We moved a lot when I was a kid. By the time I was eleven, my family had lived in at least ten different houses in three different states. The year I turned eleven we had two homes in one of the western suburbs of Denver. In the 1950s and 60s, suburbs were on the march, devouring what remained of the rural communities and farms that once surrounded cities like Denver. That year we lived at the rural edge of one of those suburbs, a new golf course separating the two houses we occupied. The second house was a new three-bedroom, blonde brick with an attached car port, that was on the developed side of the golf course. It was a typical 1950s tract home, at the end of a cul-de-sac. But, the first house that sheltered my family of five that year was on the rural side of the golf course, and that house was something to remember.
Large parts of the golf course were still bordered by recently consumed farmland. Even though a couple of state highways and a few major streets crisscrossed the former fields, some of the original farm houses and other farm buildings were still there. The elderly owners of one of these farms, after selling most of their property, decided to live out their lives in the farm-house they had called home for over forty years. Converting from farming to rental income, they had remodeled the farm’s other remaining buildings, installing kitchens, bathrooms, and walls to create living rooms, dining rooms and bedrooms. In 1959 we moved in to the chicken coop.
I don’t think my parents ever liked the house; while they were thrilled with the cheap rent, they were never able to reconcile themselves to the former residents. On the other hand, my younger sister and brother and I thought the long, skinny house was great fun. For us, it was soon known as the “chicken house.” Even though it’s been over fifty years, if I were to mention the “chicken house” to my sister, she would know in an instant what I was talking about.
One of the kid-thrilling features was a huge backyard (remember, it had been a farm just a few years earlier), with trees to climb and room to throw a ball. There was a residence on each side of the yard; on the west was the big white farm-house where the owners lived (it’s large front yard now bordered by a big, busy street); an old equipment barn or shed that had been converted to a one-bedroom house on the south side; the former bunk house, that was just a bit smaller than the chicken coop, was a 2-bedroom rental on the east, and our ‘chicken house’ was on the north. The chicken coop was the only domicile with kids, so we had the run of the yard. And, that big yard meant that we finally had a place for a dog.
I’ll be the first to admit that my Dad was flake about a lot of things, but he did try to keep the promises he made to his family–at least to his kids. So, we got a dog, a Lassie-look-alike named Lucky. Lucky hadn’t been so lucky, as his original home was one of the bulldozed farms. We were the ones who were lucky, as Lucky turned out to be gentle, sweet-tempered, and protective of me and my siblings.
Lucky did have one quirk that annoyed my Dad; he would not come in the house, no matter the weather. Dad carried him in once, and Lucky pressed himself as close to the back door as he could, where he laid whimpering and shaking until he was let out again. After that, Dad built him a little lean-to behind the house, and put some old blankets in it to give Lucky a place to bed down on cold nights. Lucky was great at fetch, never got tired running with us, and didn’t mind being a pillow or a book stand when I wanted to read outside.
The house itself was a little wider and longer than a single-wide mobile home. Looking back, I’d guess it to have been about 16′ wide and 75′-80′ long. The first (west) section was a ‘sunken’ living room, where the back door was almost directly opposite the front door. A step up from the living room was a bowling-alley hallway that ran across the front of the house, from the living room to the master bedroom (then known just as “Mom and Dad’s Room”, although it did enjoy the luxury of a half-bath). Along the south side of the hallway were the rest of the rooms: a small dining area,with a half-wall separating it from the living room, behind that was the kitchen with its own entrance onto the hall, then my brother’s room, a bathroom, the bedroom I shared with my sister, and then across the back, my parent’s room. The best thing about that house was the hall. We used to race cars, roll balls, play hop-scotch, and sometimes just run up and down–and we were always looking for a way to play bowling.
Even though we lived there less than a year, I have a lot of memories of the chicken house.
That’s where we lived when my sister and I got so sick with strep throats we both ended up in Children’s Hospital at the same time. That’s where I had to finish the school year with a home tutor after a heart issue complicated my recovery and I couldn’t go back to school.
That’s where I began to learn the facts of life, eavesdropping on my Mom and aunt while they talked about my unwed 16-year-old foster cousin’s pregnancy.
That’s where I began watching the news with my Dad; where I felt so grown-up when Dad asked if I wanted to watch the Kennedy-Nixon debate with him. (The next year, I wasn’t so thrilled when he roused us all from our beds at 4 in the morning to watch Alan Shepard go into space.)
That’s where I first saw a snake when we were playing with some old tires in the field across the street; I had thought it was a tube inside the tire, but when I went to pull it out, it moved, and I saw it was curled all around the inside of the tire. I’ve been very careful around tires ever since.
That’s where we lived when a girl from my 5th grade class became my first real friend. That’s where we lived when I went to my first real party.
That’s where we lived when we had to give Lucky away because we were moving again.