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Thursday, June 21, 2012

The House That Built Me

A couple of days ago, I was home, ringing in my 40th birthday, minding my own business, when someone came to the door. It was a man and woman. He was holding a camera, she was wearing a floppy sun hat.

They were both in their late 70s…you gotta size people up before you randomly open a door for strangers even out here in the middle of nowhere. Seeing I could “take them” both, I opened the door, smiled and asked if I could help them.

They both started to talk, nervously but excitedly. Words were flying on top of each other and I had no idea what they were saying. I stepped out onto the porch. She grabbed my arm and said she was sorry to barge in this way but was hoping I wouldn’t mind her and her cousin taking photos of the outside of the house.

This house was built in 1860. Being from Chicago, I was always taken aback by people who randomly stop by to talk to me, a stranger, but in the six years I’ve been here, it’s happened a lot.

I have been in the garden and people literally driving by on lawn mowers (has happened so many times) have stopped to tell me they lived here in XXX year, or like what we’ve done to the place.

A couple from the suburbs stopped by (think I blogged about them before) who were just driving by and admired my garden and pergola, so they thought they should stop and talk. They did and we are still in touch as garden buddies.

Many others have walked by saying they too have lived here or knew people who had.

Once had a pizza delivered by a man who asked if he could come in and take a tour because, “This place was a real shithole (when he lived here back in the late 60s) when it was a two-flat apartment. Shittiest house on the block, maybe even in town.”

I remember my first year here. We were smack-dab in the middle of building a wrap-around front porch. I ran to the little market to pick up a few things and two people in the store, people I’d never seen, independently, said, “Porch is coming along very nicely.” “Oh, you’re the one who lives in the house where the porch is going up, lookin’ good.”

Growing up in a big city, these kinds of things just don’t happen. Here in the sticks, happens all the time.

So many construction projects have taken place in this old house, even before we lived here. Which means, not enough of it is original to get it on the national registry of historic places. But I guess enough people lived here and knew others who did that it really doesn’t need all the fanfare that comes with being on the registry.

I finally realized the treasure I live in, and what better day than on my birthday to find out?

I told the lady she wasn’t barging in and it was okay for them to photograph the house. As he fidgeted with his camera, she began to tell me about her great-great grandfather who lived here in the 20s. With a twinkle in her eyes and child-like excitement in her voice, her memories flowed.

“That barn back there was there when I was a kid. All of us kids used to go in there, sit on the old tractor, pretend we were driving and plowing the fields. Grandmother worked her garden right over here and she could grow anything. There were two big oak trees over there. Guess they are long gone now…”

I listened intently and she strolled down memory lane and he snapped picture after picture.

When he finished, he stepped onto the porch with us. He too had a lot of fond reminiscences to share. But again they began speaking on top of each other’s words as he mentioned their great aunt.

Her bedroom was my bedroom. When her beau would come to town from Chicago, she would sneak out of that bedroom window to meet him. When he would visit and the law would come looking for him, the girl and her mother would hide him in the floor boards of the attic. Because of his many disappearing acts, he was denoted a nickname, “The Ghost.”

Eventually, she eloped with the gangster who ran with Bugs Moran. He was his bodyguard. He was the same bodyguard who was running late the night of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in the late 1920s, keeping Bugs from being inside the warehouse when shots rang out. The hit was rumored to be called by Al Capone, Bugs’ archenemy.

To say I was fascinated is an understatement. My dreams have since been filled with images of myself climbing out of that window to meet some handsome, bad boy from Chicago. The rat-a-tat-tat of a hit is what awakens me.

I did invite them inside for coffee. Oddly enough I was drinking out of a birthday gift Lane 2 bought for me. The coffee mug has a pistol shaped handle and it says, "Fuck you, you fucking fuck." Fitting, huh?

As they looked around, more stories were told, memories unfolded and smiles lit up each of these old rooms.

“Grandmother used to sit right here,” she said pointing. “There was a potbelly stove here. She’d sit on the end of the sofa, and crochet the most intricate and beautiful blankets.”

As she told me these stories, she kept drawing her arms to her chest. It was like she was physically drawing the memories to her heart. Was about the sweetest thing I have ever seen a grown woman do.

They stayed for more than an hour and she gave me the biggest hug when they left. I listened as they walked back to their car. They were gushing about their visit, how many years (over 50) had passed since they had been inside of the house, and said how nice it was that a "sweet person" was taking care of "grandpa’s pride and joy."

It made my day listening to them and it made me appreciate this old house so much more.