My grandparents married in 1920 and purchased their home the same year...for the princely sum of $200. I discovered that tidbit a few days after that house was brought to the ground, and decided to make a visit to the County Courthouse to find the original deed.
They raised a family of 7 1/2 kids in that house, as well as some 20 grandchildren coming in and out the doors over the course of the next 70 years. The 1/2 kid comes from a child who died before the age of two from some childhood disease that nowadays would mean a trip to the doctor and a few days of bed rest. It was not a very impressive house, but it got the job done, and my grandparents lived there their entire lives.
It no longer stands. My uncle acquired the property after the grandparents passed way, and eventually he razed it and sold the lot. I don't blame him...the dirt was wort more than the house which stood upon it. It was old and small, and way beyond a fixer-upper. But more than any structure I have ever been inside of, I can remember every square inch of the place. That's not surprising...it was a small house and I, too, was pretty much raised there.
I was thinking about this yesterday as I walked past a new house being erected down the street. It is a fascinating process to watch unfold. Much more uplifting than watching an older home, with all of the memories attached to it, come crashing down.
Not with a bang, as they say...and barely with even a whimper.
The first thing that struck me, upon seeing the house demolished, was how small the footprint was. It seemed so much larger in my memories. The second thing I thought about was...how did they raise four girls and three boys in that house? It never even had a proper bathroom.
When the house was leveled, it uncovered the original "plumbing." That was a well directly under the house, which used to have a heavy, iron, manual pump attached to it, which used to be located in one of the two front rooms. For years, after the house had been hooked up to city water and plumbed, that pump stood there...a relic that time had passed by. They eventually took it out and covered over the space on the floor that it had once protruded from, but I can still remember it, even if I never saw it during its functional days.
Once the house was razed, my uncle poured a bunch of fill dirt into the still existing well shaft, because he was afraid some kid would play around the empty lot and fall into it, causing a liability. That was probably wise.
My grandparents lived their whole lives there. In my Grandfather's case, that was until 1988, when he was 90 years old. He bought the house not long after coming home from a stint in the army during WWI, after marrying my Grandmother. He was born in 1898. My Grandmother survived him another 5 years, and lived there until she died. That's 73 years living in one abode. I can hardly imagine that. Can you?
For an initial investment of $200.
The house had many deficiencies. Size was only the start. It only had one bedroom, originally. My Grandparents built out the attic space to make two more bedrooms, and my Grandfather, who was sort of handy, but just sort of, built the stairs that led up to the attic bedrooms. They were unimaginably steep, due to space limitations, and obviously homespun. What amazes me most is that they lost only one child to disease, instead of two or three to falling down the staircase. They were so steep that you climbed them almost as a cross between stairs and a ladder...it wasn't uncommon to use both your hands and your feet.
And my Grandparent's bedroom was right off of the kitchen. There was no door...just an arch in the wall. When my Mother and her sibblings were growing up, there was a privy at the end of the lot. No personal plumbing. By the time I came along, one of the kids had installed both a toilet and a shower in the basement...because there simply wasn't room for such an addition in the house as it stood. For as long as I can remember, my Grandparents had to walk outside and around the house to enter the basement, which had one of those double doors that covered the entrance at a 45 degree angle, walk down exactly 5 steps to enter the basement, and there they had their toilet, their shower, their washing machine, and the sink at which my Grandfather shaved every morning. He used a straight razor, and had a leather strop and lather cup...and that's how he shaved his entire life. He never switched to more modern shaving technology.
The house had floor heat, which came from a furnace in the basement. Originally it was coal fired, but they eventually upgraded to gas along the years. It had asbestos shingles, an insanely steeply pitched roof, which I once helped my uncle recover with tar in the middle of August. It wasn't shingled, you see. If you have never tarred a roof in Ohio in August, and if you don't even know what tarring a roof means...believe me, you aren't missing anything. It is the worst, hottest, suckiest work I can think of.
But it had to be done from time to time.
While they had a washing machine, they didn't have a drier. But they did have a double clothesline that must have been 60 ft long, and my Grandmother dried everything on those clotheslines. I mean everything. Her granny panties, her granny bras (and she was a large woman)...it all hung out there to dry. But then, everyone else did the same, so nobody really took undo notice of the fact that you could tuck a small watermellon into each cup of her bras...and if they did, they were polite enough not to crack wise about it.
Up until the age of 6 or 7, my Grandparents were my daycare. My parents both worked, and I was dropped off at the old homestead to pass the day until they came home. That's why I say I was raised there as well. It's where my Grandfather first introduced me to Snipe hunting. They had a long hedgerow of lilacs, and he convinced me that there were birds called snipes which lived, largely out of sight, in the hedges, and were largely flightless. He convinced me that if I stood at the end of the hedge, with an open sack held at ground level, he could flush the Snipes from the other end of the hedge and they would scamper right into the bag.
Yeah...he was a practical joker. Just as I am. The acorn doesn't fall too far from the tree. I remember getting impatient, and looking up at the house and catching him looking at me from behind the curtains...laughing his ass off. Ahh Hah!, I said...that's the way it's done. I laughed with him, and have been a practical joker all my life as a result.
I miss that old house...and I think my Uncle waited longer than he probably should have before tearing it down. Everyone was attached to the old place, as run down as it was. When it was leveled, most of my aunts and uncles who were still alive came by separately, on their own time, to pay their respects individually. My Grandmother wasn't much of a gardener, but my Grandfather was. Their house was on a corner lot, and was surrounded on both streetsides by a huge hedge of lilacs. Who knows when they were planted? They were always just there.
When the house was torn down, every kid dug up a big clump of the old lilac hedges to transplant into their own yards...so, while the house no longer stands, a little piece of it still lives on.
But when I think of the gardens they planted every year, year after year, for probably 60 years...and think of the meals my Grandmother cooked in that kitchen that we all crowded around the table to eat...it's hard to wrap my head around. All the bushells of beans that she must have cooked at that old gas range...all the heads of cabbage turned into cole slaw, all the potatoes, and onions, and greens...all the quarts of tomatoes canned and the ears of corn that were shucked, the melons, carrots and peppers...if one were to pile them all up right now they would fill a small warehouse.
And the other memories...well, you can't warehouse those. There was a whole lot of living that went on in that small house. And when I finally saw the foundation, devoid of the structure it supported, I wondered how such a small house managed to contain so many memories, launch so many families, and provide shelter to so many for so long.
It was sad to see it go. But I have a lilac right outside my front door, as I write this. It came from my Grandparent's place. When I moved to Oregon I dug it up, wrapped the roots in sphagnum moss and damp papers, and babied it. It is my link to that place. That time. And each Spring, when it blooms, I inhale the fragrance deeply.
It smells like home.