Before I go, I have something to say

A Home by Any Other Name

I know a lot about trailers. First, and most importantly, don’t call it a trailer, unless it’s one of those vacation contraptions people pull behind their cars. The correct term is “mobile home.” I learned that in a hurry from my first husband, who worked for a business that sold them. They also “set them up,” as they say in the trade, and Chris was the one who did that. Once he was done taking off the tires and “skirting” the bottom in metal that matched the siding, they weren’t very mobile anymore.

The first place I lived in with him was what he called an “8-wide.” The ceilings were also eight feet high, and the day I realized I was living in an 8 x 8 square, although it was longer than that, was the day I knew we had to move. That place had one bedroom at the back, and no room for more than a washer. I grew up with a mom who hung the laundry to dry (outside in summer, inside in winter), but when it came to towels, even she resorted to the dryer. I don’t know why I didn’t take mine into town for a spin around a laundromat dryer; I guess it had to do with my husband’s paycheck. So I would wait for a windy day and wash everything in sight, just so the towels and jeans wouldn’t dry stiff as boards.

Eventually, we made the big move – across the highway and into a brand-new 16-wide. That place had three bedrooms, ceiling fans, and a master bathroom with a garden tub. (This meant a big round tub without jets. Nice, but no Jacuzzi.) We had to seed our own grass and plant our own weeping willow, but it was infinitely better than that first place. It had a washer AND a dryer.

That’s where we lived when our daughter and son were born. That’s also where we lived when the so-called domestic violence began, but this isn’t an essay about that. (It is hard, though, to separate the wheat of our happy early marriage from the chaff of its later years.) Sure, we lived in a mobile home park, and of course I would have preferred what the mobile-home people called a site-built home, but young parents with one income can’t be choosy. At least we weren’t stuck in an apartment, where the scent of the neighbors’ dinner and the sound of their TVs tend to invade one’s own domicile.

Believe me, I’d done the apartment thing. Although I liked my college roommate and our dorm room just fine, neither of us could wait to move out. There were two pressing reasons for this impatience: 1) the ease of having one’s boyfriend over, and 2) independence from the campus food service. (I spent my first Christmas home copying down all of Mom’s best recipes.)

My husband and I had looked at houses in town, but the nicer ones didn’t come in our price range. Even when we found one that he could have fixed up, we learned we did not qualify for the first-time home buyer’s deal at the bank. Why not? Because he had already purchased a “home,” that tiny 8-wide bachelor’s pad in the sticks. That was a dark day, and the one time I wished like crazy that the bank would call at least that place a trailer, and not a mobile home.

So we learned to love our new place, and eventually moved into a much better one. This was a double-wide, which, as its name implies, was a roomy 32 feet across. It had three sizable bedrooms, a circle kitchen, a cathedral ceiling that took in the entire front range of the Colorado Rocky Mountains, a wood stove, and more than enough room for a swing set and a garage. The fact that we never got around to building a garage has more to do with the demise of our marriage than with my husband’s building skills. We could have had one, and that hope counted for a lot.

It really was a beautiful place. The only difference between it and a ranch-style house was the absence of a basement and attic. Sure, it was a problem that it sat on a former wheat field 25 miles from town, and the roads between here and there were more dirt than gravel. If you’ve ever tried to drive on wet dirt – go ahead, call it mud – you know it’s nothing like driving on snow. One day I took my unhappy car to the shop, and when the mechanic opened the hood, he looked shocked and asked me, “Have you been driving off-road?” There was dried mud everywhere, choking the engine and keeping the fan from turning. But no, I’d been on the so-called road.

Still, it was gorgeous out there. One morning I was late for work because I had to wait for a herd of antelope to pass. Another time, the power went out in a blizzard, but we were fine because we not only had heat from the woodstove, we could cook our dinner on it, too. You haven’t lived until you’ve made tacos in the living room. I was sad to leave it, but I had to.

Lately, my daughter has been looking at mobile homes, at a place in Dubuque that’s better kept than some areas in my own neighborhood. I have no problem with her buying one. It would get her away from noisy neighbors who smoke right outside her windows, and give her the satisfaction of owning her own place, at last. I’ve already promised not to call it a trailer. Because, after all, it will be her home.

Leave a Reply