On a hot sultry Saturday afternoon in May, we welcomed a very special visitor to our home – well, it may be more accurate to say that our visitor returned home. For the first time in over 45 years (since the house and farm were sold out of the immediate family), my cousin Peggy came back to her childhood home, which her grandfather built in 1901.
I was a nervous wreck prior to Peggy’s arrival from Alabama. During years in which our house had been rental property and not well-maintained, she had avoided even driving by the house – so I wanted everything to be as perfect as possible. This, of course, is impossible when you are restoring and renovating, with a toddler running around, and another baby on the way.
Our upstairs bathroom was still fairly gutted, the vinyl siding (which I want to rip off one day when finances permit) still bears the scars of the tenacious ivy we removed, and more rooms are “pending” work than actually completed. But I did feel pretty good about the yard, which has gone from three acres with some amazing big trees and…nothing else…to three acres with some amazing big trees and a riot of flowers.
I may have decided, two hours before our guests were due to arrive, that the front porch needed to be washed down. So my youngest nephew dutifully manned the hose while I attacked the porch floor with a brush and Pine Sol.
All of my worries were for naught – we had a lovely visit, and Peggy was pleased with how we are taking care of her childhood home.
And we learned so much! The layout of the original bathroom in the house (the one we are renovating); the location of a half-bath, long since ripped out; and that the downstairs bathroom was not enclosed for its current purpose (it’s part of the one-story back porch structure), but was originally a large, walk-in pantry. (I would love to have a pantry like that. But the practicality of a first floor bathroom outweighs any pantry dreams.)
Even more exciting than these little interior puzzles were Peggy’s memories about the landscape around the house and farm. Like most houses of its time, our house once boasted a number of outbuildings – all now long gone.
Many of the trees and shrubs of Peggy’s childhood have also vanished – though I’ve made a start in planting three forsythia, two butterfly bushes, hydrangeas, a lilac, several Rose of Sharon bushes, four bridal wreath spireas, a mock orange, a bottlebrush buckeye, and an American beautyberry bush. (Goodness! I didn’t realize how much I had planted until that list!)
Peggy showed us where the cook’s cabin was, behind our house – its lilac hedge obliterated along with the building after the farm was sold. Our backyard, fenced-in for dogs and children, once held the smokehouse, Peggy’s sandbox, and a winding gravel path to the barn, chicken house, and pig house.
A sunny, flat spot on top of a hill next to the house has intrigued us since we moved last year, and that was the location of the family’s World War II victory garden!
In deference to the heat, we all sipped lemonade in the living room rather than the porch – with my father driving down the road to join us. I can’t imagine what it must be like to visit your childhood home and have it no longer be “home” – but Peggy remarked to me that if there are ghosts in our house, then they are happy ones, for they approve of the home we have made. And that makes me happy.
*My blog posts may be slightly infrequent for the next few months, depending on how sleep deprived I am on any given day. We welcomed our son into the world 10 days ago, and only really strong hot tea is keeping me upright to write this post.