Two-Story Houses

Went out to dinner with Cole and our friend Susan last night. She’s a rocking lady with all kinds of positively inspiring energy. We talked about nerves, insecurities, and telling stupid lies. Susan is a writer/performer and worked on a piece a while back about starting such random, silly lies at an early age.

I was thinking back to so many bizarrely vivid memories of my childhood revolving around telling lies as a means to either get attention or sustain something I really wished to be true. Simple small stuff. I had to make a class project in first grade…. I had to fill in the blanks, stuff like…. I’m From: BLANK, My Favorite Food Is: BLANK, etc. When my mom came to visit our class…. she saw that all my answers were lies…. not outrageous crazy lies but slight, definitely untrue, random but could’ve passed for true lies. She asked me why I did it and I couldn’t come up with an answer.

Sometimes I find myself doing the same sorts of thing today…. albeit in a different form. “I just finished coffee downtown” when I know good and well I didn’t have coffee downtown. I didn’t even have coffee but talking to Susan and Cole last night, I realized that I think it plays into reaching out to what you wished you DID do. I guess it all roots back to those moments of craving something thats not true to be the case.

Throughout my entire childhood I wanted desperately for my family to be rich. I suppose thats a pretty common desire but I truly obsessed over it…. at all times. My mom owned a fancy lady’s clothing store in my hometown and was a member of the Junior Service League so we were quite often around some of the wealthier residents of town….. the kinds of people who wore Patagonias instead of the Old Navy Polar Fleece, drove Suburbans, and lived two-story houses. We weren’t poor by any means but compared to the lives of people I met at Golf Camp or Bible School or dance classes…. we seemed unglamorously common.

Once my mom’s store got more and more popular, she hired a housekeeper to come clean our house once a month a month. At the time, this proved to me that we had ARRIVED. The Gravy train had pulled into the station and we had joined the elite club of Rome, Georgia residents….. and surely to God the dark-colored Suburban wouldn’t be far away.

The housekeeper’s name was Ida and she came on the last Friday of the month for three hours. After her first month, I went to school and at lunch when asked by my fellow classmate Mandy Fulton what I did over the weekend I replied:

“Well…. we went to the mall…. I spent the night at my Grandmother’s…. OH! And (I brushed my hair out of my eyes like I’d seen people do in movies) our family FINALLY hired a maid.”

Mandy Fulton’s eyes widened. She held the expression I’d craved for years. The same expression I’d given countless friends upon finding out that their moms ordered their clothes out of the LL BEAN catalogue…. for years my mom had repeated the phrase: “I just can’t see the point in spending forty dollars on a pair of pants you’re going to grow out of NEXT week!”

I continued:

“Yea. She’s living with us in our garage apartment and its nice to have the help but its gonna take some getting used to. She cooks our breakfast before school and she makes dinner before we get home. She’s ALWAYS around”

The most Ida did was dust underneath the picture frames on the piano where my mom always forgot.

News spread amongst my class about our new live in maid. People had questions.

“Does she make your bed?”


“Does she wash the dishes?”


“Does she make you snacks if you’re hungry?”


A week or so later, I sat at lunch eating my chicken nuggets. Mandy Fulton sat down and asked what I was up to over the weekend. I went into a long story about how my mother had started making us wear ties and jackets at home and how its sort of uncomfortable but “Well, it makes her happy so…. I guess I’m happy too!”

I then proceeded to tell her:

“This weekend my family is going to Atlanta to hire a Butler.”

This was, clearly, out of her realm of comprehension, so she just shook her head with amazement and told me my family had to be the coolest family she’d ever met.

Word of the Self family butler began to float throughout the class and I indulged every question or slight sign of interest like it was my job. It felt fantastic.

The next day our family went to a restaurant downtown for lunch. We were finishing our sandwiches when I spotted, across the restaurant, Mandy Fulton and her family. They waved, my mother waved back.

“There’s Mandy from school!” my mom said while waving and smiling.

My heart sank. Surely, Mandy Fulton would be curious as to where Ida, our live in maid OR the brand new butler might be. Surely, she’d wonder where my tie and jacket were…. let alone, wonder why I was wearing cut off jeans and “Sharon, Lois, and Bram Live!” t-shirt.

Just then my mother got up to go the restroom and a moment later, I watched as Mandy got up and made her way across the room to the bathroom as well. I began to sweat. My heart raced. Would she say something? Would my mom play along? If she did say something- would she tell everyone at school?

I sat, frozen, in my chair until the two walked out of the bathroom together. They both laughed and my mom returned to the table. Mandy Fulton looked over at me. She gave me a look, one quite different from the weeks before….. I couldn’t tell if it was a look of confusion, a look disappointment, a look of pity.

We finished lunch and left the restaurant. We piled into our faux wood-paneled 1989 Oldsmobile Station Wagon and pulled out of the parking lot. We drove home to our common one level house, where we’d live out our common day. Mandy Fulton never mentioned the maid, the butler, or any of it again. She never mentioned lunch. Neither did my mom. People at school went back to normal. I felt pretty stupid but I didn’t regret it….. cause for just a split moment what I wanted to be true was…. or everyone else thought so…. which sorta made it so…. and I felt special.

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3 Comments on “Two-Story Houses”

  1. sundy burton Says:

    Honey, you are the most well-adjusted performer I have ever had the joy of running across! You are not the only fledgling writer who has embellished a few times (happens to the best of us). I can always relate to your wit, candor, and willingness to gently chide yourself at the expense of presenting vulnerability. It will only make you more of a leading man candidate. Maybe by the time you are ready for your big indie role, I will have something meaty for you to sink your teeth into. You have inspired me to get off my big fat southern ass and be my own hero, and you continue to be mine. Perhaps one day I will have the pleasure of being able to call you friend instead of member of facebook friend list friend. Keep writing and I will keep being human in your wake, Sundy

  2. Patrick C Says:

    Well said! I think we’ve all had similar experiences, or at least I know I have! I always liked the fact that we lived on one of the MOST historic, famous streets in all of Missouri, even though ours was BY FAR the smallest, comparable to most other people’s garages, lol. It’s the hardest thing in the world to just be happy with who you are and what you have, right?

  3. Joseph Says:

    I love your excerpts of the underlying Southern life of a middle to upper middle class youth. Living in and around that tension all my life your description is so true. I was fortunate enough to be a son of a physician and grew up in Chattanooga (not to far from Rome.) Went to an all boys school and grew up pretty much like your suburban driving friends. But as a “southern child” we always wanted more than what we had. Always wanting what the next social stratosphere obtained. Always wanting the “Gone With the Wind/A Separate Piece” type life.

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