“Life’s a voyage that’s homeward bound.”
NOT ALL HOUSES are homes. Houses are built by hands, working with materials and energy and intelligence to erect a structure suitable for human habitation. A home is a product of the heart. You might physically live there, but there are also times when you can close your eyes and be at home when you’re really someplace else.
My dad’s hands were those of a builder of houses. They were huge and strong— the hands of a workingman. We used to joke that each finger was like an oversized boiled wiener. Yet those strong hands didn’t build our home. It was the result of Russell Brinkmann’s concept of an American family.
It was just a two-bedroom bungalow that my parents, with my sister in tow, moved into in 1940. By the time I came along it was a well-established place of the heart. Our home was much bigger than our tiny bungalow and spilled out onto the front porch, across the street and down the block in both directions. It poured out the backdoor, too, into the back yard where every child in the neighborhood could enjoy it—and did. In the early years it was a welcoming destination for anxious immigrants from the Midwest or servicemen stopping by on their way overseas. Later, a growing family was always drawn back to the home place at festive times —and when solace was needed.
The home’s designers — my mom and dad — created a truly warm and beautiful place to live. The white-painted built-in bookcases were filled with the likes of Zane Grey and Mark Twain, Tolstoy and the “Collier’s Junior Classics” series with multicolored jackets. The focal point of life inside the house— the kitchen—was defined more by aroma than by walls and, while it was Mom’s domain, Dad made guest appearances. His most appreciated specialty was popcorn on rainy nights.
Outside, Dad’s idea of landscaping included a tire swing suspended from one of the two apricot trees and a magic, dedicated dirt patch behind the garage that we children knew to be a pioneer’s homestead, a pirate’s hideaway, a place where an engineer could build dams across rivers that flowed into gopher holes. After family camping trips, he insisted that the tent needed to be “aired out” and left it standing in the backyard for days, full of romping, happy neighborhood kids. Dad let us do all those things. No—Dad encouraged us to do all those things. He passed away in May. He would have been 96 this month.
You won’t find the name of Russell Brinkmann listed in the Who’s Who of Arts and Crafts. He knew little of Morris or Stickley. He never authored a book, amassed a fortune in antiques or made a name in architecture. But there was fairness in his strength, appreciation in his eyes and there wasn’t a thing in our household he couldn’t fix. Without Russell Brinkmann there wouldn’t be an American Bungalow magazine to champion the bungalow and the Arts and Crafts life. For me, he laid the foundation. And through these pages, Dad’s idea of life marches on.
Once in a while — on rainy nights —I make popcorn. And in my travels around this great country and the globe, even with all its wonders and revelations, I sometimes feel the need to close my eyes and just go home to the simple, honest place my dad made. I smile to think that you have yours, too.
Looking forward to hearing from you,
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