Saturday, October 22, 2016


I learn they gutted
My 1893 house.
I feel gutted too.

It was 101 years old when I bought it.  The style was "Rural Vernacular," which I gather means a farmhouse that's been added to and surrounded by a neighborhood.  That, at least, was its history.  I once looked it up in the old City Directories.  In the 1890s, houses were not indexed by address, but by owner.  My old home's address was "2 blocks n. of Section Line Rd," and the residents were a family with a Dutch-sounding name (Vanderhoven?).  One was a seamstress, which used to be code for prostitute, but in this case was the real deal.  Her brothers seemed to swap ownership, and most of the family worked at the same place, a plumber outfitter, a few miles away near the river, I believe.

All this research is in a folder in a Portland basement, and my memory is clearly at fault, but I remember when my elderly next-door neighbor came inside and told me what it used to be.  My downstairs office was her aunt's sewing room.  The central room/dining area/entry was the living room:  they sat on a bench to the side of the fireplace.  The fireplace was now bricked up, and one of my antique wardrobes filled the space that used to hold the warm bench.  The large opening to the living room used to hold a door, and the living room was the special sitting room for guests.  The downstairs bath was the back porch, off the kitchen pantry.  The back deck off the kitchen covered the sidewalk from her house next door:  she came up that walk every day to visit her aunt and uncles. Upstairs, the large open skylighted room was the main bedroom, and the alcove with the washing machine used to hold a dresser.  There was a hallway to the front room, which used to be divided into her uncle's bedroom and a storage room.  The stairway was just as steep, but it was enclosed, with a curtain of beads at the bottom that they used to swing on.

100 years later, the house was pictured in a book of historic houses.  Because of various remodels, it was not on any historic register:  the value was that it added to the historic character of the neighborhood.  Now that neighborhood is barely recognizable.  When I visited 2 summers ago, 3 years after I moved to Albuquerque, funky old Division Street was lined with steel and glass high rises, and one of the new storefronts housed a specialty ice cream store with trendsters lined up for half a block to get weird ice cream.  (It actually was pretty good, but no ice cream is worth a 30 minute wait.)  I was comforted by the fact that the street was also full of nude bike riders:  at least some of Portland's weirdness was still going strong.

I acquired the house from friends:  it used to be C's party house, but he rented it out to some younger friends when he moved in with AB.  It became a Reed house, and I spent many happy Sundays enjoying brunch and crosswords and companionship.  It became my house through a series of friendship-based events.  AB was driving me and my seriously ill cat home from a homeopathic vet.  The vet had done a psychic hair test and informed me that Yo-cat had leukemia and I was sobbing while I stroked my cat.  As her stress-loosened fur swirled around my hand, AB searched for a conversational distraction...."I don't know what C is going to do with that house, now that R is moving out (she was the principal renter)."  I gulped through my tears, "He should sell it to me."  I wasn't serious:  I was happy in my converted milk barn, and I didn't want the responsibility of home-ownership.

One hour later, I received a call from R:  "C says you could have the house for $100K."  Huh?  "Oh, and he says there's no way Yo-cat has leukemia."  That call was followed by another, this time from C:  "I called my vet friend in St. Louis, and YO-CAT DOES NOT HAVE LEUKEMIA!  And I'd love to sell my house to you."

My loan was $74K, and I pulled another $6K from savings, for the deal of the century.  C put down vapor barrier in the area under the house, AB painted the trim, and I received dispensation regarding the cedar shake siding:  they didn't make me paint it.  One fine April day, a caravan of friends with cars and trucks descended upon my milk barn home and transported my possessions to my urban farmhouse home.  I paid my workers with scones, coffee, and raspberries scavenged from my new yard as they carried my things up the walk.  E stayed to put away my kitchen things, V took charge of the library, M set up stereo and music.  By the end of the day, I was moved in and soaking in M and Ws hot tub:  they now only lived a mile away.

In the course of the next 17 years, I hosted annual pumpkin carving parties, Christmas cookie baking parties (all the best parties happen in the kitchen), Superbowl parties.  When Grandma turned 80, I took over the Thanksgiving dinners. One weekend much later, I kicked D out and invited woman friends to a detox weekend, complete with massage and cleansing foods. Housemates came and went.  So did pets:  Bunji and Yo-Cat were both buried in the yard.   In summer and fall I harvested raspberries and walnuts from my jungle yard.  In winter I made wreaths from the red-brown dogwood cuttings.  In spring I cut pussy willows and filled vases around the house.  I gathered greens and lemony-tasting sorrel from the yard for an Easter omelet.  For every holiday and season, the house provided  space and inspiration for celebration and love.

 And, I made my own changes to the house, refinishing floors, moving doors, adding attic space and closets, releasing a hidden skylight, and opening up the tiny upstairs room, changing it into a library.  The big remodel was the new addition, which took out the hawthorne that the cats used to climb to get onto the porch roof and into my bedroom window.  It also took out the daphne and the hydrangea, but it added a wonderful family/guest room, with a wood-burning fireplace, wall bed, reclaimed-wood kitchen bar, and tiled shower.   The stained-glass window from the old Woodstock Library was imbedded above the fireplace, with a light behind it.  The room was comfortable, filled with music, art, and light. When I lost my PSU job, it paid for itself as an Airbnb room.

Friends were also incorporated.  B's mother took my grandmother's quilt scraps and crafted quilts that graced the guest room.  AB's water colors and oils, and AC's prints and my own photographs filled the walls.  L's roses brightened the jungle garden.  When I thought I'd have to lose my house, MC wrote a check for $4K to keep me afloat.  I found a house-mate and finally realized my dream to change the shed into a guest room.  It had previously morphed from carpenter's shop to printshop to artist's studio, to garden shed, but in my last few months I slept under the skylights, watched the sun rise and illuminate the flower-filled garden, and listened to the rain on the roof.  I was happy in that new space, despite the financial uncertainty, nightmare house-mate, and eroding marriage.

As the house changed, so did the neighborhood.  Indigine closed, but other restaurants opened.  Nature's had a place just a few blocks away.  The neighborhood remained a tad bit funky, with middle-aged hippies, original residents, and gentrifying yuppies making fairly gentle incursions.  New businesses were careful to use the shells of old buildings and homes, and the thrift stores did a thriving business.  The nearby park was leash free, and I walked and biked around, visiting friends and heritage trees and local coffee shops.

In other words, I had a home.  And now it's gone.  But....

At least the friends
And memories have remained.
For the time being.

1 comment:

  1. I'm so sorry! Division is the most unrecognizable of all the places that have been changing. I'll be walking through your house in memory, as pumpkin party time approaches. How very sad.