Our “Lego ®” Home

Every person’s life is worthy of a book. I hope you are writing yours, or saving and collecting the material to one day write it.

I am in the midst of mine.

For those of you who just tuned in, this is the next installment of my memoirs currently in production. The previous installments are available on my web page I hope you find it interesting.

The book is titled, Live Long*,  Learn a Little, Laugh a Lot.

Typical newlyweds, we rented an apartment, outgrew it, then a house and another one while we saved for a down payment on a home of our own. We learned of a promising house in northeast Provo. It was for sale, not for rent, but we decided to check it out anyway. We were not ready to buy yet, but the house was ready for us. We drove up into the drive way. We looked at each other. This time the Spirit spoke to both of us, “This is your home.”

It was a very non imposing grey shake shingle bungalow with a built on extension. But it was sitting at the mouth of a little gulch in the Wasatch Mountain foothills that called out, “Bring me some children. I’m ready to play a lot and work some.” We had three young boys, a toddler boy, and two enthusiastic parents ready to answer this call.

It turns out the Spirit is, among other things a capable and trustworthy financial counselor sometimes. Two weeks later mortgage interests jumped from 6 ½ % and didn’t stop until they topped out at above 12%, sometimes as high as 16%. We would have paid for the house three times over at those rates. A few years later houses doubled, then quadrupled in price. Our income did not keep pace. We are grateful for the nudge we got from whichever angels deal in real estate.

We stretched our modest nest egg into a down payment, and bought the gulch and the humble house. “We can always adapt the house to our needs and tastes, but we can’t build our own little canyon,” we reasoned. We noted as we examined the house further that we were not the first to think that way. Every owner, it seemed wanted to “do it yourself” the place into a new configuration. The reckless abandon of building, unbuilding, and rebuilding of the house reminded me of our children on Christmas morning with a new box of Legos®.

The little house had done its best to oblige. Originally it had a garage at the side with a flat roof patio over that. Inside, it was your basic small house, not exciting but efficient; two bedrooms; a bath, a kitchen and a living room. The builder and his family sold out and moved on. The next family wanted a different configuration. They turned the two average size bedrooms into three rather small ones. The three bedroom family sold it to a family big on cleanliness. They moved the walls around and put in a convenient laundry room which was inconvenient for the next family who moved the laundry room to expand the kitchen. The front porch steps were too steep and too far south for somebody. They left the stairs but put a porch rail at the top, so there was really no place to go when you finished your climb. They built another set of stairs ten feet to the north. We covered the “stairs to nowhere” with a wood deck.

While the structure and floor plan were trying to keep up with the whims of each succeeding owner, the same process was going on outside the house. One family wanted grass where another wanted gardens. Trees and bushes were planted and transplanted. The driveway was moved from one side of the house to the other and from the front to the back.

For pure creativity, no owners excelled the folks we bought it from. Max Golightly was a theatre director and a poet. His wife, Beverly, was equally creative with interiors and antiques.

A scenery and set designer does not view walls the way most people do. He or she is used to rearranging space by shifting a flat here, a door there, and changing the scenery with the change of a scene. A man who lives his professional life with one wall only imagined and an audience looking on through that open wall is not intimidated by a few two-by-fours and a slab of dry wall. Max and Beverly rearranged house architecture the way most people rearrange furniture.

They saw the little gray house as needing a few minor changes. They moved the kitchen from the back of the house to one side. They added a dining area by walling in the patio over the garage which became no longer a garage but a little studio apartment; the former kitchen became the living room; the living room became sort of a step down parlor only shorter because one end of it was walled off to make a small children’s bedroom.

All these changes had interesting side effects. One was convenience, another fire safety. There were enough plumbing pipes under the floor now to locate virtually anything anywhere. In case of fire there was little danger of being trapped. Everybody who remodeled added a few more doors for convenience. Now there are almost as many outside doors as there are rooms. The only door that wasn’t convenient was the front door which now opened up into the little kids’ bedroom. This could be a shock to any visitor given the normal state of our kids’ rooms. But visitors might not notice because the room was dark, having no windows but a small peekaboo glass in the front door.

But with all its eccentricities, the house had an open, adaptable and livable feeling which we loved and still do. We undid some of the things Max did, but still enjoy much of his creativity.

We needed more room, as both the family and the children grew. I added a few contributions but even so found we could procreate faster than I could build. But the little house and the big family helped bond us together.

I had a well dug (325 feet before we hit water), built a barn, chicken coop, and horse corral out of parts and lumber from buildings they were tearing down in an orchard nearby. They couldn’t sell them (the barn still says “4-sale” in faded letters on the front) so they gave them to me. I borrowed a tractor and trailer and moved them home in sections. I hauled them up the back yard on a road I dug out of the hillside by hand in a truck I made out of two wrecked 1953 Chevy half tons. I dug a carport in the sloping front yard, and built a truck, tractor and trailer port in back where the original carport sat.

Space wasn’t a problem when the children were smaller and fewer. Our experience has been that no matter how much room they have, children spend a good part of their day playing around Mom. And at night they don’t need much more space than a bureau drawer to cuddle down in. (I never did bed them down in a drawer, but I considered it once or twice.)

Little children like to be close enough so that at the first peek of a bogie man, sound of a monster under the bed, bad dream from a late snack, and certainly at the first crack of thunder they can streak like homing pigeons to the parents’ bed. The universe can collapse around a kid when he is snuggled up next to Mom and Dad with his head under the covers, and he’ll still be safe. I would rather my children have too little space in the home and in the family than too much.

The funny house and fun-filled backyard have been everything we hoped for. Tree houses, trails, huts, and hideouts are a calendar of our children’s growth. Like the lines we have on our bedroom closet wall to measure how tall each child was on what date, these special places in the backyard chronicle the growth and development of every period in our children’s lives.

A few days after we signed the papers that transferred this little house and gulch to the Hiatts and the bank, we all gathered on a little flat up above our home. It was dusk, a beautiful autumn evening; quiet and very private there. The little jewels of lights winked at us from the city in the valley. In the subdivision just below our home we could see the warm glow of lighted windows. But in our backyard we were alone. The foothills on either side of our little gulch rose above us. They were two powerful shoulders on which the earth would bear our home and family. They whispered protection and insulation from the outside world. We felt that whatever difficulties, disruptions, vice and violence might go on beyond the borders of this spot of earth, here we could make a home, a haven and a bit of heaven.

We knelt on the ground in a circle with our arms around each other. I blessed our home to this end by the power of the priesthood. It was a beautiful moment. I wondered at the time whether or not it would mean anything to the children; they were so small. But a few years later, Diane and I were lying in bed when I heard the children’s bedroom door open. Little feet pattered toward the living room looking for Mom. Instead of Mom little Lucy found her big brother Bob. He has a willing ear, a supportive shoulder and a soft heart for kids. So Lucy poured out her tale of terror to her big brother. I was standing outside the room, but I didn’t go in because Bob was doing such a good job of comforting her. One thing you learn with a large family is if the kids can solve the problem themselves, you never butt in. You give thanks for one fewer thing to worry about. I just listened. There was a monster under Lucy’s bed or in her closet or outside hanging in the tree. Maybe it was a whole herd of monsters; I’ve forgotten the details. Bob listened patiently to her, then cuddled her in his arms and told her, “A long time ago when we first bought this house, we went up in the backyard where the garden is now. Dad blessed our home with Heavenly Father’s priesthood, so Heavenly Father watches over you and our home and protects us from bad things. You don’t have to be afraid of monsters in our home.”

Little Bobby was listening that day. He had since been to college and on a mission, learned to survive in big cities and grown to be six feet three inches tall; but he never forgot that quiet night. I think now that Lucy never forgot either.

I believe every child deserves to have a place where he can be a hero, where she can be safe, where heavenly powers protect them and they know it. This place of joy and refuge should be their home.

Your next installment is: Family Calamities

Everybody I know is busy, including me.  Where are those golden years I was planning on of sitting on the back porch picking my guitar? So I will send just one little part of the book at a time. You can give it a quick read and tell me what you think if you would like.

I’ve slimmed that process down to two questions, and four strokes on the key board (six if you count “Reply” and “Send.”)

The questions are these:“A” How much did you enjoy this?“B” How much do you think a person who doesn’t know Duane Hiatt would enjoy this?
The rating is:1. Glanced at it, printed it out and lined the bottom of the bird cage with it.2. Sped-read it and filed it with my tax return receipts3. Thought it was about as interesting as a well written obituary

4. Could have put it down, but didn’t want to

5. Couldn’t put it down. Put it in a magnetic frame and stuck it onto the fridge door

So your response would perhaps be A-4, B-3, (Or maybe A-5, B-5, I’m expecting a minimum number of those.)

Also feel free to add comments if you like.

Also, also, feel free to forward this material to anyone you want to.