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  • Writer's pictureLaci Felker

Little Green House

For twelve years, I lived in a place I grew to be ashamed of. From four-years-old to sixteen, I lived twenty minutes from what I would call my hometown, Zachary, Louisiana, in a little place called Pride. When I lived there, only six of my friends from school ever saw it, and half of them turned their noses up at the sight. Now, I live in an apartment that could easily fit three of my old house in it, perhaps four if you really tried.


It was a little, green, shotgun house with a chimney and an old, sunbaked porch that was always soft under my bare feet. The two posts holding the roof up were made from cured tree logs, and there was no insulation in the walls. You could actually see through some parts of the walls and the floor to the outside. When it was windy, the house whistled.


I would be lying if I said I didn't miss it sometimes.


To get to the green house, you take the main street that runs through Zachary past Tractor Supply Co., and you take a left on Tucker Road.


Once you turn, the houses at the beginning of Tucker are like the ones you would see in Zachary; all are bigger and worth more than my mother could have made in her lifetime, but the longer you drive, the smaller the houses become. Wooden fences turn to barbed wire, and the houses are all single-story. There are abandoned barns, pastures, and forgotten machinery. Growing up, my favorite thing to look at on the drive home was always an old rusted truck between two trees in the middle of the field. I don't know why I liked it so much, but sometimes I would see cows surrounding it.


Then, you take a right onto Jackson Road.


Jackson is lined with more barbed wire and surrounded by more fields, but the roofs on the houses turn to tin. You can see homes with sagging porches and an old barbershop that has bars on its windows. There's even an old track with chipped field goals that used to be a part of Northeast High before it was knocked down and rebuilt on the other side of the woods.


You take one more left onto Hunt.


If you blinked, you would miss it, especially in the springtime when the trees were full with leaves and casting shade onto the cracked concrete. Hunt Road is as wide as a single car, so if someone else was going in the opposite direction it was a tight squeeze; if a school bus was on it, you either had to run off to the side or risk hitting each other head-on.


The little green house is the first—and only—house on the left.


It wasn't much, and my mom only paid one-hundred-twenty-five dollars a month for it. The outside was painted green, and the porch and posts were the same pale wood, though one of the posts was eaten through with termites. The driveway was small and gravelly and a place I would spend a lot of my time when I was younger trying to find "fossils." It's surrounded by pastures, and the only thing separating the land is—like everywhere else—barbed wire. I never minded, especially when it meant I could feed the landlord's cows grass through the lines.

The house sat almost in the middle of a bit of land, which was barely an acre. With one look at it, you wouldn't have thought how much better it was on the inside—after my mom finished renovating it, that is. My mom put a lot of work into fixing up the little green house, even as it continued to crumble around her.


Inside, the walls were wood and the only doors in the whole place were the front and the back. We never used the back. Standing at the front door, you could see all the way to the back of the house where the kitchen was, and if you took ten strides, you would have moved from one side of the house to the other.


When I first saw the house, I didn't know what to think of it. I was four, and we were living with my cousin and her husband in Bayou Pigeon after spending only a month in Kansas with my other cousin (which didn't work out). I didn't know if I should like the house or not. It was undoubtedly smaller than both of my cousins' places and the house I spent the first three years of my life in, but it was just my mom and me, so we didn't need much.


She painted the ceiling white throughout the house; she painted the walls in the bathroom white (which went along with the pink tub and sink). She painted the walls in the kitchen a pale blue and decorated its cabinets the same. A white rug was put down in the living room—which I remember taking a nap on one day before it was rolled out—and the fireplace was covered up with a piece of plywood because the chimney leaked. My mom ended up knocking down the chimney herself and covering the hole with a bit of tin. Outside, my dad created new steps for us to use, and I went with my mom to Home Depot in Zachary to buy a post that would replace the termite-eaten one.


But even with all of my mom's hard work, some things couldn't be fixed.


Once our furniture was moved in, you couldn't see the various holes in the floor or the cracks in the walls, but when the seasons changed, and the temperatures dropped, you could feel it. You could feel the cold air coming up through a hole in the corner of the living room, even with a dresser over it, and you could feel the air coming through cracks in the back door, too. It was why my mom placed plastic bags over it and sealed the edges with duct tape. When the wind blew, you could see the plastic move like it was breathing.


The walls were never insulated, but I believe they once held newspaper because I saw some fall out of the wall when I was outside. And if you went to the south side of the house and got down on your hands and knees, you could see the bottom of the tub hanging out of the floor. Needless to say, it was terrible to bathe in during the winter and even worse when the electricity was out. It was a shack—a run-down, broken, sinking shack with terrible wiring and a leak in the kitchen. But I had some of the best times of my life there.


It was springtime when we moved.


The trees in the front yard were filled with leaves, and the barbed wire fence was covered in vines and weeds; I remember walking with my mom to pick blackberries right from our backyard. The grass in the shade of the house was always cool, and I would run around barefoot all day, not caring about the rocks in the driveway that never hurt as I ran across them, or the stickers that I would inevitably have to get my mom to dig out of my heels.


Being young, I didn't have any thoughts of being ashamed of where I lived. I had a swing set, a pool, a sprinkler, a bike, and my mom. I didn't think about how it would be considered strange to have the living room also double as my mom's bedroom with her queen bed pressed against one of the walls, or how the curtain that my mom hung up for the bathroom wasn't necessarily private, or that it wasn't usual to cook off a stove that was fueled by little green bottles of propane. I was a kid, and I had a yard to myself and an active imagination. Looking at any of the pictures that were taken of me, you could see I was happy.


I loved riding my bike down the road with my dog running beside me. I enjoyed my mom's grilling and the fact that I never had to travel to go swimming. I watched deer run across the pastures, I fed the cows, I saw my dog playing with a deer one morning, and another one of my dogs playing with a coyote. I had water balloon fights, cake fights, and my bedroom was decked-out in Scooby-Doo memorabilia with a hand-made bed frame and headboard that my mom put together and painted.


Time went on.


I lost my first tooth chewing Hubba Bubba gum walking between the living room and my room when I was five.


I limped through the house on multiple occasions because I would wipe out while riding my bike in the gravel at the end of my dead-end road.


My beta fish, Money (named because I thought he looked the color of a penny), died and I buried him on the south side of the house because I thought flushing him down the toilet was mean.


I popped my knee cap out of place in middle school while stretching in the "Barbie" bathroom one morning (named so because of the pink tub and sink).


A month later, I buried the most amazing and loyal dog on the north side of the house in my favorite sheet with rainbows and clouds on it.


I even sprained my ankle trying to climb up the two trees in the front yard with my brother.


The house watched me grow and watched me cry more times than I can count. It watched my brother throw our mom to the ground and put her in a chokehold one night when he was drunk; it saw him more times after that because somehow my mom kept forgiving him. It saw me with broken bones, bloodied, and bruised, but it gave me some of the best times of my life.


I didn't understand the concept of being "ashamed" when I was younger. I had freedom at that little house, and I loved spending time with my mom. She made it a home for us, and my imagination as a kid kept me happy.


My mom loved being out in the "country" with no houses right beside us and the freedom to have fires, play her music, and sit out on the porch in her chair while she smoked. She grilled almost every weekend. She would cook while I swam in the spring and summer, and sometimes friends and various family members would come over. My mom grilled chicken thighs, sausage, pork chops, steak, made drunken chicken, and even grilled corndogs that everyone loved.


In the summer, we had my birthday parties out in the yard with an ice chest filled with water balloons and enough adults to stand in front of the barbecue pit to keep the kids from running into it and burning themselves. People would come for the party, but they would stay for my mom's cooking even after the fact.


When the seasons would change, and it grew colder, she would continue to grill. A fire was made, and then me, her, and usually, her goddaughter and her children would huddle around it while we ate, balancing our paper or plastic plates on our knees. No matter what, there wasn't much that could keep my mom from grilling. Even when Hurricane Gustav came, she grilled on the porch instead of in the yard.


Sometimes grilling was the only thing she could do when the electricity went out. Any little storm would, undoubtedly, knock out the power. Sometimes it would be for only a few minutes; other times, it would be for an hour or two, but if there was a hurricane or that snow storm that came in December 2009, it would be out for days.


Despite all of the issues, my mom continued to love the little house we lived in. I enjoyed the freedom it gave me but, when I got older, I would never invite someone to spend the night if I could help it. I think hitting puberty is when I began to dislike where I lived.


I was ashamed, but I had nowhere else to go.


When I was fifteen, my mom called me and said that we were being evicted. Our landlord's children had decided to get rid of all of their late father's rent houses, and our house was in near unlivable conditions anyway. They barely gave us time to move.


Once the last of the furniture was out, I walked off the house's front steps and didn't look back. I was glad to be leaving that place. I felt as though I had grown too big for it, and I wanted to be like the other people I knew.


Inviting friends over and having them make faces at your house will hurt your feelings. No matter how much care was put into it, people never liked my house. I knew it wasn't like the other homes in Zachary and definitely not like some of my friend's houses. Still, it wasn't until that first time I invited a friend over in middle school when I understood that how I was living "wasn't right." It was my home, but other people didn't see it like that. So, when we moved, I hoped I wouldn't be ashamed anymore.


My mom found an apartment complex in Zachary that offered subsidized housing (which meant that rent was determined by her monthly income). Since she couldn't work anymore, it was the best thing we could get. I had a room to myself on the top floor, and there were two bathrooms—that actually had doors—and two of the tiny green houses could have fit into that place. My Scooby-Doo room was gone, but my mom got me a bedroom set for my sixteenth birthday that I adored. I even put dangling Christmas lights around my ceiling to use as lighting. It was exactly what I had wanted.


Life went on, and I didn't think about the green house.


I was glad to be out of that place, and junior year of high school, I was happy to have a place I could invite my friends to, and there wasn't a long drive to get to school anymore. A twenty-minute drive became five, my bed was larger, I had a car, and when my brother would come over, I could go up to my room, close my door, and not get bothered. It was what I had wanted for years, and I finally got it.

But, when the flood of 2016 came, which hit Louisiana pretty hard, I found myself wanting to drive back out to Pride.


I don't know why I wanted to go back. Maybe it was the idea of driving down my old roads after a storm that a deep part of me craved or the smell of the rain without the stink of the city ruining it. Maybe I just missed it. At the time, I couldn't explain it when I was asked why I wanted to go back out there, but it wasn't like I had anything else to do with my time.


I drove twenty minutes to my old house, then went to see my old elementary school, and then to the library I used to love so much. I sat in my car and stared at the little green house, and then we went back to the apartment.


Since that night, I have only been back to see the house once.


On January 30, 2021, my current boyfriend and I drove out to my house one final time.


"Why do you want to go out there all of a sudden?" He asked, and I shrugged as I backed out of my parking spot in our apartment complex.


"I don't have a picture of it."


In the twelve years I lived in the little green house, I never got a picture of it. I specifically avoided taking photos of the place because I didn't want anyone to see where I lived but, at twenty-one, I felt the need to have a picture. Maybe it's the fact that I'm graduating in May and intending to go to law school, but I wanted to remember where I came from.


So, I drove down my old roads one last time.


Before there was nothing between Tractor Supply Co. and Tucker Road, just an empty lot, but now there is the Cheneyville Fire Department. It feels like there is a shadow looming over the road. It is not right—at all. I fidgeted in my seat as we passed it.


The old wooden barns and buildings that I would drive by are caving in on themselves, and now, there is a police station where the ruins of the old high school used to be. Even though they were building it before my mom and I moved, it feels off. Another building that seems out of place—like they are red marks being smeared across my memories.


The house still looks the same, but the warmth it once held is gone. The gravel driveway is covered in grass, and all of the things that were left on the porch are still there. The inside doesn't look as bad as you would expect, just a little dirty.


I got out of my car. I walked up the front steps for the first time since I was fifteen, and I held the old sprinkler that's in the shape of a frog smoking a pipe. I ignored the cobwebs and unhooked the piece of wood that we would use to hold the door closed in the winter (when the wooden door would shrink and the latch wouldn't catch). I walked through the living room and my room, smiling at the pink sink and tub in the "Barbie" bathroom and into the kitchen.


For years, I hated the place I grew up in but looking at it at that moment, all of the memories I had crashed into me. I cried. I realized how ungrateful I had been to shun the only home I have ever really known. That little green house and everything I experienced in it made me who I am today.


All of the days running around barefooted, chopping wood in the front yard, washing dishes and clothes by hand, all of the days without electricity, helping my mom try and fix up some of the worse places of the house—all of it. To most, it would seem that my life was terrible, living in that little shack, but it was better than it could have been.


As I write this, I can feel the soft wood beneath my feet and smell my mom making French toast on a Saturday morning. I can hear the birds chirping with the sun and my dog howling at the moon from the porch. I can even see all of the times I cried and laughed if I try hard enough. Compared to most of the kids I went to school with, the place I grew up was a shit-hole, which I assume is what caused me to feel ashamed in the first place, but now I realize that I didn't have it as bad as I thought.


As I get older, I owe who I am to that house because I know that I wouldn't be as appreciative of the things I have now if I had not lived there. When you come from almost nothing, living paycheck to paycheck in a house that's falling down around you, it changes the way you think.


I don't know what will become of my house, but I know there's nothing left for me there anymore. I have a problem with letting go of the past, and I know that, but now I feel like I can let the little green house go.


One left, a right, and another left.


Or, two clicks and a few scrolls to get to the picture in my camera roll. Maybe one day I'll frame it. Perhaps I'll become the grandparent that starts off stories with "back in my day" and proceeds to tell my grandchildren of the little shack I grew up in.


The first—and only—house on the left of Hunt Road.


Date picture was taken: January 30, 2021

~

Written: March 26, 2021


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