Hang Up Your Hat And Kick Off Your Shoes

By Ron Ciancutti

The home my parents raised me and my siblings in was just as important as the lessons they taught us growing up. It was (and still is) a full acre in a lazy little farm town near Cleveland. The house was built well over 100 years ago. My parents made several modifications, adding three bedrooms, a recreation room, and an extension to the kitchen.

A converted barn had become a two-car garage, and the hayloft door above the garage doors is still visible, albeit painted over and permanently shut. There was another outbuilding that was an efficiency apartment.  It had a living room with a fold-out bed, a tiny kitchen, and a bathroom with a shower. In my youth, my parents housed a boarder there, an engineer from NASA and a bachelor who never once had a guest in the 12 years he lived there. He was a quiet man I would see once in a while getting in or out of his car. On the first of every month, he would drop an envelope with $75 for rent in the mailbox. I never heard the sounds of a radio or TV from those windows, and he never complained about anything. In the middle of his twelfth year (1975) at our place, he knocked on the door, paid the month’s rent, and said he’d be leaving in 30 days. He was getting married and moving to Pennsylvania. We never saw or heard from him again.

My parents decided they probably wouldn’t ever have a dream tenant like him again, so they just locked the door; the place sat idle until my grandmother died and my grandfather moved out there for his later years. When I graduated from college and Grandpa passed on, I moved in and was able to save money for my first mortgage. For a new graduate and a single guy—that was the place I called home, even though it was still on the same piece of hallowed ground where I had been raised. On winter nights, the sky-high pines almost sounded like they were breathing when the winds blew through the ice-covered needles. It was a sound I grew up with and one I once again enjoyed as a young man. On Sundays, I joined my dad in the main house for breakfast and discussed the upcoming 1 p.m. football games. When Mom arrived later from church, she made an amazing meal; we’d light the fire, eat heartily, and fall asleep in our overstuffed chairs with our overstuffed bellies. That memory—and all of its sights and smells—could only be defined as “home.”

My Wife’s House
I then bought a two-bedroom ranch house that I lived in for about 3 years. I made some minor improvements and kept the place gleaming. I sold it at a substantial profit and bought the home my wife chose in 1994. (I could have said “we chose,” but whom are we kidding here, folks?) It was a big, old, drafty Tudor with a converted third floor as a fifth bedroom. We spent years fixing it up, and during all of that time surely made it our home. We raised five children in that house, and it became the hub of the family. At the time of purchase, we wanted a place big enough to give every kid his or her own bedroom. That proved to be unnecessary, for on most mornings when we went to wake them for school, we’d find them all in one of the bedrooms, piled up together.

They were and still are close. Every parent’s solemn wish is that one’s kids grow to love and support each other. I’d like to think they are a product of what we made and called “home.” Even today, every endeavor that the family takes on starts at our house. And, although I make the payments every month, all of the kids refer to it as “Mom’s.”

“Where are you going?” “To Mom’s house.”

“Where have you been?” “I was over at Mom’s.”

“Where do you think they’ll bury Dad?” “In the field behind Mom’s house.”

Sights And Sounds
That’s OK though. I love that they still call the house home. My wife and I often talk about downsizing, but I don’t know how we could. The kids now bring their kids, and when they sit in front of the fireplace and tell stories of their childhood, I know in my heart that if I ever sold this place, it would kill all of them … and maybe me, too.  The summer cookouts in the backyard usually start at noon and last till midnight. A simple basketball court, collapsible pool, two large grills, and a fire pit equal nirvana for my kids and their kids, while the grandparents stay inside enjoying the air-conditioning; we virtually supply the summer vacation for everyone—one Sunday at a time.

Over the years, four different dogs have peered through the gate at the side of the house to watch me pull in the driveway at the end of the day, their tails wagging and welcoming me back to the place they have been guarding all day.

Sometimes when I came through the door, someone would be in tears over something that happened that day. My wife would give me the concerned face, and I’d sit down. “What’s the problem?” I actually thought of having that question tattooed on my forehead at one point. After some talk a little homemade soup, a bit of teasing, and some laughter to ease the tension, it was good to be home, where everything could be made better. There’s nothing like home.

And when the kids were really little and I saw those shadows in the window, jumping up and down with excitement as I pulled my truck in after work, well, can any man want anything more than that? In winter they would be squealing and giggling in snow gear, waiting for me to change clothes and get the sleds and the forts and the snowballs all in motion. Then, soaked to the bone, we’d pile into the house where the cocoa was waiting and the blankets were piled in front of a blazing fire. Often, the kids would fall asleep, so my wife and I would just leave them there as they slept like a pile of hamsters. It made an average day like an adventure, and they’d wake the next morning for school, chattering about how fun that was and how they couldn’t wait to tell their friends.

If you’ve built your children a home filled with love and memories, you have given them a better gift than anything money can buy. I thank my parents for the home they made for me, and I thank God for the home I made for my family. I won’t be selling it anytime soon; there are seven hearts that live there.

Ron Ciancutti has worked in the parks and recreation industry since he was 16 years old, covering everything from maintenance, operations, engineering, surveying, park management, design, planning, recreation, and finance. He holds a BS in Business from Bowling Green State University and an MBA from Baldwin Wallace University and has held his current position as Director of Procurement since 1990. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at ron@northstarpubs.com.