On Dad’s Lap

This is my childhood home.

Growing Up House

This picture appears to have been taken in the mid sixties at the time when my parents bought the white stucco house that became their home of twenty plus years. The house looks so stark in this photograph, but in my mind, it is so much more colorful and warm.

My parents didn’t have a lot of money, but they truly made this house our home. During the years I was growing up there, Mom and Dad added black shutters around the front windows. They planted vibrant flower beds in the gardens bordering the front of the house. The Maple tree in the middle of the front yard grew tall and the trunk so wide we could barely wrap our arms around it. During the spring and summer months, Dad was always doing something to keep the lawn lush and green.

Inside, the house was small for a family of six, but I never noticed. The kitchen was the hub of the household. It occupied the back, northeast corner of the house. There are pictures from my early years that show the kitchen with some breathing room…


My third birthday

…but as our family grew, the room seemed to grow smaller. It was a long and narrow space, accessible from our “back” door, which was actually on the side of the house. When coming in from outside, you could either go straight down the stairs to the basement which was eventually finished, or to the right and into the kitchen.

I remember the kitchen best in its 1970’s decor. The walls were a peachy-salmon color and Mom sewed bright fruit-patterned curtains and valances for the windows. The table was the same one all the years my parents lived there. It had a brown formica top and an extra leaf to expand it to a large oval. The six chairs were originally cushioned with a goldish-brown vinyl. Later when the vinal began to show wear and tear, Mom reupholstered them herself with a more subtle beige. Mom could do amazing things with her sewing machine.

From the back entryway, looking into the kitchen, there was a free-standing cabinet in the outside corner of the north wall. The cabinet held miscellaneous kitchen stuff, like the electric mixer and cookie sheets. Mom’s cookie jar was always on top, and if we were lucky, we might open the lid to find her famous molasses cookies, or maybe chocolate chip, always with a slice of white bread inside too, to keep the cookies soft and fresh.

Side by side with the cabinet was the refrigerator, and immediately next to the fridge was our family table. The table was squeezed between the fridge and the west wall, along which spanned upper and lower cupboards, and two big, white kitchen sinks that Mom hated because it took weekly scrubbing with lots of Comet cleanser to keep them looking white. And behind Dad’s chair at the head of the table was the dishwasher. I think we lost valuable cupboard space to the luxury of a dishwasher, but as one of the main dishwashers, I was grateful.

The inside kitchen wall was lined by the stove, nearest the back door, and next to it, another free-standing cabinet where one of those new-fangled microwaves eventually made its home. And finally, there was the old wooden hutch, passed down from someone on my mom’s side of the family. Inside the hutch was always a variety of cold cereals. As I said, we didn’t have much money, but Mom and Dad bought us the good stuff, like Cocoa Puffs and Cap’n Crunch. And Mom’s Shredded Wheat was always in there too.

Every chair at the kitchen table was needed to seat our family of six for a meal. But due to the space limitations, the table never could make its permanent home in the middle of the kitchen where you might expect to find it. When not in use, it was pushed against the outside wall of the kitchen. When it was meal time, the table was pulled out and my sister and I would squeeze into the chairs against the wall. The brothers got the outside chairs. And come to think of it, the spoiled, youngest brother was often eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or chocolate Malt-O-Meal at dinner time when he didn’t like what Mom had cooked. Eating an alternative meal was a privilege only the youngest was allowed, just like sleeping in church! But I’m not bitter or anything! 😉

When meals were finished and as clean-up and dishwashing began, the table was pushed back against the wall to allow room for us to pass through the kitchen.

When I think of that house and the activities that went on inside, it’s the kitchen I remember the most. Every night after coming home from work, Mom would get dinner on the stove, and while chicken or a hot dish was baking in the oven, my parents would sit at opposite ends of the table. Dad (and sometimes Mom too) would sip on a beer or maybe two, depending on how long it took for the meal to cook. Sometimes they would read the paper and sometimes they would sit and talk about their days while something simmered on the stove.

In our younger days, Dad was the “yes” parent. If permission was needed, you stood a better chance of getting it from Dad than from Mom. Looking back, I realize Mom was probably overwhelmed most of the time, working full time while still managing all of the expected wifely household duties. A kid asking for anything that required additional effort from Mom was likely to be disappointed, unless of course, you were the youngest kid and looking for a bowl of Malt-O-Meal.

During those days, I could wander through the kitchen and while my siblings watched television in the nearby living room, or played in the boys’ bedroom down the hall, I would often climb up on my dad’s lap while he sat at the table during the pre-dinner hour with my mom. He’d wrap one arm around my waist and hold me against him while they talked. Usually, I’d interrupt at some point.

“Dad, can I have a sip of your beer?”

“Sure,” he’d always say, and I’d lift the bottle of Buckhorn to my lips.

I didn’t like beer. I asked and took a sip, only because Dad let me. I must have mentioned once that I thought it could use some salt, and I can remember Dad telling me that some people put green olives in their beer for just that reason.

I never asked to sit on Mom’s lap. It never would have occurred to me to ask. She always seemed to me too busy and hectic for such a thing, although I remember my youngest brother being quite comfortable there. But Dad always welcomed me, and sitting with him gave me a sense of comfort, and allowed me a rare bit of his sole attention. We four kids came into the world quickly, each one of us arriving two years or less after the previous child. We were a handful, always competing for our parents’ attention, and constantly bickering with one another. The youngest kids needed and received the most notice. I was sandwiched on the older side of the middle and although my oldest sister and I were expected to behave and stay out of our parents’ hair, I always seemed to be causing them exasperation. I didn’t mean to. I was just that kid. Those few minutes of sitting on Dad’s lap and sharing his beer made me feel loved and important, in spite of my challenging behavior.

… I just wanted to remember something good about my dad…