My grandmother’s house is for sale. I stumbled across the listing yesterday in my attempt to discern what is on the Central Kentucky real estate market that may interest potential buyers like…me. House-hunting is not actually something I enjoy that much. As an architectural historian, my standards can be exacting (that is probably an understatement). Plus, I have a tendency to inflate what I can physically do to rehabilitate a space (and conversely, I deflate what the actual cost might be). New construction interests me not at all, and by and large, most of what I like in dwellings predates World War II. Early childhood terrors of tornadoes means a basement is a necessity, and a house without a porch just seems naked to me. But I wasn’t expecting to the house that has long shaped my expectations and dreams to be in front of me on the computer screen, so real, and yet so changed. Quite without warning, I inexplicably began to cry.
I’ve always felt an emotional attachment to buildings and places, and I can trace it back to my very earliest memories of being with my paternal grandmother, who we called Tishmama. Her name was Elizabeth, shortened to “Tish” by friends and family, hence the moniker. Her two-and-one-half story house was always cool in the summer (except the attic, but even through the haze of heat, the attic was an intoxicating space of exposed rafters and beams and the world’s largest collection of old magazines), and everything had a story. It is a typical house of the era (early 20th century – I’ve never been able to research it as I would a house I’m documenting for work, but it was built between 1914-1929), with a central hall (that did not go all the way through the house), and spacious rooms (five on the first floor – living room, dining room, her breakfast parlor (tucked behind the stairs, with the steps to the basement and a half-bath also carved out of that space), kitchen, and den.
When I look back on it now, I see the rooms through a sort of split vision: that of a child, dragging out the book bag with books that was kept behind the couch, and that of an adult, surveying the spacious rooms, and the cherry and walnut antiques, each belonging to their square footage of floorspace. There was a two-story sleeping porch on the rear of the house, still full of the metal Sucrets tins my grandfather, who died before I was born, saved, and in the small bedroom off of the porch, a straw basket full of my father’s toys. And the polarity of my vision is always full of my my grandmother – reading to me while I ate vanilla wafers and drank a glass of milk (from a metal TV tray) – sitting on the front porch with me, and watching the traffic on busy North Maysville Street pass us by – and telling me story after story (many about my father, her adored only child). I was the youngest of four children, and found this sort of undivided attention magical.
When I am able to draw away from the memories of my grandmother, I can dispassionately evaluate the house type as one I would embrace today, and run it through my real estate checklist: well-lit rooms, fireplaces, hardwood floors, a front porch, full basement and attic – it meets all of my rather stringent criteria. And it’s for sale. Tishmama fell and broke her hip when I was 8 years old, and never lived in that house again. When she died, five years later, my father toyed with the idea of renting it, but he’d had enough trips to town to deal with the cantankerous furnace when my grandmother was still in residence.
The loss of my beloved grandmother and the selling of her house are intertwined in my heart – it was the first historic house I had ever known, and imbued with her lovely, engaging, and gracious spirit. I hope it is loved as much by its new family as it has been loved by me now, for years and years.