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My Childhood Home

The Doss Family

“I loved our new parsonage, too. There were only two bedrooms downstairs, but there was a large, unfinished area with a half bath upstairs, and there was a back porch big enough to divide into two extra bedrooms. I did a twirl around our new living room and landed in Carl's arms.

“When we finished the remodeling, we had four small bedrooms upstairs, papered in blue for the girls, with bunk beds built in under the eaves. Alex had a circus-patterned nursery at one end of the back porch. The larger addition to the back porch was transformed into a double bunk room for Donny with cowboy and indian wallpaper.”

The above passages were taken from The Family Nobody Wanted, by Helen Doss, and describe the first house of which I have any real memory.

This photo was printed alongside an article about the Doss family in the November 12, 1951 issue of Life magazine which gives further information about the family that was printed in both the book and the Life article. This was my first introduction to this house by my parents — showing me the photos in the article (five years later) which was printed shortly after my first birthday, celebrated in Linton, North Dakota, near the capital city of Bismarck where I was born. We moved into the house five years after the article was printed and perhaps because it already had a “reputation,” I knew that some exciting times were in store there for me, my parents and my older brother during the happiest three years of my entire life.

We left Linton in 1952 and moved to Atlanta where my father finished his Bachelor of Divinity degree at Emory University. Two years later, in 1954, we moved to Fort Jones in Siskiyou County, California. Two years after that, in 1956, we moved into the Methodist parsonage in Boonville that the Doss family, with their 12 adopted children from several different racial/ethnic backgrounds, had inhabited five years earlier. It was a magical place for a six year old and still contained the spirit of this large family, although the rope ladder leading to the treehouse had since been removed along with the treehouse. Inside, though, on the second floor there was a built-in playhouse adjacent to a long counter that my 12-year old brother and I used to play “store” and many other lively games. I can't even imagine that house without the sound of children's laughter in it. My parents used the built-in bunk beds in the upstairs bedroom to store old magazines and I spent many a pleasant afternoon after school lying on the upper bunk listening to my father's classical music while looking at the pictures in the magazine.

My bedroom was one of the ones on the back porch, a gateway to a huge backyard surrounded by berry bushes from which we would pluck the ripe berries and pop them into our mouths, the juice streaming down our chin. Closer to the house wild mint was growing, the sprigs of which we would pick and crush into iced tea or lemonade, a special treat that would cool us off on hot summer afternoons. And although the rope ladder and tree house had been removed, that large, beautiful tree still provided us with apples, the tartness of which would make our mouths water. To this day I still savor the taste of sour apple as it conjures up memories of this place, located in a region known for producing some of the best apples in California. This house also conjures up memories of hula hoops, skits that my brother and I presented to neighbors and friends, dinners based on recipes from Navarro by the Sea, our favorite nearby restaurant owned by the Zanoni family whose twins, Gene and Jane, attended school with my brother, and our first black and white television. On Sunday mornings the huge grassy area in front of the church would be filled with cars which later would wind their way over to nearby Philo where my father preached during the second service before the weekly potluck for both churches.

That huge unfenced backyard behind the house and church was an open invitation to flights of fantasy and imagination which contributed greatly to the subject material for the creative writing stories I excelled at in school. And the part of the back porch that was not my bedroom was a workroom/lab for my brother and me where he would do wooden carvings with his wood-burning set or science experiments with his chemistry set while I built plastic models of characters from Dr. Seuss stories or created elaborate buildings with my wooden blocks. I don't remember much about the kitchen, dining room, bathrooms, or living room, except that the latter had a huge picture window that looked out on the front yard which wasn't nearly as large as the backyard.

If I were to sum this place up using my current terminology, I would say that it had a very good “energy.” It was a happy time for all of us — my father continuing to develop his ministerial skills, my mother beginning her teaching career (which continued for another 25 years), my brother entering adolescence and me beginning school and piano lessons (which continued for another six years). I liked the status of being a minister's and teacher's daughter, and their focus on their careers and my brother's on his hobbies gave me ample time and freedom to explore both the internal and external “wide open spaces.” I've never since been able to recapture that sense of tranquility.

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