Our white house wasn’t nearly as glamorous as the presidential version. Instead of mosaics lining the walls, dirty yellow splotches stained the living rooms ceilings creating an almost Rorschach feel. Secondhand smoke wasn’t warned against like it is now. Two packs of Kool menthols were smoked each day in that room, a tall old ashtray filled to the brink with half-smoked butts. I remember blowing on the ashes and making the room fill with a chalky silver haze. Dust stood thick on the side tables. A few more particles wouldn’t be noticed.
With few places to escape, the nicotine smell stowed away in my clothes, announcing to the good parents that I lived with either a Don Draper look-alike family or hillbillies from the south. Before long, they figured out it was the latter and dismissed me as the same, the whiff of a stale cigarette trailing my pigtails as I returned home in the breeze.
Winds did pick up sometimes. Storms came seldom, but when they did, with no basement we gathered in the hall coat closet during tornado warnings. When I say we, I mean me and the cat and a flashlight. Shoved between old musty jackets for cushioning, I prayed the misshapen coat hooks wouldn’t fall during the storm and impale the small calico. No more wire hangers indeed.
Looking back, I know other folks probably used that old house to judge me, just like I used their old worn jeans and Aquanet hairspray to judge them. Things probably aren’t too different today. Now, due to social media, it’s easier to distinguish the haves from the have-nots without leaving the confines of your own small home. Moms and dads and kids are still being rated by the neighbors next door or a fellow high school alum three states away. We all do it whether we mean to or not.