Gi Gi's house was a rambling white clapboard Dutch colonial in a town where just about everyone lived in a ranch style home. Most everyone in the small town I grew up in, referred to Gi Gi's house as the "barn house". It was one of the few two story homes in our town, which made it distinct to start with, added to this was the classic proportions, the timeless design, the ongoing renovation and updating by Gi Gi's mother and you had a spectacular home.
It was always a thrill to visit GiGi's house. Although we never used the front door, I still remember the lovely stair hall that greeted you upon entry. To the left was a spacious formal living room in which we rarely stepped. I always desperately wanted to sit in that room and absorb it, but Gi Gi had too many plans and ideas and we were all too often being hunted down by Gi Gi's older sister, who we managed to perpetually enrage in one way or another. So I was not a guest, instead I was a refugee, fleeing in terror from one room to another desperately seeking sanctuary and a good hiding spot. Thus, I was never able to satisfy my longing to just hang out in that glorious formal living room.
Tucked around the corner from the formal living room was a formal dining room and this was another space I rarely found a good enough excuse to be in, but I did poke my head in it whenever I could. When we were not running for our lives, we spent most of our time while on the mainfloor, in the kitchen.
We would seat ourselves at the peninsula bar which divided the kitchen from the family room and here we gorged ourselves on the chili dogs that GiGi's mom made for us. She would split a hot dog in half, cover it in chili, freshly cut red onions, and a slice of american cheese. I found this dish to be supremely exotic, as my own mother never made chili dogs. GiGi's kitchen was open to both a family room and a spacious sunroom. Tucked behind the brick wall that housed the fireplace in the family room, was an office or study where Gi Gi's dad stationed himself in a swirl of smoke. I peeked in there a time or two but quickly got the distinct feeling that this was probably forbidden territory.
The second floor of Gi Gi's house was another wonderland to me. Growing up in Western Kansas, I was all too aware of flat horizontal surfaces. There are not too many vertical planes in either hills, trees, or even two story homes. Climbing up to a second floor was an adventure in itself. All the bedrooms were located on the second floor. Gi Gi and her sister shared a suite of rooms that included a spacious bath and a sitting room. They also had a long "L" shaped closet that connected their two rooms. I never got over that closet, as it was huge, full of girly get-ups as well as being a secret passageway between two rooms! I remember Gi Gi's parent's room also had a sitting room off their bedroom that overlooked the backyard which was of course, beautifully landscaped and included a playhouse. (Where Gi Gi and I liked to sneak off and smoke her mother's cigarettes.) This backyard also had a pool, a sauna, a trampoline, and many flowers and trees.
Strangely, as gorgeous as Gi Gi's house was, we spent most of our time in the basement . Her basement was finished with two guest bedrooms, a large living room and a bar. There was also a fun hidey hole under the basement stairs where we often drug a TV, sleeping bags and snacks and hid away like the little rats that we were. But the most fun part of that basement was that bar.
Gi Gi's basement was set up like a lounge. There were several small tables with leather captain chairs as well as a bar with bar stools. So we did what every child must do in that particular situation. We played bar. We had imaginary customers to whom we served tumblers of Coke and Seven-Up, carefully placing a napkin underneath all of their drinks. We took their orders on an endless supply of notepads which we probably stole from GiGi's dad's office and slapped them on the bar yelling for two gin and tonics, a strawberry daquiri and a martini straight up and make it snappy! I learned all my bar lingo from Gi Gi, as my parents aside from being grossly inadequate in chili dogs also rarely had more than a stale beer in the back of the fridge. We took turns being bartender and cocktail waitress, exhausting ourselves to frenzied little nubbins by racing back and forth between the tables and the bar. After hours of play, we would drop onto the comfortable leather barstools and break open up a jar of spicy pickles.
Gi Gi's mom had rows and rows and rows and rows and rows and rows of homemade spicy pickles in mason jars stored on the shelves by the bar. We would start eating them. They were sour and spicy and left your mouth burning and the only cure was to eat more pickles, so we did. We ate spicy pickles until our bellies distended out over our hip hugger jeans and then we ate even more pickles. We drank Coke and ate peanuts and polished off jar after jar of Gi Gi's mom's spicy pickles.
After a while, I would need to visit the basement bathroom, to make room for a few more pickles, but once I entered that bathroom it was hard to leave. That bathroom had the kind of wallpaper that was comprised of old fashioned newspaper stories. Do you remember that kind of wallpaper? It was made to look like old newsprint including pictures of people in old fashioned swimsuits and on those big old tricycles wearing frilly bloomers and carrying parasols. I would get absolutely lost in that bathroom reading every single story on the wall, until the pattern repeated, and then I would start over again.
I loved visiting GiGi's house. As I think about it now, I am very aware of how much of an impression it must have left on me as some thirty years later I built a house and I can see how Gi Gi's home influenced my own. Mostly because I chose to build a new home in a classic style, but also because I tried very hard to create a house that is an opportunity for adventure and fun. Our basement isn't finished yet, but I am making a note to myself to add a bar, a lounge and long shelves for spicy pickles... and also to find some of that old newspaper wallpaper!