My niece recently said to me at a bridal shower, “Aunt Lou, I still have dreams about your house.”
She meant our century home in Cleveland. It was a grand old house that dominated the street. It accommodated me, Jimmy, my mother, seven children, a menagerie of animals, and various family and friends who came for a visit or sometimes to stay awhile. No matter how many people we had, there always seemed to be enough room.
I fell in love with that house the moment I set eyes on it. In fact, even though we weren’t looking for a house, it showed up at just the right time. Jimmy and I weren’t married long and we were living outside of the neighborhood. We were renting the lower half a double and it was fine. Except that it was far enough from the neighborhood that I couldn’t walk home. We had to drive.
One fine Saturday afternoon I was waiting for Jimmy to come home so we could take the children and go and visit my mother. And wait I did. Jimmy showed up four hours late. The kids had already fallen asleep. Needless to say I was not happy with him because he never called and I was worried. And if his breath was any indication, he had his fair share of beer, no doubt.
He explained he was out with his Godfather Ray and that they were looking at a house. It was a house he had no intention of buying. We couldn’t afford it. We didn’t have a down payment and we had three children. My guess is that they were at a “public house”, i.e. a local bar, having a few drinks.
Playing along, I said, “I didn’t know we’re in the market for a house. But now that you mention it, that’s a good idea.”
And much to Jimmy’s shock and amazement, I phoned his Godfather and asked Ray to take me to see the house. Much to my shock and amazement there really was a house to be seen. And Ray was only happy to take me. He knew the owners and he felt that he could help us seal the deal.
And such a deal it was. The house cost $10,000 in 1964. And since we had no deposit the owner agreed to sell it to us for $13,000.00. We used the extra money for the down payment. But we had one small problem; our rental agreement wasn’t up for many months. And we couldn’t afford both places.
It turned out that on the day we signed the loan our landlord asked us if we could move out of the double to accommodate his newly married son who was looking for a place to live. It looked like the stars were aligning in our favor. And from that day forward, although we had our ups and downs, that house was magical and filled with memories.
It withstood tornadoes, blizzards and meteorites that Jimmy mistook for aliens when they landed in the funeral home parking lot across the street. And he was stone cold sober when he saw them. But that’s another story for another time.
Guido recently reminded me of the many times our house gave shelter during some severe natural disasters.
The first time was during the tornado of 1969. Our house which was just south of Lake Erie, gave shelter to dozens of people fleeing the Lake after the July 4th fireworks. Total strangers and neighbors took shelter in our home and waited out the storm.
And in January 1978, a blizzard covered the city knocking out power and heat. Again, our house became a refuge for neighbors until the power came on. Our kids still refer to it as the neighborhood slumber party – the one they always wanted as kids but we never allowed.
Every once in a while, when I go to mass in the neighborhood I go back and visit our old house. The neighborhood has changed a lot since the days when we lived there. But there she sits atop the street, towering over the neighboring houses, like a mother hen watching her chicks.
And when I see her, because my house is definitely a “her”, I have this urge to ask the owners to rent it to me for just one night. One night where I’d have my own brood, just my children, come home and spend the night. My kids like to tease me about this. And on more than one occasion they have talked me out of knocking on the door to accost the poor unsuspecting owners.
And perhaps they’re right to do that. And while it saddens me that I can’t turn back the clock. I take comfort in the wise words of the Polish poet, Stanislaw Jerzy Lec, who said, “You can close your eyes to reality but not to memories.”