Saturday Single No. 341

It’s not something we planned, but there we were yesterday afternoon, the Texas Gal and I, walking through the house where I grew up on Kilian Boulevard.

We’d been looking for a garage sale just a few doors down, and when we’d seen nothing going on out front, we’d headed back up the alley. There was no sign of a sale, but at the very end of the alley, we saw the current owner of my old house sitting in a lawn chair, watching two of his children as they played on a trampoline.

He looked at us as I stopped the car. The Texas Gal whispered “What are you doing?” as I lowered the window on her side of the car and leaned over and asked, “You still have the piano in the dining room?” Surprised, he nodded. “Good,” I said. “That used to be my piano when I was a kid.”

“You lived here?”

I nodded, and he said, “You want to see the place?”

The Texas Gal started to say “No,” but I nodded again and said, “Let me pull around and park.” I put our 2007 Versa in the spot where my dad used to park his 1952 Ford, and we walked up the driveway.

Sadly, I don’t remember the man’s name. He and his wife have owned the house for a few years. The family that Mom sold it to in 2004 rented it out for a while when the economy went bad in 2008 or so, and then the current owners picked up the place. As we stood in the back yard, he asked me, “Are you the one who kept all those detailed notes? About when things were bought and where things came from?”

I laughed. “No,” I said, “That was my dad. I hope they’ve been handy.”

“Oh, yeah,” he said as we headed toward the house. He told us his wife – a nurse who works odd hours – was sleeping upstairs with the baby, so we couldn’t go up there, and he and their two other children led us into their home.

I showed him how the small mud room and the small pantry had been combined into a back porch when my folks remodeled the kitchen in 1960 or so, and he nodded. He asked if the linoleum – a pattern of blue and gold snowflakes on a flecked gold and white background – came from that time. I said yes, and the little girl told me, “Mom and Dad don’t really like it.”

I laughed. “It’s old-fashioned,” I said.

He asked about the woodwork, and I told him that when we moved in back in 1957, it had all been dark like the woodwork upstairs, that it was my folks who removed the varnish and dark stain from the wood downstairs and on the stairway. He led us down the hall and into the living room, where the floors were now bare, with the beautiful light wood showing. Someone else took up the carpet from the floors, he said, but he’d taken it off the steps, revealing that wood for the first time in nearly fifty years. He asked if there’d ever been a wood stove in the dining room, given that there’s an indentation near the corner where the chimney runs. I said we’d never had one there, but it was likely that there’d been one there when the house was built in 1917.

And then I stood at my piano. Given that the lady of the house was sleeping upstairs, I didn’t think about playing it, but I caressed its keys and the name of the manufacturer – Wegman – still clearly inscribed just above the keyboard. I looked at the little girl. When we’d been in the back yard, her dad had told me she played the piano. She was looking up at me, and I asked her, “Do you play every day?” She nodded. I leaned over and tousled her hair and then told her, “Play it well.” She smiled and nodded again.

I asked if I could see the basement, and the Texas Gal whispered “We should go.”

The man said, “No, this is wonderful. It’s kind of like one of those TV shows.”

So I headed down the basement stairs, and as I neared the spot where the low ceiling can clonk the unwary, the girl told me “Watch your head!” Her dad chuckled and said, “He’s walked down these stairs many times, honey.” He asked about the fruit cellar, and I told him it had been here when we moved in but that Dad had built the shelves. “Then he must have built the shelves in storage room on the other side of the basement,” he said.

Yes, I said, telling him that the further storage room had been a water cistern and that my folks had hired a man with a jackhammer to break through the basement wall into the cistern and then made another storage room. “We love it,” he said, and he began rummaging in a box on the cistern shelves. “And we love the fact that your dad kept bits and pieces here of what he’d done.” And he showed me a box with some leftover paneling pieces from when Dad built the basement rec room in 1968.

He opened a drawer in the laundry cabinet and pulled out a sheaf of owner’s manuals and warranty papers, evidence of the purchase of the washer, the dryer, the cabinets and more, many of them dated in either Mom’s handwriting or Dad’s. And then he pointed into the basement rafters, nudging with his index finger a curtain rod with a tag with Dad’s handwriting on it. The tag said the rod came from the living room window when new window treatments were installed in 1991.

“This is where I found the quarter-round for the living room, the dining room and the stairs,” he said, pointing at the basement rafters where the quarter-round had lain since 1960 or so. “It was all stored up here and all marked, so once I found it, it was easy to put back in place. I bless that man for taking such good care of this place for so many years.”

I nodded, and we headed back upstairs and toward the back door. By the time we got to the door, I could talk again, and we thanked the man for letting us into his home. We’d told him where we lived, and we said that he and his family should stop in if they should ever happen to see us outside. We walked across that familiar back yard to the driveway and down to the car, and as we drove off, I smiled, delighted that the house still has people living in it who love it, respect it and take care of it.

And although the meaning of the song isn’t quite the same as what I felt yesterday, I found myself drawn this morning into “The House Song” by Peter, Paul & Mary. It’s on Album 1700 from 1967, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

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5 Responses to “Saturday Single No. 341”

  1. jb says:

    Magnificently told. I know there are many people who’d like to visit one more time the house they grew up in. And I’m sure the current owner saw it as no imposition at all. I hope his daughter will remember it in years to come.

  2. porky says:

    I must be honest, the majority of your longer posts don’t hold my interest (maybe it’s my short attention span!) but this one is superb; had me from start to finish.

    My cousin went to college in the same town as our grandparents and delivered a pizza to their old house. He asked to see it and was dismayed that the magnificent place had been sectioned off into college rentals.

    So this tale can go either way.

  3. Yah Shure says:

    I love stories like this one. Thanks, whiteray.

    The same former residents of my house showed up with different sets of relatives in tow on two separate occasions during the neighboring street’s annual festival. It was great to hear about which bedroom the baby slept in and to ask them if the hideous dining room wallpaper had also hung during their tenure (it had; and there’s still an extra roll in the basement) and I obligingly took their photo in front of the house. Sharing the history of an old house is rewarding on all counts, as I’m sure the Texas Gal would agree after your Kilian experience.

    A few years back, the Minnesota History Center had an outstanding display (“This Old House”) centered around a tightly-knit St. Paul neighborhood, complete with the names of every person who’d lived there, where they’d come from and where they moved on to, the places they worked, the foods they ate, who they became friendly with… the works. In addition to the costumed performers, the actual voices of many of the past and present residents could be heard as you walked through “the houses,” creating both a fascinating and largely living tutorial in how the neighborhood had evolved over 150 years.

  4. Steve E. says:

    My wife and I had a similar experience in 2000. We were in Chicago for a conference that my wife’s company was attending. After it was over, we drove out to Downers Grove, where she had grown up, and we walked through her old neighborhood, finally stopping at her family’s old house (they had sold it in 1976 and had moved to Miami). A man was out front and asked if he could help us. My wife said this was her childhood home, and he invited us in to meet his wife and to tour the house and backyard. My wife was able to clear up a few mysteries for them as to why certain things were built the way they were and why something was in the backyard, where we found the cement she had signed when she was a little girl in the late 1960s. The couple were happy to learn some of the history of their house, and my wife was happy to see it all again.

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