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those who live in glass houses...
by lucy lediaev
3.6.08
writing

Have you ever slept in a bottle house and awakened to watch the sun shine through the walls in the early morning hours?

In the 1920s, Great Aunt Melissa acquired a five-acre homestead in the California high desert when the US Department of the Interior was still encouraging people to build on desolate lands. The original homestead cabin was a wood structure, and it stood until about a year ago. The wood cabin was serviceable, but Aunt Melissa had something more elaborate in mind.

She began collecting matched pairs of jars and bottles of all sizes, colors and kinds. And, with no construction experience, she began building. She created walls of cement in which she imbedded pairs of bottles, neck openings together and bottoms facing the internal and external surfaces of the walls. As far as we know, she didn’t use any steel to reinforce the walls.

Construction extended over a number of years. Aunt Melissa was a high school teacher known both for her eccentricities and her unpleasant temperament. Periodically, she would entice a few of her students with an invitation to spend a relaxing weekend out on the desert. Once they arrived at her homestead, a good 150 miles from home, she put them to work. She fed them and housed them, but they had no choice but to provide what was essentially slave construction labor.

After a number of years, the cabin was finally sufficiently complete for occupation. Aunt Melissa spent weekends, holidays and a good part of her summers at the cabin. Over the years, she added improvements, including a tiny kitchen and a screen porch. The only bathroom facilities consisted of a pitcher with basin and an outhouse.

Occasionally, unsuspecting great nieces and nephews were invited to spend a few days on the desert with Aunt Melissa. After considerable persuasion from Aunt Melissa, reluctant parents would turn one or two of their children over to her. She was known not only as a difficult person, but as a terrible driver. For the kids, it was a terrifying adventure. It’s likely they could have balked at the invitation, but the novelty of the cabin, the foreign desert landscape (they were city kids), and Aunt Melissa’s unpredictability offered some excitement and an escape from their normally hum-drum world.

On one of my few trips to the bottle cabin as a child, I have a vivid memory of an outdoor photo-taking session in which Aunt Melissa insisted I hold her pet skunk, which promptly urinated all over me. Frankly, I think the poor beast was much more frightened of Aunt Melissa than of me or my brother. The other memory is of the cold winter wind sweeping under and through the slats of the outhouse walls and chilling my bare fanny. My trips to the outhouse were necessarily infrequent and of short duration. My final memory from that trip is of the sun rising in the morning and shining into the main room of the cabin through circles of many-colored glass. The light at dawn, as it shone straight through the walls, gave the house a special magical quality. (In her blog, my sister has posted some pictures of the interior of the bottle cabin.)

At Aunt Melissa’s death, the bottle house passed to my father and later he signed it over to my sister and her husband. Over the years, a few improvements, including a rudimentary indoor bathroom, have been added. We’ve visited the cabin infrequently, but the morning light shining through the walls still enchants me.

To this day, the house stands firmly, despite a number of strong earthquakes in the area over the years and the lack of reinforcing steel. Clearly, it is held together by the strength of Aunt Melissa’s will and her stubborn, perseverant, and irascible personality.


ABOUT LUCY LEDIAEV

A freelance writer and full-time grandma, Lucy Lediaev retired recently from a position as web master, tech writer, and copy writer in a biotech firm. She is enjoying retirment more than she ever dreamed and is now writing about topics that are, for the most part, interesting and fun. She also has time to pursue some of her long-time interests, such as crafts, reading, sewing, baking, cooking, and the like.

more about lucy lediaev

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COMMENTS

russ carr
3.8.08 @ 11:15p

we need a photo of the bottle house.

lucy lediaev
3.11.08 @ 11:32a

I'll see if I can find one and put it somewhere on the net where we can link to it. I know I have a b&w snapshot (circa 1955) of myself with the skunk on my lap. I'll see if I can find it.



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