The House with Cardboard Walls

Once upon a time in the deep South there was an old four-room clapboard house that sat on the side of a paved two-lane country road.  This house had four rooms:  living room, kitchen, bedroom and storeroom.   The toilet was a small building about fifty feet out the back door.   

This was an old house that had never been painted on the outside nor finished off on the inside.  The floors were uneven and sagged in places due to the foundation only being stacks of rocks underneath.  In the three rooms used as living space the walls and ceiling were covered with flattened out cardboard boxes that had been tacked to the rough-hewn wall studs.  In most cases the printed side of the cardboard was on the reverse side of what could be seen.  Here and there a few exceptions existed where printing for the products the boxes once contained was obvious. 

Each of the four rooms had one window with two panels of four panes of glass.  In two of the rooms a bottom panel would still raise for air a fan pulled in during the summer.  Lack of use in the two other rooms had caused the wood of the window frames to swell into the window casings making them immoveable.  

The heat for the house was supplied by a long, squatty cast iron wood stove with stove-pipe for smoke at one end that went up and out through the living room wall.   Doors were always left open into the other rooms so heat could reach there.  

One modern convenience the home did have was electricity.  The “juice” powered a single light bulb in each room that hung naked on a wire from the ceiling.  The light was turned on and off by a string that hung down from a switch on the light socket.  There was one wall outlet per room but there was little to plug into them except a B&W TV in the living room and tree lights at Christmas.   Sometimes in the winter when it got really cold the electric stove oven in the kitchen would be turned on and the door left open to add extra heat to the little old house.

The other modern comfort that had been added was running water that came from a well a few hundred yards away that was shared with two other houses.  Water was available only at the sink in the kitchen and there was very little water pressure.  What came out of the faucet was actually more like a good-sized trickle than a stream.  There was no hot water heater.

One bathed in this house by heating water on the stove then pouring it into an aluminum wash basin with a flat bottom and rounded-up sides with a half-inch lip around the top.  With small dents all over from use over a long period of time, the basin was about eighteen inches across and five inches deep in the middle.  With a bar of soap and a bath clothe one washed up.  In the winter this was usually done by the wood store which also served to heat the water in cold months. 

There were no door locks on the front and back door.  What kept each door shut was a rough “old-timey” door  latch made of unfinished bare wood with carving marks still clear on them from their making decades before. From the inside you lifted the latch from its catch to open the door.  On the outside a string was threaded through a hole in the door that one pulled to lift the latch on the inside.  A wooden spool that sewing thread had come on was nailed to the outside as a handle to pull the door shut. 

This old house was roofed with tin which caused the eves of the roof to echo with any sound that hit it. Especially noticeable was when it rained and the drops pelted the tin making a relaxing and gentle rumble.  One accustomed to the sound was eased into sleep by its calming effect. 

The front of the house had a wood porch onto which the front door opened and the living room and bedroom window looked out upon.  I know a story about how two boys, seven and five years old, got into trouble from being out on that porch.  Their mother left very early weekdays for her job in a factory making baby clothes.  The boys were awakened just as she was about to leave for work and were left to get up, get ready for school, make breakfast for themselves and catch the school bus.  The outhouse was way out back and with their Mother gone; the boys got out of bed and avoided the journey out back.  Instead the two boys proceeded out to the front porch and relieved their bladders off the side of it. 

One day a car drove by as the boys were peeing off the porch standing there in their “tidy-whities” and undershirts they slept in.  What they were doing seemed so normal to them they kept doing what they were doing and waved to the passer-by they knew.  Their Mother was NOT happy about what the boys had been doing when she was told later by the neighbor driving by who thought what the boys were doing was cute. 

How do I know all this?  I lived in this house with my Brother and my Mother for close to two years.  Vivid in my memory is how much trouble we got into for using the front porch as our bathroom.  That old house has been my reference point for all places I have lived in since all were an improvement.  However, I do have vivid gratefulness to that ancient house that still stands today although no one has lived there in a long, long while.  For a time, the old house with cardboard walls kept us dry and warm.  As humble as it was, that place sheltered us from the world and kept us safe.  For what once was a great embarrassment I now find sweet memories and much gratitude.  

Home is home, be it ever so humble.

Photo:  Taken in 2007 of the backdoor at the actual “house with cardboard walls”

One thought on “The House with Cardboard Walls

  1. My grandmother told me of such stories. She was the oldest of 13 children. Her parents were dirt poor farmers and her mother actually had two children after my grandmother was grown and had a child of her own. Life was extremely hard for her. She worked her fingers to the bone to provide for her own three children…her husband having run off with someone else. My grandmother did without many meals in order for her children to eat. There was a time she was very ill because she was so malnurished. She taught me many life lessons from her own experiences. She was my mother…my parents having abandoned me. Much good often comes from things we think are hardships. Oh, and two boys peeing off the porch…sounds just like my kids. They did the same thing. Must be in a guy’s DNA. ha/ha

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