Adventures in renting

Posted 5/15/07

From the Heart

By Barbara Grider

Much has been said recently about the lack of rental property in central Baldwin County or about how tenants destroy rental property and leave it filthy. I know all about that because I have seen pictures that …

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Adventures in renting


From the Heart

By Barbara Grider

Much has been said recently about the lack of rental property in central Baldwin County or about how tenants destroy rental property and leave it filthy. I know all about that because I have seen pictures that just defy description.

How does anyone take a shower in a tub that is so dirty it’s black? Who eats food prepared on a stove that has grease running down the sides and burned on or from a refrigerator that has stains from food that literally rotted inside? What does the tenant do to make huge holes in sheet rock? How do they manage to break a washbasin off the wall or the tank off a toilet?

To be honest, I don’t know and I don’t want to know. But I do know that not all tenants are like that, as I am myself a renter and have been since I first arrived in Baldwin County in late 1997.

For much of my childhood my father was an Army officer and the only time I can remember living in military housing was when we were in Japan. My mother always said she didn’t like living in base housing because there were so many different people, from different places, and she felt they might not have the same value systems that we had. She said she didn’t want to expose her children to children who used profanity or didn’t understand that parents are the ones in charge.

Her stance meant that we spent a lot of time in rental housing. I remember when we came back from Japan and Daddy was stationed at Ft. Benning, Ga., The Korean War was on and housing was very scarce. We rented a tiny upstairs apartment in an old house near the downtown area and my mama just endured the little girl who lived downstairs while we searched for a house to rent.

When Mama found a house, it was at the very end of the bus line and Daddy was taking the car to work each day at the base. I can remember Mama, my brother Joe and I, carrying cleaning supplies, a broom, mop and bucket, getting on the city bus and riding it to the end. We got off and walked about two blocks down a dirt road to the little cottage where we would spend three of the happiest years of my childhood. On that day, it didn’t look like much.

There were two bedrooms, one bath, a living room, dining room and tiny kitchen. It did have a nice little front porch and a big yard, with an old wooden garage filled with castoff items. Later, I would be fascinated with an old gas range that was up on legs. The house came with a calico cat and she had her kittens in the oven of that old stove.

We also discovered a youth bed that had been left behind by former tenants and were amazed to discover that it was one Daddy had made when I was a baby for my older brother! They gave it to another military couple when he outgrew it and we surmised they had rented the little house.

On that warm spring day, when we went inside the house, Mama opened all the windows. It smelled like the pile of garbage someone had dumped in the middle of the linoleum floor of the little dining room. The garbage was immediately removed and the sweeping, scrubbing and mopping began. Soon, the smell of Dutch cleanser, Clorox and Pine Sol attested to the fact that my mother had been there.

We worked until Daddy arrived that evening to pick us up and take us back to our tiny apartment. It wasn’t long until we moved in. Our wooden dinette table, painted white with red and yellow trim and our four matching chairs were placed under the two windows in the dining room. The kitchen was so tiny, the old General Electric refrigerator, which was small, had to be placed in the dining room.

After living several years in Japan, where all the furniture was provided, Mama and Daddy went and bought new furniture for our house.

They bought a nice cherry double bed, with a matching dressing table and chest of drawers that looked slightly colonial for their bedroom. A pair of maple spool beds with a chest and beside table were put in the little back bedroom for Joe and me.

A few items had come back from Japan with us, including a room divider with shelves, where Mama placed her Japanese and Oriental treasures. Once they were put out, I knew we were moved in and at home.

All of my memories of that little house are good.

As a career Army wife, my mama knew how to make the roughest place look clean and homey. The furniture was polished with Old English furniture polish. The wood floors were waxed with Johnson’s paste was and buffed by Mama. I can still see her, moving around on her hands and knees with a rag and that orange can of wax.

Even today, the smell of honeysuckle triggers the memory of summer evenings on that little front porch, listening to Daddy tell stories. I loved the heady aroma of the profusion of honeysuckle the old fence behind the house and used to say that someday, I would have a whole yard full of honeysuckle, which always made my parents laugh.

A huge mulberry tree grew between our house and the one next door. We children would climb into the tree and eat the berries, which stained our faces and our clothes the loveliest color of reddish purple. Daddy said the tree was an ancient relic of a time when they tried to cultivate silk worms in Georgia.

The neighborhood was full of children of all ages and we would play together, although we did have quite a few hurt feelings or squabbles among ourselves. I remember the dirt dead end road was used to draw hopscotch squares and circles for marbles. When the road was paved, we still did that but it wasn’t the same as it was in the dirt because we had to have chalk instead of a stick to draw the lines and circles. Traffic wasn’t much of a problem since most of the cars belonged to the fathers who went off in the morning and then returned in the afternoon.

I have memories of lying on the porch with my crayons and paper, drawing and making up stories, while Mama was inside cleaning or cooking. The eaves were deep and the rain had to blow really hard before we were chased indoors.

When we moved from that little house on Anette Avenue, I had completed third grade. It was summertime and everybody helped pack our belongings, under the supervision of Mama.

The other thing she supervised was the scrubbing of the empty house. With a child’s logic, I remember asking her why we had to clean it to move out since we had to clean it before we moved in. That’s when I heard the first of an oft repeated litany of reasons why we cleaned each rental house before moving out. That litany included showing we were clean, decent people and having respect for the landlord’s property and consideration for the next tenant.

Daddy rented a truck and he and Joe rode in the truck, while I rode with Mama in our 1952 Buick. We were headed to Meridian, Miss., where Mama had a big family waiting to welcome us back into the fold. Nobody else in the family had ever lived away from Meridian for more than a year or so during World War II.

When we got there, we lived in a rental house near my elementary school. My entire childhood and teen years were spent in rental houses. My parents never owned a house.

Sometimes we moved to a different house because it was closer for Mama to walk to work or because it was simply a house that better suited our needs.

We cleaned them all when we moved in and we cleaned them all when we moved out.

Barbara Grider is staff writer for The Independent. Contact her at