My oldest brother moved out of the house – after a history of increasing unpleasantness between him and our father – when I was a child in grade school. Our family was rather conservative, religious, and conventional. My brother, who was artistically inclined and never the rough-and-tumble son our bullish, alpha father would have theoretically wanted, was having a go at the hippy life much to my father’s disapproval. I’m sure my mother didn’t think much of his lifestyle either, but this was her favorite child and she saw it as her role to run interference between the two, albeit not very successfully, so he got a pass in quite a few things. Still, my father ruled the roost and rebellion was not well received, especially the counter-culture kind.
My brother left after one last ugly conflict, of the sort where I was awoken one night to hear my father and brother shouting at each other on the front lawn, coming to – or about to come to – blows (not for the first time), while my mother hollered at them to stop, saying “the neighbors would hear.” Laying awake in my trundle bed in the room I shared with my sister, I was so scared.
He moved into the city and lived in a group house with his girlfriend and roommates. After a little time had passed and enough smoke had cleared, our family, that is, my parents and their three youngest children of which I was one, went to visit. We put on our church clothes for this little foray. Father in suit, mother and girls in dresses, little brother combed and cleaned up, the whole bit. And drove to a sketchy neighborhood downtown where the big old rental house was located. My life was a sheltered affair; I found the whole thing shocking, from the fact of my brother leaving us to his new arrangements. Group house? What is that? When my brother pointed out his room that he shared with his girlfriend, I took note of the solitary mattress on the floor. Mattress on the floor? Just one?! What was this?? I didn’t know about sex, not at that point. I just knew something was up.
We sat, in our good Sunday clothes, in the dark, high-ceiling living room and made small talk with my brother. It was uncomfortable. There definitely wasn’t anything for children to do there. From the outside, we must have been quite the sight. I remember a long-haired roommate passing by and giving a nod. Otherwise, whoever was in the house at the time, steered clear. Who could blame them?
Other details are lost to me now, but I was most impressed with the Chore Wheel I saw tacked to the kitchen wall. It had all the housemates’ names written around the outer edge, and a smaller circle with various chores written on it, inside, and it manually turned so that once a week, a new chore would line up by someone’s name. How ingenious! This I could appreciate.
It was the only time we ever went there.