“And what to my wondering eyes should appear….” but the home my family built in 1925 and lived in for nearly 70 years still stands and has been renovated! The neighborhood once devastated by Urban Renewal and interstate construction is experiencing gentrification and historic designation like so many urban areas around the country.
And property values are soaring.
When it came on the market recently, I felt a momentary tug to buy it back in the name of my Sicilian-American grandmother who loved it so and never wanted to leave… until I realized that it would resonate as hollow, nothing more than a trophy to the past. Stuff is merely stuff. Absolutely nothing could bring the lives and the times of my loved ones back. Their faces and voices would live only in my memory.
Still, if houses could talk, here is part of what this one might recount:
*My cousin, a midwife who delivered nearly 20,000 babies, delivered my aunt there while my four-year-old mother looked on.
*My grandfather’s funeral was in the living room at a time before the funeral parlor came into vogue.
*My widowed grandmother reared two daughters under the watchful eyes of her parents during and after the Great Depression.
*A handsome Cuban-American boy who would eventually marry my mother and become my dad was introduced to my family there.
*Photos of extended family would be taken inside and outside the house for decades.
*Holidays and special occasions would be celebrated there for well more than half a century.
*My grandmother would read to me more than her voice could endure at my nagging requests before I could do so myself.
*I practiced on a 1930s pianola “serenading” an elderly woman next door who would sit in her garden each afternoon. She just sat there and I thought she was enjoying my “gift” until I learned she was deaf.
*I watched my grandmother cook delicious Sicilian delights from memory. She was one of the few women in her generation and culture in those days who could read and write but somehow never saw the need to use a cookbook.
*I watched the only Sicilian grandfather I ever knew do his morning calesthenics, tend to his grapes in the backyard trellis before the birds swarmed in to steal his crop intended for home-made wine, rave about my grandmother’s cooking, and feed his goat until it ate through the fence and terrorized the neighborhood.
*I listened to my mother when she recounted how this decorated Sicilian master sergeant who had half his hip blown off by a grenade during World War 1 married my grandmother after her 11 years of widowhood and generously provided for her children’s college education.
*I watched visitors (friends and family) simply knock on the door unannounced and always be greeted with hospitality being served whatever food and drink was onhand. Sometimes, as a child, if I didn’t like the visitors, I hid under the dining room table until they left.
*I witnessed my first death there: the family dog who died of natural causes. I cried as she was lifted into the trunk of our car to be transported to the humane society.
All this and more.
Yes, if houses could talk, there would be much they would say but, alas, what we really long to see and hear are the faces and voices that once lived and visited there. Ironically, the place is still there but the time can only exist in our memories… until and unless we are someday able to catapult ourselves into a more knowing dimension so as to relive the days and times of our lives.