Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ode to our south normal house--part I

I’ve never really written here much about this great old house that k and I live in. This summer will mark our 6th year here. And now I think it is time to write about this place that holds us and keeps the rain off our heads and keeps our toes warm (well sort of warm) in the winter and catches our sweat in the summer, because this house has heard so much of the joy and pain of our lives in these last years.

The house we live and love in was built in 1903.

The horse hair plaster walls have soaked up our memories like the sun-dried earth soaks in a good rain. There are families who have lived here before us and contributed the oils of their feet and the grime and stickiness of their hands to the floors and walls. Their words rest in the still vibrant—never been painted over—wood trim and their idiosyncrasies stain the ceilings and closets.

The living room wall.

I love this old house. The floors are a light oak and the walls are trimmed in a gorgeously orange, brown stained wood. The living room and Dining room run into one another and the original wood rods that held heavy drapes to keep in the warmth are still in place.

The mantel and coal-burning fireplace are older than the house and stand as a solid, gorgeous welcome to anyone entering. The ceilings are tall and spacious. And the radiators that bring us steam heat sputter and squeak and spit all winter.

The floor, a radiator, the lead -glass windows...

The mantel.

When I wash the floorboards, I smell the scents of the people who lived here before us. I always wash the floors and the window-sills and the wood trim by hand with a mixture of murphy’s oil soap and vinegar or meyer’s cleanser and vinegar. And the hotness of old wood wafts into the rooms as the warm water seeps into the hundreds-of-times-humanly hand-caressed-with-wet-rags floors and trim and sills.

More wood...

I am a lover of history—of all that has come before us and the various perceptions connected to all of that living and loving and wallowing and warring and mystifying and dying. I got As in Social Studies and History classes all through school. Even in 9th and 10th grade when I was a total slacker (before I realized that I was so good at school and that my braininess mattered), I aced my Social Studies classes. While I tend to not believe in ghosts, I do believe in the leftover energy of people who have gone on from a place. Our house has always had a good energy. And the energy that lingers here the most is, I believe, from the people who lived here the longest.

This old stairway.

I did a slew of research at the Ypsilanti Historical Archives back when we first bought this house (we bought her from friends who had lived here for five years; before them a family had lived here for 12 years; before them a family had lived here 51 years—the family with the whispers hanging loudest on the staircase and in the clawfoot tub—the Blum family).

The Blum family ate and drank and slept and gardened and got sick and fought and talked and breathed and did things I will never know what here in this house where k and I drink and eat and sleep and fuck and laugh and cry and throw things at the sun and cook and smile and dream. Back in the day before google, white pages, or fancy sophisticated search software, Ypsilanti published this address book thing that actually listed all of the residents living at a certain address and their professions and relationship status. After quite a while of research, I learned that the Blum family lived here from 1935 to 1986 in some way shape or form. It seems as though Oliver, Mary Magdalen, and Leo were all children to Mary Louise Blum and that Mary Magdalen and Oliver lived here unmarried, together until 1978 when Mary died. Oliver went on to live here until 1986 when he died.

Oliver’s Obituary was kept in the Ypsilanti Archives, but Mary Magdelan’s living relatives either did not have an obit written up or the Archives just didn’t have one. However, there was a Catholic, prayer card—you know the kind with a picture of a saint and a person’s name, birth date, and death date, in the archives for Mary. I assume it was in Oliver’s possessions. So, Oliver’s obituary listed no living relatives; it seems as though he was the last of his line and therefore it is really hard to find out any information on the family other than what I was able to find at the archives and of course the amazing little remnants of their living left in the built in workbench in our basement and the rafters of our garage.

Then the other day, I came upon this magnificent list from the electronic version of Ypsilanti Gleanings

Oliver Blum’s estate was acquired by the Ypsilanti Historical Society. So, my one glimpse into the worldly things other than the basement and garage gifts that might have been kept in this house or in the house’s garage are a waterfall of words that describe objects that once were here in my space and are laid out in the estate acquisition list below.

Oliver Blum Estate
Small Wash Board
Old Dominoes
Nutmeg Scraper
Level-Auto Parts, Inc.
Can Opener
Bone Handled Pocket Knife
Razor Strop
Pens & Pencils-Local
Mouth Organ “The Sportsman”
Items from World War II.
Canteen Cover
Duffle Bag
Belt Buckle
Auto Hydrometer
Multi Colored Shawl
Lace Tablecloth
2 Dresses
Man's Suit-Hart, Schafner
and Marx
Man's Coat


f said...

So fascinating. That's so cool that you did the research on your house - I also think about past inhabitants and the kinds of conversations that must have gone on. Although sometimes the ones I imagine are more like, "oh totally. Let's totally leave a good 1/4 inch around that window sill so the heat can just fly right out. Sounds like a great plan! Future F living there will really love this feature." So you are a much more interesting and generous soul :-)

And what wouldn't you give for a photograph of that estate? A birds eye view of all the things laid out, carefully tagged, and siting on your living room floor.

Was her name really Mary Magdelan? And Oliver Blum - what a great name.

Your house carried that family through it with love, longevity, good times and bad. And it'll carry your family too. I'm glad to feel a bit of a spring breeze flowing through your windows today -- a little breath of fresh air after this long winter.

Thinking of you guys - thanks for sharing these photos and this story!

f said...

Just a sidenote - if that is their real name, you might want to put a * or x or something in the middle of it, just to prevent google searches for him leading here -- if it matters. xo

Desaray said...


vee said...

That's a very special place you have there.

jay said...

it is indeed. fascinating!

Kate said...

i love old houses and all they are.

Matthew said...

now i REALLY want to come and all looks so wonderful and warm...and ironically i have almost purchased that exact same bookcase that is next to the windows and radiator and chair...AND i am oh so happy that you found a place for that block print of the biker! yay you and k and your house!

starrhillgirl said...

That is one of the most beautiful lists I've ever read.

andrea said...

ooooh! i need to make an illustration of all those lovely items that fill the imagination and your old house so mysteriously. i love how you ended it with the waterfall list, the photos are gorgeous. you may have visitors that never leave!! WRITE MORE!!!! again, you have a gift with words.

andrea said...

also, when we tore our walls down in our old detroit house to insulate the place, i put up all kinds of artwork and random pictures and quotes in the walls so the person in the next 100 years that chooses to tear it down will have an suprise.
and in the basement, on the stairs going down were hearts filled with initials and + signs...over the years. we added ours.