Day Eight – June 25, 2018 – Ma Maison

If you’ve done the Free Writing Challenge before, you’re probably not surprised to see this eighth prompt in your email inbox. I like to follow the Cajun tradition of lagniappe or a little something extra and give you one more chance to write.

Many of you know that I was in South Louisiana for three weeks, first tending to my mother and her medical needs and then celebrating the life of my dad following his sudden death. As I traveled the backroads of Cajun country, I became fascinated with the wide variety of homes I found there—large, small, new, old, shotguns, mansions—some situated right next door to each other. I began taking photos just for fun.

Those images, some of which I’ve included in this prompt, made me think about the people who called each place home. Who were they? What were they like? Why did they choose these homes? What did their homes say about them? I wondered.

So, let me ask you. Take your current home or one from your past and tell us what this house says about you. Was this a place of your choosing or someone else’s? Did you love or hate those four walls? What history does this home hold for you? What unique feature of this house stands out in your memory? Do you have a particular story associated with some aspect of this home?

These questions should give you plenty to write about, but the power of our writing comes when we focus in on one story and tell it in detail. So that’s my challenge for you today. Use the questions as a springboard to launch you into a narrowly focused story that we can experience as you did. Happy writing.

17 thoughts on “Day Eight – June 25, 2018 – Ma Maison

  1. Suzie Shaeffer

    Growing Where I’m Planted

    Many years ago, well before our daughter was born (and she’ll be 34 this August), I recorded in a journal what my dream house would be.

    It would be up in the mountains, not up in the peaks, but in the lower more gentle areas near the feet of cold waterfalls and surrounded by the mountains on all sides. As you approach it on an unpaved lane, you are looking across a meadow filled with wildflowers in wild abandon. The house has only one story, made of wood with a shingled roof and a stone chimney. There’s an inviting wrap-around porch with wood chairs, tables and a porch swing. Baskets and pots of flowers and herbs hang and sit in every available spot. Before you cross over a stream that winds through the property, you look up and beyond the house, to the old-growth forest climbing the mountain slope. With the windows down in your car, you feel that cool mountain air, scented with grass, flowers and pine. You hear the busy hum of pollinators, and the chips and songs of birds.

    One day I realized that I had already seen this dream house, in the late ‘70s on a visit my husband Jim and I made to Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. When the pennies of school children helped purchase the land that became the park in 1940, most of the farmers and other people who lived there chose to use their buyout money to start a new life outside the isolated little community of Cades Cove. Some of the older people stayed, having the right to live out the rest of their lives in their homestead. Years later, one of those homes was retained as an historical building. My dream home was not an invention of my own imaginings but instead had been based on this Cades Cove house and its surroundings, right down to the wildflower meadow. I do remember Jim and I agreeing at the time we first saw it that we wished we could live there, in a place that was not for sale at any price.

    In 1983 we bought a house in Ormond Beach, Florida. The next year, our daughter Katie was born. Life happened and for over three decades we have lived in this same house.

    The dream house seemed out of reach, but it symbolized something very important to me: living in harmony with nature. And step-by-step I’ve been working, with the house we have, to realize that wildflower meadow with its pollinators and birds. It’s not an easy task, considering Florida’s very unmountain-like climate, but I’ve learned to trust Florida’s native plants and beautiful wildflowers to know how to weather the weather! Our front yard doesn’t match the manicured St. Augustine-grassed splendor of our neighbors (and that’s led to visits from city home improvement officers on several occasions). But more and more neighbors are giving us compliments on our flowers and butterflies and ask about the different plants we are using. I’m thinking of printing up a brochure to hand out to them!

    And we can sit in the shade of our sweet gum trees, where it’s ten to fifteen degrees cooler, even on the hottest of days. We’re surrounded by a wild variety of Florida-friendly and native trees, shrubs, flowers and herbs. The breeze is sweetly scented. Butterflies, bees and other pollinators are busy harvesting the nectar, while caterpillars are happily munching on their host plants. We awaken each morning to the chips and songs of birds.

    Paradise? Well… Sometimes the sounds of the birds and frogs do actually drown out the noise of nearby mowers, trimmers and leaf blowers. I worry about herbicides and pesticides drifting into our yard. Being pesticide-free ourselves can mean hours spent picking and disposing of unwanted insects. It seems I’m always clearing areas for new plants, or cutting back those that have exceeded the height restrictions of the city’s right-of-way. And since only the front yard is beginning to match my vision, there’s enough work to do on the rest of our property to last for at least a decade.

    No, it’s not paradise, but it’s approaching my dream, or at least the part of that dream that matters the most. I like to think that we’re helping to preserve some of the natural flora and fauna of Florida, while enjoying its beauty. And we’re doing it not in some far-off place, but right here where we’re planted.

    I find it peaceful each morning to just sit, breathe, watch and learn. And if I still have any anxieties or anger that I need to get out of my system, there’s always lots of weeding and lopping that needs to be done, and there always will be. And that’s okay.

  2. Norma Beasley

    Ma Maison
    I love looking at houses and their surrounding landscapes. They are like voices. Some speak in large booming notes, others in meeker tones. It is said that the way the outside of the home looks, indicates what is happening inside.

    I chose where I live because it was close to work and I didn’t have to spend a lot of travel time going back and forth. It was a newly built community in MetroWest Orlando. It is close to the 408, I-4, 441, John Young, and Sand Lake Road. All major thruways in Orlando. I love my home. It’s mine and I don’t have to move here, there, and everywhere, as I did in my younger years. It has two unique features. The outside is covered with crazy stone (beautiful earth colors of various stone shapes) and the inside has vaulted ceilings. A pleasant surprise as you step inside. The family room looks much larger than one imagines if standing outside. Each room is a different color with wall hangings…my creative work, someone else’s work, and textured pieces. One wall in each room is painted in a different color. My home has been good to me and I good to it.

  3. Lois Patton

    The Right Choice

    By the fall of 1970 we made our sixth move in our thirteen year marriage. Our son, a fourth grader, had gone to school in four states. We were new to Wisconsin, but anticipated another move in a year or so because of my husband’s position as a Levi’s sales rep.

    Still, we wanted to live in a house. The realtor showed us two rental houses; one, a ranch-style, had cove ceilings, heavy draperies and little sunlight filtering through the windows of the treed yard. The other, a bi-level, featured two fireplaces, four bedrooms on two levels, but no window treatments, grass or driveway. The bank had foreclosed on the builder and placed it on the market as a rental with an option to buy at the end of a year. This house had never been lived in. I fell in love with it.

    We went to work: I made draperies for all the windows and we depleted our savings putting in carpeting and adding to our much-traveled furnishings. The year came to a close with no sign of a pending move. “What do you think?” my husband asked. “Should we exercise our option to buy it since all of the rent money would apply to the down payment?”

    “Well, we’ve invested a good bit—planting grass and putting in the gravel driveway. And you know we really like having the kids and family room downstairs. Maybe we will be here for a couple of years. Let’s do it!” And so we did.

    We often said we turned our house from a Chevrolet to a Buick. Every surface renovated, the deck enlarged, skylights installed, and an addition allowed for a luxurious master bath. Beautiful oak millwork upgraded many of the rooms. Seventeen trees shaded what had been a treeless lot.

    Almost thirty-four years later we sold our homestead for a bit more than we were asking because two buyers competed for the contract. The new owners bought the house, but the lifetime of memories were not for sale.

    1. Cheryl Floyd

      Oh my, Lois, from possibly one year to over thirty. I could feel the warmth you created in your home. It’s been so nice reading you entries and picturing you sharing them. I hope our paths cross again, maybe next time in person. Cheryl

  4. Jeanne Sullivan

    Today’s prompt “Mia Madison”

    I lived in a lot of homes in my life, none of them were mine. When I married my first husband, having my own house was uppermost on my mind. We were young and living with his parents. I began to nag, yes nag, him about a place of our own. We rented a summer cottage and lived there for two years. There was no running water except for a pump at the kitchen sink. In the winter the snow would peek through the boards as there was no Insulation. A wood stove in the kitchen provided us with heat and cooking. I already knew a lot about cooking but the wood stove made it difficult. The oven had a temperature gage but there was no way to control the heat except opening the oven door. When my second baby was born I insisted we move in town with water and a real stove.
    After a succession of apartments, I saw an ad for a starter home with no down payment. I couldn’t wait to tell my husband. Reluctantly, he went to see the house. He thought the ad could not be true, but it was. It looked beautiful to me. It was a pre fab house with no cellar, no garage. However, it had 3 small bedrooms, living room, cabinet kitchen, eating area, laundry area just off the kitchen. The house was cheaply made but it was home.
    Outside there was a utility room where the furnace and hot water tank left little room for a few tools and a lawn mower.
    Houses similar to ours were set in a semi-circle. The road in swung around and became the road out. It was good for young families, inexpensive no traffic and only about five miles to shopping.
    After a while I needed to go back to work. My mother-in-law agreed to take care of the kids. I went back to my old job with a large insurance company. It was a sudden decision and I had not told my neighbors I was going back to work. The man across the street worked nights and slept to later in the morning or noon. This particular day he was standing in his big picture w window sipping his coffee when he noticed wisps of smoke coming out of our house. He shouted to his wife to call fire department as he headed to our house thinking the kids and I were inside. Just as he approached the house, it exploded blowing out all the windows. The fire station was close by and as they pulled up he shouted to the men. Jeanne and the kids must be inside. The house was inflames as they entered and searched the house as best they could. Relieved that I was not inside the neighbor called my mother- in- law to see if we were with her. She told them I had gone back to work. She called my work and someone came to my desk and told me my house was on fire. It didn’t take me long to get home. Just as I pulled up the first thing I saw were firemen throwing some of my furniture still burning out the window. It was January and the snow turned black with the burning belongings.
    It wasn’t long before a Newsman came and took several pictures. The next day, there was an article in the paper along with a picture of our stuff lying in the snow. The thing that touched everybody was in the stuff was a baby doll carriage my daughter had received for Christmas. It was hardly recognizable as a doll carriage but several people were so touched they replaced it. We lost just about everything, clothes, treasures, and the new electric percolator that I got for Christmas.
    It took several months before the house was livable again. My husband quit his job and worked with the contractor to save us some money. When it was finished it was better than when we bought it.
    It was never the best house I ever lived in but it was our first house. There is something special about your first house. When it’s yours and your spouse’s and a couple of young children you realize you are a family. This was not only my house but my family, something I dreamed about for a long time.

  5. Vera Zimmerman

    Day 8 – Ma Maison

    Since this is my first time doing the Writing Challenge it was a pleasant surprise to find Day 8’s lagniappe in my email today. The mention of lagniappe and the pictures of Louisiana houses brought back great memories. Is that last picture Oak Alley?!

    The first house I have a clear memory of was the shotgun double we lived in in Algiers, just across the river from downtown New Orleans. We rented it from my aunt and uncle who lived next door in a single shotgun. For those unfamiliar with the term, a shotgun house is one with the rooms arranged one behind the other and all the doors lined up so that if you opened the front door and fired a shotgun the bullet would go through each room and out the back door without hitting anything. They are very common in south Louisiana.

    I was about three years old when we moved there. The neighborhood was full of kids and we enjoyed playing together. I especially loved hopscotch. We would draw the pattern on the sidewalk with chalk and play for hours, hop, hop, hopping from square to square to pick up our pebble marker. We also played jump rope, both singly and in groups with one person on either end of the rope and the rest running in to take a turn jumping and all reciting the jump rope rhymes together. “I love you once, I love you twice, I love you better than red beans and rice.” We rode our tricycles and scooters down the block and back, but we weren’t allowed to cross the street.

    In the morning the ice man came in his wagon pulled by an old mule and delivered a big block of ice to each house. We followed the wagon down the block and when he chipped blocks off the big piece of ice, we raced to pick up the chips to cool our mouths.

    During the day the vegetable man came in his wagon, ringing his bell to let the mother’s know he was there. We got to help carry whatever our Mama’s bought back down the alley to the kitchen and help wash and chop whatever Mama was fixing for dinner.

    In the afternoon the mother’s would take out the hoses and scrub off the porches and steps and sidewalks. Sometimes we put on our bathing suits and got to help and got a shower as a reward. All my memories are of being barefoot and I can still feel the hot cement on the bottoms of my feet as we ran down to the snowball stand to get a fancy shaved ice treat with brightly colored syrup sprinkled on top.

    Our house was just a half block from the railroad tracks and the Mississippi River levee. We loved to watch the steam trains roar by, smoking and blowing their horn. Sometimes we got to cross the street to play on the levee. We’d watch the big boats go by and then slide down the steep side of the levee on pieces of cardboard.

    We were also just a few blocks from the Algiers ferry which crossed the river to the foot of Canal Street. For a special treat we’d ride the ferry and take the streetcar to Maison Blanche to shop. Sometimes we even went to the movie theater. I remember one night while we were waiting for the street car back to the ferry there was a black out. It was during World War II.

    When I was almost five years old my baby brother was born. He was really sick and had to stay at the hospital for quite a while. Mama and Daddy took turns going to visit him at night and I got to stay home and sit on the front porch swing with whoever was staying home. I remember sitting on the swing with Daddy and he would sing songs. My favorite was La Cucaracha. It was August and it must have been hot and buggy, but all I remember was swinging and singing. When it was Mama’s turn to stay home she recited Mother Goose rhymes. I remember “Old Mother Hubbard went to the cupboard to get her poor dog a bone…”

    In September 1945 I got to go to school and my world widened. My older cousin was in high school and she would walk me the five blocks to school every day. There was a two-story brick building where the upper grades met and an older two story wooden building behind it for the lower grades. In between was a big school yard with swings and basketball goals and lots of room to run and play.

    The girls all played together and the boys played their own games. We played counting-out games to choose who would be IT. We stood in a circle with our fists held in front of us. The girl doing the counting used one fist to tap each fist and recited a sing-song rhyme: “My mother and your mother were hanging out clothes. My mother punched your mother right square in the nose What color was the blood?” The girl who owned the fist she landed on shouted out a color, like BLUE! And the counter continued, “B L U E spells blue and O U T spells out and out you go!” The owner of that fist was out and so it continued until only one person was left and they were IT and a wild game of tag ensued.

    After school my cousin walked me home again. Sometimes she would stop at the drugstore soda fountain to meet her friends for a Coke and I got to come along and listen to all their stories. It was better than the soap operas my grandma listened to.

    What a great lagniappe! I’ve gotten almost 1000 words written without hardly trying. Thank you, Patricia.

  6. Kaye Byrnes

    I’ve lived in many places, called a lot of structures “home” so it’s an interesting exercise to choose one and reflect on what it meant to me. From my childhood home, to the student housing of college, to my first apartment, to the homes I shared with my husband and son, to my most recent homes where I live happily alone; each holding a unique place in my life.

    The home I occupied the longest was the one I shared with my husband and son. The lot was purchased and the house was built to our specifications. It was an adventure my husband and I undertook with great enthusiasm. He, the perfectionist, oversaw the contractor and inspected every phase of the construction. Together we modified the blueprints, chose the flooring, the lighting, the plumbing fixtures, the exterior color, and the cabinetry. We built a two-story, pink stucco beach home with all the space and amenities we wanted. We moved in on April 15, tax day, 1993.

    It was part of a small community with a diverse group of neighbors. The older, retired folks co-habitated nicely with a slew of young families. One year after our move in, we were very unexpectedly expecting a baby and our only child grew up in that house.
    At the time of my pregnancy, there were probably six or seven other babies in the oven throughout the neighborhood. One by one, we gave birth and created a place where our kids could grow up together. When the babies were toddlers, we set up an informal playgroup so every week those who were stay at home moms had an opportunity to get together for adult company. We rotated between homes, put the kids to play and supervised over coffee and conversation. There were frequent neighborhood get-togethers, holiday parties and outings to the nearby beach. Homes were nestled around a half-mile circle and the street was open to strollers, bicycles, walkers, joggers and those who just gathered with a cold beer to chat. It was though the universe knew we were going to have this child and pre-arranged for us to find the perfect place for the experience of parenthood.

    A vegetable garden got planted behind the back yard, the flowerbeds were tended and life was good. Dylan’s bedroom transitioned from a nursery to an underwater bubble when I had it painted with a 360-degree marine mural. Kelp, turtles, fish, dolphins and a big shark colorfully graced his walls. His dad built him a long, low marine blue desktop where he could color and play. Of course, he outgrew that space and eventually it was painted over for something more appealing to his emerging adolescent preferences.

    In this home, we enjoyed the declining years of our old Siberian Husky and her replacement, a rambunctious and furry Samoyed puppy. Dylan became enamored with aquatic turtles and had as many as a dozen or so at one time, all housed in well cared for habitats in his room and on the back porch.

    The neighborhood was a private community with a homeowner’s association. I sat on the Board of Directors for many years, published the neighborhood newsletter and gave my time and talents towards good governance. It was often an exercise in sheer frustration but allowed me to work collaboratively with a good many of my neighbors that came to and left the Board over the length of my service.
    But eventually this home sheltered the withering decline of a once happy marriage and ultimately a horrendously painful shattering of our family. Circumstances brought the revelation I could no longer continue in the relationship. After 23 years in this home, with my husband under psychiatric care and my son reaching his 21st birthday, a divorce was underway and the house had to be sold.

    Selling the house required some pre-listing renovations. I oversaw the installation of a new roof and air conditioning unit. I painted rooms and replaced dated light fixtures. Of course, I was told to stow away all the personal photos and décor that filled the walls and shelves. A stager came to transform the entire property into a model home; devoid of almost all semblance to the place I had been wife and mother.

    When the sign went up in the yard, I sat and cried. Grief over the profound losses I was experiencing was hard to process. But once again the universe seemed to know what awaited me and did not prolong my pain. An acceptable offer was made after only six weeks and the end was in sight. Releasing the home was made easier by the lovely couple with two young children that would settle in as part of our community. It comforted me to know another family would hopefully find the good times there that had once been mine.

    Now I was left to sort through 23 years of life in this home. I sorted, reflected, packed, donated, and tossed. One thing at a time, room-by-room, my life in that home was evaluated and reconstituted. I came to terms with the ever-changing nature of life, reframed my thinking to focus on my future as opposed to my past. I released a cornucopia of material things acquired over the course of married life, keeping the things of my choosing; things I could envision as part of whatever life was waiting.

    The weekend before my move out, the neighbors threw a good-bye party. It was typical of so many other gatherings I had shared with these folks: lots of conversation, laughter, music and friendship. I would leave that home, but amongst the boxes and furniture I would take with me the good memories and the lessons learned. A new life and new homes were waiting to be discovered.

  7. nancy nelson

    LAKE HOME

    Forty years ago my husband and three of his buddies purchased a cottage on a pristine lake in Northern Wisconsin. It was winterized so it could be used year round. It was very small but had three bedrooms with one and a half bathrooms. The four guys furnished it and made all of the decisions concerning the cabin. They wanted their wives to come, enjoy and not have to worry about anything. The agreement was each couple could use the cabin every four weeks which we did. Our children were seven and five at the beginning, and over the years it felt like a second home. We swam, boated, water skied, snow shoed, and many other activities. It was several years before the partners in the cabin realized that our fourth week contained many of the major holidays: Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Our family used the cabin more that the other three.

    Many wonderful memories are connected to this second home. We spent quality time together as a family without outside distractions. We played games, swam and boated in the lake, visited interesting place nearby and cherished our time there. Our two black labs spent a lot of time in the water chasing sticks and balls. Our extended families and friends came often to visit. Not long ago, I asked my children about their memories of their time at the cabin.

    Kietra said, “It was the best ever. We didn’t have to travel far to get there. I learned to swim, water ski and and cross country ski. I loved bringing my friends there. I liked every season there. I’m glad you took us there so often. I think it made us close as a family. Even today I love coming back there to the lake.”

    Erik replied, “I loved being there, everything about it. I learned to water ski, but best of all, Dad let me drive the boat. Then there was the HobieCat. Sailing that boat was pure joy, even when I would tip it over. Having friend there was very special. Some of my best memories are at the cabin. In many ways I am trying to replicate those experiences by having lake property in Montana.”

    I am currently at the lake and every day a memory or two surface and make me smile. I am grateful that I am still able to be here.

  8. Cheryl Floyd

    First, I have to say, Patricia I recognized the old art studio in the photos you shared from your file of south Louisiana homes. Thanks for the Lagniappe. I love sharing my Cajun roots with YOU, mon amie.

    When my fiftieth birthday approached, I found myself browsing through the birthday card selection at a drugstore and wondered what card I would give to myself, if I were my friend. That’s when my eyes fell on something I had never seen before, a 100th Birthday Card. I purchased it to celebrate my halfway mark to that century goal. I kept the card propped up on my desk until we moved to a different home in a new town.

    I fell in love with my present home through an email sent to me by my realtor. “Cheryl, I know you want to rent when you move to DeLand and build a new home that looks old on your property. This house just came on the market and when I saw it I thought of you. It looks like it belongs to a storyteller. It looks like it could be in a story.”

    I opened the URL she sent and immediately fell in love with the yellow two-story house with a front porch and surrounded by a white picket fence. This was the house I dreamed about since I was a child.
    I created a booklet of the photos and carried them around with me. I showed them to everyone. This is my new home! I had yet to visit and when I did, I still loved it, but there were some things, some disappointing things that were revealed on the pre-purchase visit. But my heart had been captured and I knew I needed to own the home. We forged ahead with the plan, made the purchase, sold our lovely modern home in south Florida and moved to the historical dream home in DeLand.

    The first night in the empty house let me down. The moving truck had not arrived and the old house felt empty and creepy without furniture. At that point I noticed the old appliances, the wood-looking floors instead of the original, and the different colored walls in every room screamed out to me, “Cheryl, what were you thinking?” But this new home had been my choice and whatever drew me to it felt as real as the fireplace. My husband and I were both extremely busy beginning our new lives; but we also had to establish our home and make it our own. We changed the furniture since our old furniture didn’t fit properly. We bought new appliances and later updated the bathrooms. We installed a pool, screened in the front porch and added white porch rockers and a swing. A swing? I sat on the porch swing with a feeling of deza vu, like I had been there on that porch before.

    Time passed, I turned fifty-six and graduated with my master’s degree. With some extra time on my hands, I decided to empty an old moving box that had sat in a closet. I discovered my fiftieth birthday card, the one I bought with Happy 100th Birthday on it. The image of the home on the cover resembled closely the hundred year old house I lived in, yellow, two-story, white porch furniture and picket fence. In front of me, on that card I saw an image of the home of my dreams. Without being conscious of it, I had created the vision of what would end up being my home years later.

    Thirteen years have passed and I am a widow living alone in this home. A change needed to happen to the house and I am in the process of giving her a new image for Cheryl’s Sanctuary. I need to be able to walk in and feel that this is my space and not feel grief and sadness upon entering the doors. My husband of thirty-seven years can never be erased from my memories, but I needed to make a shift for my own healing and well-being.

    This is a historical home, built in 1915 and appears that way on the outside, but before we made our purchase it had been remodeled, not restored to its original state. Now my home’s interior has evolved from antique to shabby chic in décor. It’s a place that makes me smile, a place that I can call my own. It’s different now; it reflects my style and my personality and the garden has recently received a Monarch Sanctuary certification. I love my home.

      1. Lois Patton

        Cheryl, a well-written, engaging memoir piece. All I missed was a visual of the space you occupy when you write. All good wishes to you as you continue with the second half of your life.

Leave a Reply