Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Finding Home: Issaquah Homestead

It wasn't a real homestead, not in terms of the U.S. Homestead Act of 1862. It wasn't even a working farm, though we did manage to clear some of the forest for pasture land, and at different times we had a variety of animals. To some it was nothing more than a dismal stump farm, but to me it was home for a dozen glorious years.

The Northwest wilderness - alders and vine maples, cedars and firs, salal and fern - became home when I was four. In 1959 my parents left the city. They bought ten acres of undeveloped land in the Issaquah Valley about twenty-five miles southeast of Seattle. The Homestead was the first of three houses my father built on this land.

I've written extensively about my family's  glorious adventures and dismal misadventures in the Issaquah Valley in my memoir, The Thirty-Ninth Victim. Our life there began in a large Army surplus tent, our home for the summer, while Dad dug a well, poured a foundation, framed, plumbed and wired the basement of our new house. Our growing family moved into the unfinished house, and through the years it continued to grow up around us until finally, when I was sixteen, it was finished. And sold.
It was a family project. We worked on that house every evening when Dad returned from his paying job in Seattle and every weekend. We had chores. Lots of chores. But when the chores were done, I was free to roam, and roam I did from ages four to sixteen. Sometimes on foot, others on horseback. Sometimes alone, others with a sibling or a few. It didn't matter. I belonged to the woods, and the woods belonged to me. It was when I left the farm, had to go to school, be with people other than my large family, that I felt miserable, disoriented and alone. As soon as I hopped off that big yellow school bus and began the half-mile long walk up the dirt driveway carved through the woods, I was happy. I belonged again.

Throughout the 1960s, when the world went mad, I was blissfully ignorant, running wild in the woods. We watched only limited television and there were no newspapers in our house. The horrors of war and social unrest were kept at bay. At least for awhile.
By the time I reached my teens, we'd built a home complete with horse stables, riding arena, and even a swimming pool Dad created from a surplus Rainier Brewing Company beer vat. He cut it in quarters, had them delivered and sunk into a huge hole in the side yard and began the slow, painstaking task of welding the pieces back together again.

The house was completed and sold during my junior year of high school. I'll never know what combination of factors led to the decision to sell. Maybe it was never more than another investment for my parents, just like the Shorewood and Walnut houses. Maybe it was too big with my older siblings leaving home. Maybe there was too much land and taxes were too high. Maybe it was the threat of more Bonneville power lines crossing our view of Mount Rainier despite the handshake and promise Dad received to the contrary. Whatever the reason, when they sold our home, two thirds of the land, and my favorite horse, something inside of me shattered. The house, stables, riding arena and surrounding forests were my life, my identity. Without them, I no longer knew who I was.
For years I dreamt of someday buying back my childhood home. But now, over four decades later, the house has been remodeled in a feeble attempt at a red brick Tudor, the land has been subdivided, and the incredible stables with Dad's hand-cut horse head in each door has been razed. Thomas Wolfe had it right. There's no going home again.

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Nancy McBride said...

The home I grew up in, built in 1838, called "The House By The Side of the Road", and located on the village green in Lebanon, CT, was razed last year. It had been acquired by the Historical Society, and deemed too structurally unsound to renovate. Even though our family hadn't owned it for 25 years, the committee that decided this was made up of my childhood friends who referred to it as our home, and they shared memories of their childhoods there, too. They invited me to wander the property before it was demolished, which I did, and I captured lots of memories that day in photos and in my mind. I understand, seeing it, why it had to go, but my brothers, not so much...never seeing it rotten and falling down.

arleen said...

The years of separation don't seem to matter, do they? When I visited the "homestead" last summer and learned that the land had been subdivided and the old barn had been torn down, I was devastated. So many memories.
Thanks for sharing, Nancy McBride.

Working Girl said...

Those are some real vintage photos!

arleen said...

Indeed, Working Girl. I've been doing a lot of sorting and organizing to pull together photos for this blog series! Unfortunately, I don't have shots of all the places I'll be writing about. And some no longer exist at all. I wish I'd documented my journey better in photos as well as words. So it goes.