Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - May 14, 2021

"This old house"

Recently, daughter Mariya and wife Miriam texted a picture of our truck filled with a load of mulch. It's yard-work season again at their home. Earlier this spring, we had our home re-shingled, followed by a re-shingling of the house husband Art uses for his business. This past Saturday, we helped daughter Katie and hubby Matt set up their Wisconsin digs after their move from Albuquerque. Two days earlier, we were in northern Wisconsin preparing our cottage for the summer season. But none of these roof-over-our-heads events measures up to the task we've faced preparing Art's brother Tommy's home for sale, prompted by his death in January.

While he lived there for the past 10 years, I think of it as Art's mom's home as that was where Donna lived when I met Art. He was only 11 months old when his parents Donna and Tom bought the house, so for him, it is "the family home." The $3,000 they paid is equivalent to $45,000 today, so even then, it qualified as a fixer-upper. After the 1945 purchase, for the next 15-plus years, some part of the house was always in a state of renovation.

The earliest project was removing the gravity-fed coal furnace and replacing it with one that used oil. Tom later changed it to a natural gas furnace, but Art still occasionally thinks of those winter mornings when he sat next to the heat vent directly above the coal burner, waiting for the first hint of heat as the coals caught fire.

The kitchen was next to get a make-over with everything ending up in a different place. Art says he sometimes thinks of his dad on his knees, laying the green flooring tiles. His parents worked together putting up the green-patterned wallpaper. Counters, cabinets and trim were white. Like many folks of that era, his parents smoked. When they repainted in 1963, the pronounced yellowing of the cabinets near where Donna usually sat prompted them to quit cold turkey.

The upstairs originally was just an open attic, most of it without flooring. One day his dad dropped a hammer through the living room ceiling while working on the soon-to-be upstairs bedroom. Startled by the hammer's appearance, Art and his mom found it hilarious, but quickly stifled their mirth. Tom was NOT amused with having to stop to do a repair. The attic was divided into two rooms - a large bedroom for the two boys and the other lined with bookshelves, closets and cupboards for storage. The colors were, not surprisingly, Donna's favorite: white and green.

The bathroom received a once-over when Art was about 8 - new toilet, new tub, new vanity - all white with a tiled floor and half-tiled and half-wallpapered walls. You can guess the color combination.

Tom removed the wall between the small dining room and living room to make a more spacious living area - one with green walls and a green couch and carpet.

Other projects included reworking the two lower-level bedrooms and making one into a den; removing the full-screened, but rotting, front porch and replacing it with a small entry-way; renovating the garage; and relaying the concrete driveway.

Tommy was 12 years older than Art and was soon off to the Korean War and then college. So with the exception of the furnace work, Art's dad did it all with help from Art when he was older. Tom's remaining hours were filled with maintenance of their trucks, trout fishing with Art, and raising petunias, chrysanthemums, iris and roses - his favorite.

In addition to helping Tom, Donna cooked, cleaned, made drapes, upholstered furniture, selected furnishings, and canned items from their garden. Her "get-aways" were reading and listening to baseball games - the Cubs were a favorite - and cheering her beloved Green Bay Packers.

Art has never been very nostalgic, but as we go through the home, memories pop up. Tom made the basement bench and it's where Art developed an interest in electricity. More than 70 years later, that interest lives on. Donna pampered her appliances, so the clothes dryer purchased in the mid-1950 is still in the basement and still works fine, although, like her, I prefer to hang clothes on the old clotheslines in the back yard when I can.

Unlike mine, Art's family rarely took pictures. So when he looks from the kitchen window, he often recalls the time a photo was taken by the garage of the two boys dressed in their suits before Tommy's college graduation.

I never met Tom. He died before I met Art. But I have many memories of Donna in the house. She and I would often sit across the kitchen table chatting about this and that. She would give us money to purchase Christmas gifts for our girls, and one time I quietly clued her in that we had bought them a CD by "Pink." Donna had a strong voice and forgot to reel it back when she replied, "Who the hell is Pink?" Katie, who was reading in the living room, rushed to her sister and said, "Mariya, we're getting Pink for Christmas!" So much for the surprise.

Other holiday recollections include videotaping Donna making peppernuts, sitting at the dining room table wrapping Christmas presents with paper she had squirreled away from prior years, and trimming the tree in the southwest corner of the living room. Every year, Donna declared, "This was the best Christmas ever!"

The home will soon belong to someone else, or perhaps will be demolished to build a new one. But Art says whatever becomes of it, he considers himself fortunate to have called it home for more than 75 years. And I consider myself lucky to have been part of its history as well. While "this old house" has seen better days, the memories it evokes are priceless.

Top-left: Tommy had not pruned the shrubs next to the porch. Art was half way through cutting them down here; top-right: Daughter Katie and Art on the green couch sitting in front of the green walls and on the green carpet. The wall hangings are from the 75th anniversary of the Green Bay Packers; lower-left: Art next to the workbench where he began tinkering with electrical things before he started kindergarten. He added extensions to the chair legs to make them longer and make it easier to work at the bench; lower-right: Katie and I hanging clothes on Donna's lines to dry.

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