Looking Over My Shoulder
The house where I grew up was sold last year. I know this because someone who was in high school with me is a realtor in my northern Wisconsin hometown of Eagle River and sent me the listing. In the nineteen eighties after both my parents died, the house was sold and then again at least twice more. I’d get occasional reports from a good friend who grew up in that neighborhood and still lives there. She and I had a lot of fun in the house when we were kids and she felt badly how neglected the place had become. The most recent owner was a hoarder and shortly before the last sale, my realtor friend sent me interior pictures. To say I empathized with my friend’s sadness about the place is an understatement. I was horrified. Uncountable numbers of boxes and piles of stuff were stacked from floor to ceiling in every room, leaving little space to walk. In 1953, when we moved to that town, my parents bought the house because it was the only one for sale at the time. It was a typical large Midwestern frame home, two stories with a screened-in front porch. Four bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs, a living room, dining room, kitchen, and utility/mud room on the first floor, plus a quarter bath off the extra room my mother turned into a den of sorts for my dad’s books and collectibles. According to the next door neighbor, before we lived there it once was a boarding house where a renter named Frank went quietly to his upstairs bedroom one evening and killed himself. Each of my sisters reported ghostly experiences in that house but said Frank was a friendly spirit. The current online listing for the house was an eye-opener. The place now has three bathrooms though from the photos, I can’t figure out where the heck they put them. The master bedroom is now downstairs. The kitchen has an island and the wall between the kitchen and utility room was removed. Windows are in places they never were. Neutral gray carpeting and hardwood cover the floor and the exterior of the place is painted blue, to match the blue metal roof one of the previous owners installed in place of shingles. I couldn’t recognize the place. I sent the listing to my sisters and to one of my nieces and we reminisced while we looked at the modifications. One of them felt sad it was so hard to recognize but I think my mother, who had the place remodeled shortly after we moved in all those years ago, would be delighted that someone recognized the good bones the place had and cared enough to jazz it up. The majestic elms that lined what we called the “boulevard”, that strip of grass between the sidewalk and the street, were gone. But I knew that. Those had been taken down due to Dutch Elm Disease while my parents still owned the house. Across the street, the empty lot where we played kickball and baseball now has a house on it. There were no signs, nor would there be, of the wonderful times I had with my best neighbor friend when we played dress up in the basement. The tea parties under the lilac bushes next to the house where we made “soup” with crushed crackers and water. The sidewalk where I roller skated and learned to ride my sister’s bike so my parents would buy me one of my own. The big garden in back, where we rushed to bring in vegetables before the first frost, sometimes as early as late August up there. Gone. There wasn’t a single clue that I — or anyone else in my family — had ever lived there. Nothing to show who we were or who we would be. Thomas Wolfe said you can’t go home. My question is, would I want to? The house where I grew up has a new life and new memories to be made. It feels absolutely right.
Image courtesy of “Old Eagle River” page on Facebook