Diary of Richard Groves Winston-Salem
This old house once knew (its) children
This old house knew his wife
This old house was home and comfort
As they fought the storms of life
“I would like to sit with you on the porch and talk about it,” a friend said after reading one of my recent columns.
“I would very much like to speak with you,” I said, “but, alas, we no longer have a porch.”
We don’t have a deck either. Or a backyard with a prolific plum tree that produced two dozen jars of jam every spring.
What we no longer have is a grand old folk Victorian house that was built the year the Chicago World’s Fair opened.
What we have instead is a two-bedroom apartment that’s about the size of the main floor of the old house, and a parking lot that’s about the same size.
People also read…
This is called downsizing.
I didn’t know how I would feel leaving the old house. A little sad or nostalgic, I thought.
I wasn’t ready to feel any, any bit – guilty. As if by moving I was abandoning an old friend. As if we had vowed to stay together until death, we separated and one of us denied.
At some point in your life, a house ceases to be just an address, a large empty box filled with small empty boxes, and becomes an essential character in your story.
“This old house has already sounded like a laugh,” wrote Stuart Hamblen and Rosemary Clooney sang in their chart-topping hit in the mid-1950s. “This old house has heard a lot of screaming.”
“You can feel the energy when you walk through the door,” a friend said of the old house when 20-25 family members showed up each week for Sunday lunch. when a few dozen friends hung out on the porch on summer Saturday nights for the evening of reading; when 75 to 100 neighbors set up lawn chairs in the yard to listen to the music of our children and some of their friends; when a handful of family members gathered in front of the living room fireplace for an intimate wedding.
Now the old house – sporting an unfamiliar coat of paint, stripped of its bold patterned wallpaper, void of furniture and furnishings – looks lonely. Anthropomorphically speaking.
Everything else is gone too – some things claimed by family members, some moved around the flat, some sent to Goodwill, the rest destined for landfill – but it’s the energy you’re missing .
The sound of your footsteps was once absorbed by rugs, curtains, grandchildren, and dogs named Rigby and Tyson. Now the fall of your footsteps on the ancient pine floors echoes and you are surprised at how loud they are.
The five children of JJ and Jesse Norman were the first to climb up and down the stairs of the old house, although it was then their new home, one of the first houses built on Spring Street in the West End. I collected books Norman children might have read, such as ‘The Mislaid Uncle’ and ‘Dick and Dolly’, and songs they might have sung from Children’s Singing Games, such as ‘We’ve Come to See Poor Jenny Jones” and “Poor Mary is sitting there crying.”
In an antique store, I found a copy of the 1893 Christmas edition of the Ladies Home Journal. It would have been Jesse’s first Christmas in his new home. I imagine her reading by gaslight the article “My Father’s Literary Methods” by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s daughter or sitting at the piano sight-reading “The Manhattan Beach March” by John Philip Souza, who dedicated the composition to female readers. from the Ladies Home Journal with “the composer’s end of year greetings”.
The last of the Norman children died 45 years ago.
Nikki’s children are the last generation of children to grow up in the old house, but hopefully not the last.
Soon the house will be spruce up and ready to move on, ready to become a character in someone else’s story.
Our apartment? I like it. It’s in one of the old factories in town that has been renovated for apartment/condo living. Century old brick walls, 17 foot ceilings, a 7 foot high wall and 24 pane windows. Our kind of place.
Over time, I’m sure it will emit an energy that you can feel when you walk through the door.
But, with no disrespect, I don’t think it will ever be an old house.
Richard Groves (email@example.com) is a writer living in Winston-Salem.