our house

Karen Christine Hibbard

our house
I live in Philadelphia in the neighborhood just west of the University of Pennsylvania, in the eastern most part of West Philadelphia called University City. I can get most anywhere from the trolley that runs on Baltimore Ave two blocks from me, or I can walk. It's an eclectic neighborhood of mostly Victorian and Queen Anne twins. The people who live here are White, Black, Asian, African, Middle Eastern, aging hippies, young anarchists, bikers, vegans and meat eaters . We're a passionate lot concerned about social affairs. My organic community garden, one of several, is a few blocks away. If I want to go out to eat there are great Laotian, Vietnamese and Ethopian restaurants within two blocks and the best tofu hoagie in Philadelphia on 47th st. If I go a little further there is a micro brew on 50th street with nice pizza from a wood burning oven. The swim club where my kids spent practically all of their summertime childhood is just four blocks north.

The big columns in front of our house are painted purple. We planned the color scheme when our roof needed to be replaced and scaffolding was around the house. The roofers left and we went out through the attic window. We looked at lots of houses around us and considered the kinds of colors our neighbor twin liked. We came up with a pallet of sage green yellow purple and maybe red. In my drawings, only the third floor columns were purple but as we painted, I like it and decided to go with the purple house look. Wouldn't it be great if they made paint in prismacolors.

I'm on the porch getting ready for my Thursday walk
This is our porch. In the winter it's a little austere. We have the "trash finds" metal chairs that remind me of the chairs at our cottage at Lake Nuangola.There is a funky carved chair that was on our neighbor's porch for a year, I rescued it when she put it on the curb, it has a carved lion's head on the base, not sure what I'm going to do with it but I loved that lion head detail. In the summer the milk crates serve as plant supports; huge night blooming cerieus and dutchman's breeches sit on them and hang over the railing. Various spider plants adorn the hanging planters and purple and acid green sweet potatoes dangle to the ground. I love sitting out there reading and watching the parade of people going by. If it rains it's my grilling place. The steps are concrete so I can put the charcoal chimney on them. The porch is also a favorite place for projects. I make plaster molds out there for pottery and the light is nicely diffuse for photo projects.

Below the window is the rescued moldings from neighborhood houses. Wev'e been stripping them and replacing the fifties plain molding in our kitchen with stock that similar to what was originally in the house.

Porches remind me both of my grandmother who would sit in her rocking chair on her porch watching the cars go by across from the cemetery and of rainy summer days at the lake where we would spend hours playing cards on the porch with my cousins.

she stood perfectly still
Georgia stood perfectly still for this 8 second shot, as if she knew. The living room is her territory, you can see her green bed in the background next to the bikes by one of the heat vents. In the living room, in addition to three bikes, we have two pianos, a friends's grandparent's baby grand donated to us when she moved from her huge Garden Court Plaza Apt and an early 19th century square piano we bought as a work in progress, neither are particularly in tune. Both sport an array of family photos and books. My grandmother's sewing machine and desk are against the north wall. On the window seat are lots of tiles and on the mantle various items including a scale from Beaver College, a drawing I did when in grad school in New Mexico, a tile mosaic about Nuangola and and various rocks collected in favorite places.

the kitchen closeup
The kitchen is one of the most used rooms in the house. We gather there.

Five years ago we started revamping it. We started by ripping out the funky tiles on the floor, relocating the base from one of the counters (after we tossed the yellowing formica) and installing a big butcherblock island. We moved to stove to the alley wall so we could vent it and designed a tile backsplash. I made many of the tiles. I laid a lot of the oak floor. We stripped and stained moulding for around the windows and doors. It's still somewhat of a work in progress but we think it's working out nicely.

I'm usually on the stove side of the island chopping and cooking while, on the other side, my son William does java programming, listens to Mythbusters proving that you can knock your socks off and plays his current fav computer game while my husband Elliot, on his laptop, pours over a recently scanned S text on a palm leaf manuscript. I've got headphones on and am repeating my current Say Something in Welsh exercise. Meanwhile, Georgia the Poodle is scratching around my feet waiting for something to drop from the cutting board.

studio 1 with china paint box
I chose this room for my studio when we moved in here. It's at the back of the third floor. I thought it was the place where I would be most able to concentrate on work. I have a decent easel bought from my college design teacher and a drawing table. There's a sturdy table Elliot made by one wall, it is stacked with big sheets of Arches paper that may, one day, become drawings. Under the table are bins with ancestral documents that were in a cousins attic a stuff from my mothers house also the architectural plans for Eastern State Penitentiary, another trash find.

My art books are in shelves lining the hall wall just outside of the studio and in shelves lining the adjourning little room along with favorite fiction including lots of Collette, Sarah Orne Jewett, Kate Chopin and Willa Cather.

The room faces west so it gets great light. I don't paint and draw much but I do lots of photo projects here. The window might look familiar.

The studio is filled with a lot of things. Things from my past. Three child size rocking chairs for instance. One belonged to my mother's father one of my only Walters family items, the little black one was mine (one of a pair, my sister Kathy has the other, they matched my mother's big rocker, also in the studio) and the wicker one was from our summer cottage a Hibbard relic.

In the corner by the door to the hallway is a set of deep Ikea shelves. Liza, my mother's doll and a favorite subject of mine, is in a doll crib on the top shelf next to the Japanese lady sent to us by my childhood exchange student Miko's mother.

On one shelf there are all sorts of things from the wooden shoe that was always on my grandmother's mantle with Flanders 1917 written on it to a carved ostrage egg, a gift from a friend in grad school, that encloses one of the last apples from my grandmother's Northern Spy apple tree. The apple is small and studded with cloves just like the first apple from the tree, even smaller than this, that used to be in my grandmother's china cabinet. This apple reminds me of the jars of canned apples lining the shelves in Nanny's basement where we played when we were little.

All of these thing bring back stories, flashes of images, the sound of voices long gone. I could box a lot of this up and put it in the attic but then I wouldn't hear my grandmother's or mother's and father's voices telling the stories.

Under the Ikea shelves are two trunks from my grandmother's attic. When I was in my twenties I would spend days at her house rummaging in the boxes in her attic and basement. when I found something interesting I'd take it to the kitchen and we'd talk about it. For example, I found a china sheep, this was the story about it.

My great grandmother came from Denmark when she was seven and this was the toy cow she brought with her. They sold their farm and all came at the urging of the Christensen family who had settled in Alden PA. They came to work in the mines as did all of my Welsh ancestors.

Their family name was Bush, but not really, it was actually Neilsson but they lived down by the bushes so they became Bush. Bush is the name on their gravestones but not on my great grandmother's marriage certificate which says that Mary Nelson married James Bryan. Her name was originally Bodil Marie Neilsson. She hated the name Bodil.

In the middle of the floor is the box that my great grandmother's brother made for my grandmother's china paints. Uncle Conrad, pronounced Conerd, lived at the lake, was a great turtle hunter, and had one arm. We used to visit him, he had a big conch shell, you could hear the ocean if you put it up to your ear.

Looking at these thing makes me want to tell the stories. Talk about the Benny the Badger stories my father would tell us at bedtime, and the hair wrapped in silk. It's my grandmother's hair, saved when she had it bobbed in the twenties.

If I don't tell the stories no one will know what these things are and why I keep them.
Clearly I'm a little nostalgic.But I know stories that others in my family don't.

I don't have the Welsh stories, just that one of my Welsh my great grandfathers was a powerful coal mine boss and great grandmother taught my Uncle Bill to say mochyn diawl pronounced mochyn jawl meaning devil pig. He apparently was a little red haired rascal, traded my mother for a bicycle!

Corner of the bedroom with the computer books and projects
This is it. This is where I spend a lot of time. Welcome to my space. Notice the Nanny Walter's kitchen chair c.1950. On my computer screen are memorable photos: my sisters last summer at Periguino's in Luzerne and going to Arcaro and Gennels in Old Forge (the theme here is Italian food in Wyoming Valley, PA where I'm from and where I love to visit- it's home) also on the screen are two pictures of my favorite cabin at World's End State Park. I go there and I'm in my world, I'm calm and focused. We hike, make fires in the fireplace, read and eat, we watched Groundhog Day on Feb 1 because that's when it begins. Cabin 3 is my favorite.

I thought about making Photoshop blazes to move through our house as we move through trails.
I have some recycled Loyalsock trail blazes, painted on tin can lids by a Boyscout troop from Williamsport, PA. There is one on our mantle.

This is our bedroom. This is where I have my books about New Mexico, Wales (and books about learning how to speak Welsh,) Wyoming Valley and generally things I mean to read soon. I have a big basket tray of ancestor information and the letters my father sent to my grandmother when he was in WWII, transcribing and scanning them is another project in process.

This is also where I write, work on photos, watch movies and TV.