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Our Old House

July 30, 2012

Contributed by Christine Morris, Crawford Street resident

Christine’s Hydrangeas

The Highland Park Neighborhood is filled with an abundance of solid, graceful old homes.  Our house is 102 years old and counting, and our family loves it more with each passing year.  While some home-buyers choose to live in a “new construction home”, hand-picking their floor plan and stepping into a pristine house with gleaming hardwood floors and a cathedral ceiling’s worth of wide open spaces that are theirs alone to fill,  we chose our home for the distinguished life it had already led before we even set foot inside.

When my husband gave our daughter’s bedroom a makeover years ago, he discovered an old baseball card, circa 1910, tucked in the wall behind a window sash.  While it may be common practice for contractors to stow a cache of future memorabilia within their walls, it was delightfully unordinary for us to unearth our builder’s time capsule and hold that delicate piece of history in our hands.

The storm door on the side of our house features an elegant “E” in the metalwork.  My daughter recently asked what the E stands for. Our next door neighbors, Marge and Ed Chatt, who have lived on this street for over 55 years and whom we feel privileged to know, have shared many details about the life our home led before we came to inhabit it, so I was pleased to tell my daughter that the E stands for Elliott.  Naturally, my daughter asked why we don’t replace the E with an M.  But we do not intend to do that.  Our household’s party of five is a guest at the table of the “E” family’s history.   Sometimes when I bring the groceries into the kitchen from the driveway, I think about what provisions mother Elliott carted through that door to feed her own family.

When I have occasion to slip one of our steel skeleton keys into a lock in the rooms in our house, I am reminded of the enduring craftsmanship that distinguishes the homes built in this Highland Park Neighborhood.   What makes the act all the more appealing is the refurbishing that my husband has done on the backplates and door knobs, restoring the copper and nickel to their original luster.  A simple turn of a key becomes an evocative experience many times removed from the daily clicking motion triggered by the uninspired plastic button on my electronic car keys.

Through the long winter months, my children love to sit on the heating grates in our drafty house.  While I feel compelled to discourage them from absentmindedly closing the vents and rerouting the warmth I crave, I do love the sound those old vents make when I pull them open again.  That heavy-gauged screech announces itself with distinction, unlike the smooth surface of the 21st century keypad which stares with cool silence from the wall while I set the temperature in the first place.

Once, as a former neighbor ended a visit to our house, she grabbed hold of the modest little latch on our porch door. She stopped in her tracks and paused to say how she missed the feel of that particular piece of hardware in her hand.  The tiny handle that she had grasped unceremoniously countless times before suddenly took hold of her, opening her memory to the prized years of friendship that she had shared with the previous owners of our home.

Near a cozy small-paned window in our attic is written a delight of a message that reads:  “Lauren Pavone – Born in 1986, I am now 13 years old. My family on my mother’s side has been living here for longer than 85 years. I would only ask for you to not wash this message off. Just that you keep it here. Thank you. P.S. The hooks are up here because my great grandmother dried flowers up here.”

I can easily promise that I will never sand out the green magic marker scrawled on our attic wall by an earnest teenage girl.  I would rather head out to the front yard, clip a handful of Annabelle hydrangeas off the flourishing bush that was likely planted by a member of Lauren’s family, and hang those hearty blooms to dry on one of Mrs. Elliott’s sturdy attic hooks.

Take a new look around your old house. Perhaps you will discover lingering remnants of its previous owners. Maybe you will simply delight once more in the details that make your home a solid testament to its original period.  Think about how your family wants to leave its mark, how you hope to preserve your footprints in those splintered floorboards that lay beneath you, how you would like to sign your home’s guest book with the imprint of the era you inhabit for the houseguests who have yet to arrive.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Lindsay permalink
    September 15, 2012 5:30 pm

    This article brought tears to my eyes. That was my grandmother’s family home and a place where many of my childhood memories were made. I am so pleased to hear you are able to appreciate the homes history and that a new family is there creating happy memorys. Thank you for your beautiful article.

  2. Paul Rokos permalink
    September 16, 2012 8:35 am

    Thanks for the memory and beautiful writing. Is the grape arbor still there? My mother would make grape jam every fall, just as her mother had. It was the best ever. Enough to keep a family of 8 happy for a year.

  3. Chuck Webster permalink
    September 30, 2012 2:47 pm

    I grew up at 44 Crawford. My mother still lives there. The house was originally built for Frank Webster, my grandfather, and my father Charles grew up in the house. many memories of the neighborhood and the people who lived there.
    Chuck Webster

    • April 7, 2013 5:32 am

      I knew a red-haired Chuck Webster who attended School #24 and lived nearby. I think we were in the same grade. I attended kindergarten through sixth grade. The principal was Arlene V. Fritz. Student names I remember are Susan Gregory (daughter of a fourth grade teacher), Alice Herbst, Melody Perez, Donald Pincola, Carol Carhart (of the Carhart photo-finishing family), Schuyler Ford, Charlie Lape, and Sol Makin. I also remember the school maintenance man, Mr. Hess. One day, when he was mowing the grass, a student in the classroom called him “Hot Rod Hess,” for which he got into trouble. Getting candy at Mim‘s store on Meigs Street was a treat. Cleaning the blackboard erasers at the vacuum pipes in the hallway floor was fun. Was your mother a Cub Scout den mother? It seems like another life…
      Dave Beedon (davebeedon@comcast.net)

      • Chuck Webster permalink
        June 18, 2013 10:41 am

        Dave, you have all the names correct. I remember all those people. Wonder where they are now. While I live in Vermont, my mother still lives on Crawford St. Actually my mother was a Brownie leader, but I belonged to Cub Scouts.

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