Tag Archives: childhood

Fifteen ~ A Lesson in Life

If everyone would just do things the way I think they should be done in the order they should done, the way I would do them and exactly the time I think it should all happen – how beautiful this world would be.

I jest – sort of.  But the truth is, even I can’t make my own ways work perfectly all the time.  I could if I were the only person in the universe, but the fact that there are others I live with, love, work with, socialize among and co-exist with, well, that changes the whole ballgame.

The Fifteen-Puzzle at Grandma Baker’s house

I actually never heard it called a Fifteen-Puzzle, but that’s what Restoration Hardware calls it (above). They were just little red-plastic squares with white movable numbered tiles and I probably had at least a dozen of these over the years.  And I most associate this puzzle with being at my Grandma’s house on York Street in Des Moines in the mid-1960s.

She had a few of these around and the cousins and I would play with them until we solved them.  Or not.  I recall so wanting to finish it every time – always starting with great-great hope, but being aggravated  by it, too.  The numbers would be mixed up and you had to move, one space at a time, to try to get them all back in order.  I always hated the times I would have the whole thing almost right, but would have to undo other things I had done (that were already in the perfect spot!) to put a stray number in and it would end up messing up 3 or 4 tiles and take me an extra 16 moves – for just that one numbered-tile.  Grrrrrr….

I had one like this, which I found on ebay.  The tiles were glow-in-the-dark for playing after lights out! {source unknown}

The sliding tile puzzle as a metaphor for life.

The pieces have restraints, connections, they must stay on the board.  They “rub elbows” with other pieces.  And even when you know you want to get the number {two} from the bottom row second from the last block to the top row in the number {two} position, you can only slide it up or over one square at a time.  Maybe you slid it up, but then you have to move the one beside it to the right and down to make space for the one above that to go to the right and down  so you can keep moving the {2} tile up.  Every movement you want to make {the most sensible and obvious move} will inevitably involve lots of other moves to get it there, some that even seem counter-productive.  And, {gasp}, there are even times you have to move backwards, actually undo progress, to make the path ready.

But eventually, you keep at it and it works and it is {whew!} finished.

In life, in love, in relationships – you decide a plan and you can see exactly how it should go, but there are conversations to have, misunderstandings to overcome, celebrations to dance at, roses to stop to smell, there is give and take, and many times concessions to make for the sake of peace.  Some days it’s two steps forward and one step back.  But other days it may ever be harder.  Eye on the prize, though, we just keep going.  We rub each other wrong, we bump elbows and move a little spastically by accident.

In the end, we get there.  Everything lines up, everything is where it should be.  Deep breath of satisfaction – we did it.  We solved it together.  A good moment in time.

Then some crazy kid picks it up and scrambles the numbers again.  *sigh.

Note to self: Gotta get some of these for the grand-boys and maybe Guini.  It is time they experience this puzzle.


“If you move around all your life, you can’t find where you came from on a map.  All those places where you lived are just that: places.  You don’t come from any of them; you come from a series of events.  And those are mapped in memory.  Contingent, precarious events, without the counterpane of place to muffle the knowledge of how unlikely we are.  Almost not born at every turn.  Without a place, events slow-tumbling through time become your roots.  Stories shading into one another.  You come from [stories…events…people].”

-Anne Marie McDonald in The Way the Crow Flies

In Des Moines

  • The basement apartment
  • The Washington Street house, earliest memories

Me at the Washington Street house…on the Anderson-Erikson Dairy  milkbox

  • 1310 York Street, 2 doors down from Grandma Baker
  • 1723 York Street, the first one my parents ever bought (across the alley and one street over from Aunt Rosie)

In Davenport

  • 3536 Jersey Ridge Road, the acreage with ponds and baseball games
  • 5506 North Howell

In  Cedar Rapids

  • the “parsonage” on some street I can’t recall

In Robert, La

  • “the parsonage” on highway 190 east of Hammond
  • with Ginger (and Miss Clara for a few weeks)

In Gary

  • 4995 Roosevelt Place

In Minot

  • Dorm Room
  • Trailer in married student housing park
  • barn-shaped house

In Kokomo

  • 1106 Armstrong Street

In Sioux City

  • Leeds neighborhood house for one week (house had major problems ;[ )
  • Jackson Street-the yellow house
  • across from school, our first house to ever buy, huge!

In Norfolk (don’t ask)

  • N 10th, loved this house
  • N 13th, historical Victorian, loved it, too
  • Park Place, just passing through
  • “orange” house, endured
  • “Bob” Nebraska, torture (not the house, the season)

In Denver

  • Acoma Street house (where we had “Graceland Home School”)

In Brighton

  • Pheasant Ridge, land of grandbebes

There was actually some zig and some zag between some of these.  But these are all just houses.  They aren’t where I am from, though I enjoy looking at them again via Google-maps.  They are just places I lived.  Home is where my heart is.  And where my heart is held with great care

Where thou art ~ that ~ is home.  Emily Dickenson


“It’s anywhere I’ll ever go and everywhere I’ve been

Nothing takes my breath away like my front porch looking in”

1723 York Street

About once a year  I dream of my childhood home – at least one of them.   We moved quite a bit, so there were many “homes.”   But there is “the one.”   It is the one I lived in from the summer of 1965 through  early September  1970.   It was my parent’s first home purchase so it was a big deal.   It is the one that was only 4 blocks from Wallace Elementary, where I attended school from Kindergarten through 4th grades.   It was just 4 blocks from Grandma’s house and a couple of blocks from my cousin Diana, who would drop by and “pick me up” on her way to school.  

I loved that house.   There is no explanation for the value I place on it except maybe: It was green grass and having a best friend just across the alley and lilacs and long summer days.   It was a rusty old swingset on which I spent hours singing my heart out to the heavens.   It was neighbors who paid us nickels and quarters for rocks and shells we took door-to-door, us thinking we were giving them a real bargain,  kind people knowingly supporting our adventure, divining we really just needed some penny candy money for the corner grocer 5 blocks away.   It was neighborhood relays with homemade ribbons and paper drives and screen doors that slammed musically to the cricket’s songs as we ran to capture lightening bugs for jewelry.   It was innocence and family, it was friends and church.   It was my mom on the piano teaching us to sing gospel for all we were worth.   It was the safe place.

Several times over the years I have been moved to send Christmas greetings to the current inhabitants of the house at 1723 York Street in Des Moines, Iowa wishing them all the joy and love and peace I experienced there.   They have never replied and for all I know there are restraining orders on file concerning me.

So, occasionally I dream about it and have googled the address from time to time.   Last week  I did so and was overwhelmed and delighted to see that “my house,” my place of nostalgic extravagance, was up for sale.   My parents bought it for $12,000 in ’65 and sold it for $17,000 in ’70.   It is listed at $110,000 now, which seems an amazing bargain for such a magical childhood palace.  

There it was.   My 1723 York Street house!   I have actually always daydreamed about owning it now.   And there it was on a real estate site – with pictures!   And even though the colors are different (the woodwork is painted now), it has not changed much at all.   It seems smaller.   It’s old (built in 1913).   The old-fashioned 3-car garage with swing-open doors is long gone, replaced by a nice new 2 car version with an overhead like everyone else.   But it is my house, my home, my street.   That is my grass and enclosed side porch (lots of Barbie time there).   My trees are gone, as is the sidewalk that once went straight from the front stairs to the public walkway.   But it is my house, my home, my street.

The other day, I went “thrifting” with the girls and made 2 totally fruitless purchases, except that they gave me something tangible to remember those years there.   I got an over-sized, burnt-orange Haeger pottery ash tray just like my grandma used to have in her house (there are slots for at least 9 cigarettes!).   So 1960s!   And, I got an old black, rotary, wall phone by Bell – one exactly like the one that hung in our kitchen at 1723 York Street when my phone number was 266-7121.   These are worthless artifacts except to look at and recall a time and place and the innocent girl who skipped and romped through it.


I am somewhat war-damaged now.   Time has taken it’s toll on the body.   Circumstances have wreaked havoc on the heart.   The innocence has been lost and lost again, but finds repair and healing in the heart of the Father.   I can’t help but believe that my address in heaven will be 1723 York Street, for I am that same girl yet, beneath this outer crust, but there, I will never grow old.

Forgive my indulgent reminiscing…Jeanie

NOTE TO READERS:   Two days after I “found” it, the listing (www.dsmhomes.com)  seems to have been removed, which I can only assume means it sold.   I think finding it was a gift from God to help me update my dreams…

pictured: the house at 1723 York Street in Des Moines as it currently looks and the dining room; a couple of shots of the kitchen at the York Street house; the York Street living room – it’s windows are it’s true glory; the old Bell phone and Haeger ashtray I just got while “thrifting” with the girls; the girls in Olde Town Arvada; a cute bakery sign in Olde Town.

Hollyhock Dolls


When I grew up in Des Moines, Iowa, hollyhocks grew like weeds in the alleys and my friends and I used toothpicks and  hollyhocks  to create dolls now and again.   One toothpick was inserted into an unblossomed bud and then connected to an upside down bloom.   The second toothpick was poked through “the body” horizontally for “arms”.   Sometimes we held the toothpick between our finger and thumb under the “gown” and made our little dolls dance and twirl.

Guini and I made one a couple of days ago in between splashing pool times.   She is my “flower girl,” loving all the flowers and their names.

I love the flower girl…J

NOTE TO SELF:   Disperse the numerous hollyhock seedlings round the yard for more fun next year.