Yesterday's Magazette

11 – This Old House

This Old House

By Dorothy Galley

As I prepared to put the key in the living room door for the last time, I had mixed emotions. I looked around the empty rooms and the memories came flooding back to me.

I remembered when we put that paper on the walls. It had been just right – with its old-fashioned locomotives, sailing ships, and ladies in Victorian clothing. It didn’t look too fresh now and was coming loose from the calsomined walls. The drapes on the tall narrow windows were not too sturdy any more, nor too clean.
A flash-back came to me of how the house looked when we first saw it–ugly grey from top to bottom. Hidden in the tall evergreens and palms and set back from the street in the middle of the orange grove, it did look haunted – as most of the young neighborhood kids thought. We finally painted the trim white, including the gingerbread, and covered the exterior redwood with a coral-colored asbestos siding. Eventually we remodeled the interior and added a second bathroom, retaining the original style as much as possible. We had done all the work ourselves, and we loved this old house.
We had raised our four children in this 1889 Victorian house which no one else wanted because of its age and run-down condition. Our youngest was only two-and-a-half years old when we moved in, and she kept wanting to know “When are we going home?” (Home to her had been a small two-bedroom house which was ridiculously crowded.) Our oldest was twelve-and-a-half years of age, and in all too few years it seemed, we were decorating the house for her wedding reception.
We had held many social events here throughout the years. Cub Scouts, Campfire Girls and church youth groups. Eventually the house was used as one of the homes on the Progressive Dinner Tour put on by the local Historical Society.
Three of the children had gone to the neighborhood school, and I was President of the P.T.A. for two years, holding many of its functions at this home. It was a neighborhood institution.
There were so many memories – the memory of the Christmases we celebrated right in these rooms with all of my family – sometimes totaling close to fifty people. My eyes took in the unadorned stair railing, and I thought of the garlands and wreaths we had draped and hung over it at these times. It was such fun to decorate this two-story house.
Our first grandchild had lived with us for a year.
I baby-sat her so often through the years that she always thought of this house as hers. We shared it with a fourteen-year-old foster daughter, too, after our married daughter moved out. With three teenagers in the house, there was always noise and confusion.
Then we shared our home every winter for twenty years with our sister-in-law from Chicago. She has as many friends out here in California as she had back East. They made themselves at home here, too, since the house reminded them of their Eastern homes. Anyone who came into the huge kitchen felt right at home. Most of our friends entered by the back door and then sat around the big kitchen table enjoying their coffee while staring at the reproduction of a wood stove, with its warming ovens and chimney. Yes, this house had lots of charm.
I gazed once again into the large empty den and thought of where the grand piano stood. Many students had come through its separate doorway into the den for their piano lessons. The organ had stood in the living room, where others had entered by the other front door. Now the house was as quiet as death itself – no music coming from these rooms, no teen-age laughter from upstairs, no coffee perking in the kitchen.
I hated to leave, but I knew I had to. After the children had grown up and left home, my husband became ill. His last days were spent in the first-floor bedroom, which I could see from where I was standing. And then I was left alone in this big house. I really didn’t mind staying here alone until vandals started breaking in and stealing from me. It was now a terrifying experience.
I was actually looking forward to my new mobile home in a park with its security – and yet when I put that key in the lock and said “Good-bye, old house,” I could not hold back the tears.

Vol. 37 No. 3 – Yesterday’s Magazette – Fall – 2010


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