Listen: Homemade

Growing up without some things gave me so much.

by Brenda Kissko

Transcript of Layer Cake Podcast Episode #4

Welcome to Layer Cake!

I'm your host, Dr. Angela Brumett, and this is your English fluency podcast. Layer Cake is sponsored by Parlay Vacay English Immersion Weekends. Build your English fluency online and in person at beautiful and relaxing destinations.

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For this episode, Layer Cake is honored to feature the work of American freelance writer Brenda Kissko. Brenda Kissko is a freelance writer, designer and marketer. You can find out more about Brenda at

Layer Cake presents "Homemade" by Brenda Kissko.

I grew up in a simpler time. A time before central air and heat, cable TV and paved roads. I guess others had those things in the 1980s, but not me. I grew up on my family’s Texas ranch, one that’s been ours for more than 100 years, in a tiny house built in the 1920s. With two bedrooms, one bath and a kitchen that also served as the laundry room, pantry and gathering place—I guess you could say “the heart”—its footprint was just under 1,000 square feet.

It was a modest house—but a grand home.

It spoke to us through the creaking floorboards, the rumbling water heater in the kitchen and the moths fluttering against the lighted windows at night. Horseflies and dirt daubers clung to the screen doors, thirsting to be let into the room chilled by a swamp cooler.

This house was not built with modern amenities. There was no foyer, formal dining room, guest bedroom or office. For that matter, there wasn’t even a door to the bedroom that my sister and I shared.

But what it lacked in luster, it made up for in love.

Each night, we’d gather around the small table in the center of the kitchen for supper, holding hands to pray over our meal before we ate. Friends who came to stay with us remarked how “cool” it was that we dined as a family. Even then, many Americans were so busy with their lives that they frequently would scarf down a sandwich while standing over the sink, or microwave a Hot Pocket while staring at the TV.

The smallness of the house gathered the four of us—my mom, dad, sister and me—quite close in a way that modern, spacious architecture often fails to do. There was no room to retreat to for privacy on the phone. The three of us girls regularly fought for the bathroom, curling our hair and brushing our teeth over each other’s shoulders. We had only one TV with three channels, so whatever one person watched, we all watched together.

The 6-by-9-foot bathroom was wedged between the two bedrooms, with a door on either side. It was just large enough for a claw-foot tub, toilet and sink. If we wanted to take a shower, we slipped on our flip-flops and trekked 50 yards to the bunkhouse, where hunters stayed during hunting season. When we got older, my sister and I mostly chose that option, and I can remember running back to the house in the dark, praying that I wouldn’t step on a rattlesnake.

Yes, rattlesnakes were aplenty out there. Country folk know these creatures well. As soon as we were old enough to walk, my sister and I got a lesson on what to do if we saw a snake—don’t touch it! We lost many kittens to the vile reptiles and watched my dad shoot several. A rattle about 4 inches long lay on the windowsill above the sink, reminding us to watch out for them every time we washed up for supper. One time in high school, my dad thought it would be funny to curl a dead one up on the porch for my “city” friend to find the first time she came out to stay the night. He was wrong.

I learned a lot from the animals that surrounded that house, like how the scissor-tailed flycatcher will tell you summer is here, or the crawling tarantula means rain is coming. They also taught me about death. Sometimes the lambs didn’t make it through the winter, or a white-tailed deer would get tangled in a fence. I can remember crying through the screen door one summer as I watched my beloved blue heeler, Sassy, fight a fox in the middle of the day. Dad said the fox must be sick, possibly with rabies, to come up to the house with the sun at the top of the sky. Sassy had to be put down; it was awful.

In those days, I took growing up on a ranch in Texas for granted. When my parents made the decision to buy the ranch from the rest of the family, I begged them to buy a house in town instead. I wanted a house like my friends had. One that was walking distance from stores, where we could have pizza delivered, with a pool in the backyard. But they told me I would be grateful someday.

Now I am.

My ancestors traveled from Sparta, Tennessee, and homesteaded the ranch in Irion County, west of San Angelo. I can’t imagine the grit they had to settle in that wide-open land. My great-great-grandfather James and his brother, Hosea, were among the very first to live on the ranch. Hosea and his nephew, Houston, James’ son, built our ranch house and lived there as bachelors in the beginning. Dad said they actuall