Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Finding Home: The Shorewood Shack

The Shorewood shack was my parents' first home as newlyweds in 1947. It made my mother's parents cry in dismay. But Dad was undeterred. They had a roof over their heads and land to build on.

Dad poured a foundation, framed, wired, plumbed, and roofed the place. He worked full time and built in his "free time" after putting in his daily shifts as a union steamfitter. I don't know how long it took before the new house stood fresh and shiny on a tiny dead-end street called Marine View Drive, but I know it was sold about six years after Dad broke ground. I have no memory of the original shack, and no idea what became of it. Maybe it became a garden shed. Maybe a garden shop. Maybe they tore it down in celebration.

The Shorewood house was Dad's first construction project. I wonder what a nightmare it must have been for both my parents. Or maybe an adventure? They were young. World War II had ended. Life was full of hope and opportunity. In those first five years of marriage, they had four children and built their first house.

They went on to have nine kids and build seven more houses.

But were they ever homes? What makes a home? A putting down of roots? A sense of belonging to both place and community? I'm hesitant to use the word home. I'm unsure whether any of the houses Dad built were homes. For me, there is a difference. I don't know that such a difference existed for my parents. At times I think their houses were only investments.
Until recently, I’d believed I was carried home from Providence Hospital in my mother's arms to breathe the fresh autumn salt air of Puget Sound, the blue of sea and sky merging on the horizon. Simple mathematics tell me I was wrong.

My older siblings were school-age, when I joined the family as the fifth child, six years behind the first. My folks wanted them close to a quality elementary school. Through sweat equity they'd increased the value of the Shorewood property sufficiently to flip it (in today's parlance) and buy a house in a more desirable area of West Seattle. When my mother carried me home, it was to a craftsman home on Walnut Avenue, not to the newly completed Shorewood house, but more about that next week.
Yet, I have this photo of myself in front of the Shorewood house. I must have been about three. I'm not wearing my glasses, but I hid those whenever I could. My mother rarely dated photographs, and I was too little to remember much at all, but according to family lore the sale of the Shorewood house fell through. Keeping two houses was out of the question, an offer came on the Admiral house, and leaving in Seattle was already under consideration, so my parents packed up the five of us and returned to Shorewood. About a year later we moved into a tent, and another construction zone, in the Issaquah Valley.

Sorting my parents’ belongings after Dad died and Mom was in a dementia care facility, I found the address of that first house. I punched it into the GPS and went exploring. The house is in the Shorewood neighborhood of Burien, not Seattle at all. Although the surrounding area is now completely developed, Dad's original construction still stands on a dead-end street. His house is freshly painted and well-loved, the large-paned windows facing west with a breath-taking view of Puget Sound.


Anonymous said...

Arleen, this post is so beautiful. As I get older, I can totally relate to wanting to revisit your parents' first home. And how lovely to see that it's so well loved.

Sometimes I think about driving back to where I spent my first four years of life, but I'm a little afraid of what I might find. Before they could afford a home of their own--the home where my mother still lives, but will probably be selling this summer--my parents rented an apartment in my grandfather's home in Lawrence, MA. About twenty years ago, I drove down that street, and was saddened to see how the building and neighborhood had deteriorated. Now, I'm not sure what it's like. However, maybe I'll check it out when the weather improves and be pleasantly surprised.

arleen said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Mary Rowan. Looking back can indeed be both painful and rewarding. Not all the houses I'll be writing about over the next months have been so well preserved. I was happy to see that this one was. But what intrigues me the most is the emotions we attach to these houses, and what makes a house a home.