Places I Have Lived: Pepper Drive, Rockford, IL

January 1984 – June/July 1996

We moved to Rockford in the winter of 1984, right around my 4th birthday. Mom was pregnant with Jenn, and I was the only one who was sure she’d be a girl (I was right). I can’t imagine moving to a new city in the dead of winter with two kids under 4 plus another one on the way – I know this move was hard for Mom, though I can’t really even begin to comprehend it. I know that the other stay-at-home moms in our neighborhood became her lifeline, and so we grew up with family friends that were like family – the Kensingers, the Ericsons, the Wilhelms – and that have remained close to this day.

It’s hard to talk briefly about the house where you grew up. I apologize.

porch rail
From left: Jenn, Chelsea K., Sara K., Ditka, Mark, Bart K., me

Our house had two stories and a finished basement, all resplendent in early 80s style. The house was chocolate brown, with a cement front porch and a two car garage, where I would get the car stuck on my first attempt at backing out. When we moved in, there was no furniture in the front room, and I remember playing ‘store’ in the front window with the kitchen set that Grandpa built. Later this would be the living room, with nice furniture and the piano, where we grudgingly took lessons. The dining room was infrequently used, as often happens with rooms of this type. Mom would sew our Halloween costumes at the table, and I remember dusting as part of weekly chores and finding coins left on the wooden chair rail.

When we first moved in, the kitchen had brown wood paneling, brown wood cabinets, brown wood slat blinds, and brown linoleum. We would play in one of the tall cabinets, pretending to be Oscar the Grouch in his garbage can. In a later remodel, the external wall was replaced with doors to a sunroom, and all that brown went away. I learned to cook in that kitchen, though it’s probably more accurate to say that I learned to prepare food.

The family room, adjacent to the kitchen, had a fireplace and more wood paneling. One year we had racoons in the fireplace and had to have animal control come and take them out. Living (and playing) took place in this room: the stereo and tv were here, as was our first computer. When we got our first dog, we tried to keep her out of this room and off the new white carpet (bad idea!) by constructing a barrier between the rooms out of furniture and boxes. She immediately figured out how to climb over.

I am nine

There was a small ‘mud room’ with backyard access; after a remodel, this became a home office, and the laundry and storage moved to a new room carved out of the garage. I spent many hours in here on AOL in high school, chatting with friends, doing homework, and listening to Sgt. Pepper. I don’t think that Mom ever got to use it as the home office she envisioned.

The ground floor half bath was absurdly gold and brown when we moved in. I think this was the first room to be updated.

The basement had hideous orange and brown carpet, a sort of bar that was mainly for storage, and a store room. My memories of the basement are mostly of it being in a state of chaos from three kids playing video games, listening to books-on-record, doing art projects, and generally making a terrific mess. In junior high, I carved out a little nook under the stairs as my private space, though why I sought this out, I’m not sure. A later remodel would turn the basement into a much more habitable guest space, adding on a half bath, built in cabinets, a space for watching TV, and a small office for Pop. I spent a lot of time down there in high school, exercising or watching tv and talking on the phone.

We each had our own bedroom on the second floor, though our play as kids spilled out into the hallway and down the stairs, where we would amass all of our beloved stuffed animals for impromptu camp outs. My bedroom was the first on the right, with a closet that bumped out over the stairwell. When I was small, this closet was ideal for playing the sort of games that involved climbing around the room without touching the floor, whether your flavor involved hot lava or a sea full of sharks. I could watch the mailbox from my window, and yell out to my friends amassed in the front yard. When I grew into an angsty adolescent, I had a lock – with a key – on my door to keep prying siblings out.

Stuffed Animals

Tied closely to my memories of the house are my memories of the neighborhood. Those same families that provided support networks for my parents also provided friends for Mark and Jenn and I, and we ranged free with those friends until long after sundown. We went to school and carpooled with many of the neighborhood kids. When I was 15, Sarah and her family moved in next door, giving me the neighborhood best friend I’d long wanted. I babysat kids from the neighborhood. My homecoming and prom dates were guys from the neighborhood. All of which made leaving this house in 1996 even more difficult.

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