Friday, June 12, 2009

Farewell to Family Homesteads, 12/3/08

This has been my year for selling old family homesteads. Watching middle age children sell off homes that served their families - in one case, for well over a century, left me thinking about my own aging parents and in-laws and beyond that, the day when my own kids will have to sell the old house we’ve tended and polished for much of their lives.
In the spring I listed Sylvia’s house for sale.
Her husband, Dick was a gem of a man with a photographic memory of Noblesville history. He died over a decade ago. Now, a year after Sylvia’s death I was selling the home that had been handed down through Dick’s family since it was built in 1868.
Time and again my heart ached for Dick and Sylvia’s daughters. They held onto the house and its contents for a year, putting off the inevitable. After growing up in Noblesville, both had built their lives and careers and raised families, hundreds, even thousands of miles away. It was hard for them to let go.
At a Saturday morning auction Dick and Sylvia’s things were sold and later I sold the house, too. Walking through the empty rooms before the closing I thought of the times I sat at the dining room table and talked to Sylvia or listened to Dick’s stories about growing up in this neighborhood in the 1920s. Sylvia’s was one of the few Jewish families in Noblesville during the 20th Century. Dick was a graphic designer. When he lost his drawing arm fighting in WWII, she helped him learn to draw with the other hand so he could go back to work.
For 140 years a single family birthed babies in or brought babies home from the hospital to this home. For 140 years, people from one family died here. Before I left for the last time, I pondered the spot at the bottom of the stairs where Sylvia died peacefully, relaxing in a comfortable chair.
Don and Arlene were another older couple I met when I moved to Noblesville in the ‘80s. What wonderful folks. Arlene died in the late ‘90s and Don died this past spring. Early fall I walked through their 1890s brick home still filled with 90 years worth of family furniture and memories, measuring the rooms and taking photos.
Out in the yard I stopped between the grape arbor and the barn and recalled a Noblesville Preservation Alliance home tour party held here a decade ago. I had wired-up stereo speakers to play New Orleans jazz and zydeco for an authentic Louisiana meal cooked by Bill Ferraro. What a great night that was.
I picked and ate a couple grapes and walked out to the back acreage to take a photo of the rear of the home.
Looking at the house that Don and Arlene had tended and loved, I wondered how many Easter egg hunts took place here? How many Christmas gatherings? How many New Year’s Eve toasts at midnight? This place has been in Arlene’s family since the 1920s.
And my thoughts wondered to my own old house and my own children. For 13 years I’ve been on the scaffolding every summer while they played in the sandbox or swam in the pool or jumped on the trampoline. As I re-sided the house, they were bringing home girlfriends and boyfriends and getting their driver’s license. As I finally finish rebuilding and painting the exterior, the oldest has graduated high school and gone to college, and another is set to do the same next year.
Standing there in Don’s back acreage I tried to imagine my kids walking through our old house, packing up mementoes and talking to a Realtor after me or maybe my wife die in the spring or summer or fall of a year.
The biggest recent project we have finished on our own Victorian home is the addition of a wall of windows in a side room where once there was only one window. My sons helped my install them. This gives us a new and expansive view of my neighbor’s house to the west. My colleague, Annie Cook is selling it for the family who has owned it since 1902.
Recent nights when I go into that room to watch TV or work on the computer, I look out at that mammoth, empty home that fills the new windows. That place hasn’t changed hands for 106 years.
And from those windows I often see the young couples with children who come to walk the cavernous rooms of that house and dream about their family starting out there and remaking it their own.
I suppose it really shouldn’t be any other way.

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