Saturday, December 31, 2016

My Old House

I bought this house in 1982. From the moment I opened the front door, I knew it was mine. The modest size, the Cape Cod style, the East Forest Park neighborhood--all reminded me of the home where I grew up on Lancaster Street just a couple of miles away. Add to that, the fact that the house at the end of the street had once been my father’s boyhood home, and his grandfather’s farm had been just a ways up Allen Street. It seemed I was destined to call this place mine.

That’s not to say I loved everything about the house when I moved in. The garage was a problem. It was settling, and the door was rotted. Still I was happy to have a garage at all, never before having been able to shelter my car from New England winters. The kitchen was the worst problem. There were only four cabinets and very little counter space. The dropped ceiling hid water damage and dangerous wiring. Then there was the mural—a turquoise scene of peasants dancing around a pagoda. I’m sure previous owners thought it was beautiful, but it annoyed me every time I looked at it.

Little by little over the years, I fixed, repaired, revamped, and expanded.  Early on I had a new floor poured in the garage. That was after my father laid a new cinder block foundation, jacking up each wall of the garage as he did. My nephew Thomas re-tiled the bathroom and closed in the side porch. New wall-to-wall was installed, as well as new flooring in the kitchen.

In 2005, after living with this kitchen I really hated for 23 years and the inconvenience of one bathroom on the second floor, I took on a major renovation of the kitchen, as well as the addition of a family room and a downstairs bathroom. This meant the mural was finally gone!

With each new coat of paint, each redecoration, each new room, the house became more and more me. (Full of my stuff too!) Then one day as I was taking a break from cleaning, (I tend to break a lot when I clean) I started to think about the people who had lived here before. The house was built in 1938, and I knew at least three families had lived here. I had bought it from Mr. Christensen who had bought it from the Greenbaums who had bought it from the Jolys. Maybe there had been more.

Each owner likely thought of my house as their house, and someday, I suddenly realized, other people would come into my house and make it theirs. At first, this thought made me angry--as if some anonymous person would steal what was mine. But, of course, that was silly. When the next owner arrives, he/she will do so either because I have relinquished ownership of the house or my life.

Barring fire or other tragedy, this house will remain when I have moved on. Other people will paint the walls a different color, move in new furniture, and find aspects they dislike (But not the mural!). They will create their home in this space where I have created mine. I wish them and my house well.

But I’m not planning on leaving quite yet. I still have to fix the doorknob to the porch, and repair the threshold at the front door, and the find out what’s causing the water spot on the ceiling of the family room and maybe paint the family room a different color, and...

Friday, December 16, 2016

Thanksgiving 1950 Photograph

George Emil and Carrie Julia Rose Schneeloch

I was five years old that Thanksgiving, but I remember Alvin taking this picture as well as one of my parents at the same spot in front of the living room window on Lancaster Street. This is how I remember my grandmother--the tightly curled hair, the rimless glasses, the half smile. I have more memories of my grandfather who came to live with us just a year later when my grandmother died. She was 68 years old in this photo. I am taken a bit aback when I realize she is three years younger here than I am now.

I remember her too at their home on Allen Street where on overnight visits she read to me on the porch, made vanilla pudding with orange slices, tucked me into my father's childhood bed at night.  I remember Mr. and Mrs. Prouty and their friends who came to play bridge. There were lots of card games on the heavy brown metal card table that now is folded next to the computer in my office.

I have many other pictures of her too. There is the one of the young mother in the white dress holding the baby that was my father. 

Even earlier there are pictures of her and her brother Frank dressed in their Sunday clothes posing for a photographer in West Springfield whose name remains on the photograph but whose address no longer exists.

I look into those young eyes and try to see what she saw all those years ago at the end of the 19th century. Could she see what amazing things would happen in her lifetime?

I try to see what she expected of her future. Did she imagine marrying on New Year’s Eve of the new century? I’m sure she never imagined that she would be a widow by the following spring.
Did she imagine meeting the gentle man that was my grandfather? The man who sits beside her in the Thanksgiving picture?

She had so much future that to me is invisible past, yet I keep looking in her eyes in hopes of finding it.