Aside from college and my baby years, I've lived in six houses during my lifetime. They all have meaning for me, but the house in Three Rivers, California that was my home from about age eight to eighteen holds the most intense memories.
I think it's because those ten years marked my transition from a child to an adult. Everything was fresh and new. Changes -- physical, mental, social -- were happening rapidly.
So it was a delight to get an email from the couple who had recently purchased the Three Rivers, California house where I grew up. Finding me via Google, they had questions about who had designed the house. I responded with some recollections.
I knew that my mother had the house built a few years after she moved to Three Rivers in 1955, I think it was, which is in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains at the gateway to Sequoia National Park. My grandmother helped pay for it, since my mother had gotten divorced and didn't have much money.
A few days ago I heard from the new owners again. They had closed escrow and shared some photos of the house. I was surprised at how emotional I got upon seeing the photos. There's no way I can explain those feelings, but I'll make a very partial attempt.
This shows the previous owners standing next to the one-car carport. It was all a divorcee needed. My mother's 1957 VW Bug fit in the space nicely. I spent many hours hitting tennis balls against the far wall, when the VW wasn't in the space, naturally. I also spent a lot of time chasing tennis balls down the hill when I mishit them.
Above the heads of the couple was where our television antenna was attached to the roof. Our TV was in the room with shades drawn behind the previous owners. No cable television in those days. Hardly any television at all.
On a good day, or night, we could get a fuzzy picture from stations in Fresno. The signal would bounce off rocks near the top of hills in the Kaweah River valley where Three Rivers is located (the Kaweah has three forks, hence the town's name). To change a channel, I'd climb a ladder, get on top of the roof, and rotate the antenna while my mother yelled through an open window.
"Getting better. Keep going. No, now picture is getting worse. Go back a bit. There, stop!" We also had a black dial telephone that was on a party line. Meaning, you'd have to pick up the phone to tell if a neighbor was talking on it. If the day was boring, maybe because no decent television signal was available, you could listen for a while, stealthily, and learn some gossip.
Ah, the living room. It seems to have shrunk. Or, more likely, my memories have. Regardless, my mother was wise to have the large picture windows, as you'll understand when you see a following photo.
The bookcases on the far wall have been altered over the years, unsurprisingly. My mother had one shelf made to order to perfectly fit the full width of the Great Books of the Western World. I still have that set, as shown below.
The used brick fireplace got a lot of use during cold weather. I spent many hours as a child starting a fire, then making up stories as the flames consumed twigs and branches that my mother and I collected from the rural countryside for kindling. "Watch out, jump, the fire is about to get you! Oh, sorry, too late, you just got burnt to a crisp." Fun stuff like that.
This is the view of the High Sierras (in the distance) with foothills in the foreground that the living room picture windows looked out on. Alta Peak is in the left center. Moro Rock in Sequoia National Park also is visible, barely. It's a large granite dome that, as a kid, I worried would be jarred loose and come rolling down the canyon to squish me in my sleep.
Never happened, thankfully.
I'm also thankful that I was able to grow up in such a beautiful place. My friends and I loved to play around in the (cold) snow-fed central fork of the Kaweah River, which ran by near our house. We'd grab inner tubes and have a great time, once I got over the initial freezing feeling.
I quickly became a strong swimmer, once I learned to swim, because that's the only way you survive in a fast-flowing mountain river. After graduating from college I've lived in city houses in Portland and Salem, Oregon. For the past 30 years my wife and I have lived in rural south Salem on ten natural acres.
It feels more like home, probably because the first home that I can distinctly remember, in Three Rivers, was so rural. Can't remember the exact population of Three Rivers at the time. I believe the full-time residents numbered about 400, scattered over a large area.
This is the backyard of the house. One of the new owners is on the right, with the previous owners on the left. The rock on top of a rock is a nice touch. My mother just had some minimal landscaping, since water is precious in dry Three Rivers. She'd try to grow strawberries, watering them judiciously. But deer would eat most of them, I recall.
The hill behind the couple on the left was one of the places my friends and I played. We'd use cattle trails to avoid the worst of the stickers, poison oak, and brush. It took some hot hiking (in the summer) to reach the top of the hill, which featured some large granite rocks.
Not like Moro Rock, but big enough to climb up and sit atop with great views. One memory I'll never forget is crawling through a rocky passageway that led to the top of the rocks and hearing a rattle. That sound spurred a rapid backwards retreat, since running into a rattlesnake was drummed into us kids as not a wise move.
Gopher snakes were good, though they look a lot like rattlesnakes. Minus the rattlers. And the venom.
This photo elicited some especially strong feelings, because it is so reminiscent of what I and my friends did -- ride our bikes all over, including on the gravel driveway that led to our house and passed by two other houses on our shared road.
Of course, we didn't have ten-speeds, just one-speeds and then three-speeds. Our big thrill was to attach playing cards to the spokes with clothespins (outdoor drying on a line was how it was done back then). Then we could sound like motorcycles, to our child ears, at least.
It's wonderful to see that while much has changed in the world over the past sixty years, or so, the Three Rivers house I grew up in is much the same. And that children are still enjoying the countryside, just as I did way back when.
If you're a glutton for old man memories, here's links to some blog posts I've written about my days in Three Rivers.
My memories of growing up with books in the 1950's and 60's
How I was blown away by a nuclear bomb
Boxing up books reminds me of a beautiful book, freely given
A Christmas memory of my mother
My grandmother taught me the power of "I like it"