Ani DiFranco on Growing Up in a House With No Walls

I knew families who would’ve done great in a log cabin, but my family was not one of those

Ani DiFranco
Human Parts
Published in
5 min readMay 7, 2019


Credit: asbe/Getty Images

TThe house I grew up in had no walls, except, of course, around the outside. Also around the boiler in the middle of the first floor and the little bathroom in the middle of the second floor. My mother, whose idea the whole doughnut-house thing was, wanted to create a log cabin feel in a carriage house in North Buffalo. She was fresh out of the MIT School of Architecture (a woman pioneering in an all-male world) and freshly married to my father, whom she had met at school. He was a returning student, the first in his immigrant family to go to college. He had come back to school to upgrade from builder to engineer. He was 10 years older and a foot shorter than she, and, as a couple, they were at least memorable and likely irresistible. They were like an intellectual’s I Love Lucy show: the wide-eyed redhead in her life-of-the-party dress and her dark and exasperated sidekick with a steady love behind each shrug. They had Lucy and Desi’s charm—and their secret unhappiness, too.

I knew families who would’ve done great in a log cabin. Families who slapped each other with towels when they were naked and laughed and sought each other’s company. But my family was not one of those. My parents’ bed was visible from my bed, and so was my brother’s, but we were not close. At least, if we were, it is before my memory. My memories are of all the things that were not said openly. My brother and I crouched down low behind our twin beds to change into and out of our pajamas. We formed allegiances with neighborhood kids but never with each other. We would wake in the dark Buffalo winter, eat breakfast, and then pile on hats and boots to go stand by a snowbank and wait for the school bus.

The bus took us on a 45-minute meandering drive downtown to the shore of Lake Erie, picking up every kind of kid along the way. I was the wildly expressive girl with the rainbow socks pulled up over my overalls and pigtails in my hair. A bright smiling clown. I was my wildly expressive mother’s understudy, and I earned the label “weird” from the other kids. My friends were immigrants. Kids who had no other friends. Tanala was from Africa somewhere, and Li was from…