel!” she said with a stammer
Disappeared to the basement, returned with sledgehammer
Tore down the paneling, put up drywall
Paint, caulk and spackling we sure had a ball

Kitchen and bedrooms and bathrooms too
One by one we remodeled each one like brand new
Savannah went to college 3,000 miles away
Kimberly came for the weekend and decided to stay

One daughter gone, the second to follow
When that day comes this house will be hollow
Except for the memories we share from the past
Laughter and fun from day one to our last

What story will your house tell?


About Susan Warren Utley

Susan Warren Utley is a wife and mother living and writing in the shadows of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Her stories are inspired by the unexpected twists and turns of real life and by her muse, a feisty Jack Russell Terrier who occasionally answers to the name of Lucy. View all posts by Susan Warren Utley

3 responses to “What Story Will Your House Tell?

  • Susan Warren Utley

    I loved being raised in Nebraska. Some of the best memories I have took place there and many of my stories are set in that house.

    I love the hand prints and the idea of leaving things in the walls. We have three more rooms to go in the renovation and I think a time capsule would be a great idea.

  • slpmartin

    Loved your comments and the poem…a very warm theme…I lived in Kearney NE for a number of years…very special people there.

  • Carolee

    That is outstanding. I understand all of this. I have left deliberate marks behind in every house I have owned, including two little boys’ hands dipped in paint and pressed against the bare wood before drywall was hung. They also stuffed matchbox cars and other things in a baggie and left them in the walls. I wonder what is buried in the yard at Mom and Dad’s house.

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