You can't go home again, but you might be able to visit

My two sisters and I got together this weekend for our annual GirlZ Weekend. Because we were trying to do things on the cheap this year, we met at my one sister’s house in Charleston, WV, where we all grew up. My sister had planned many surprises for us, but the best of all was that she got in contact with the woman who owned the house we grew up in, and she welcomed us in to look at every part of the house from top to bottom.

It was the first time I’d set foot in the house since Mom sold it in 1992, a couple of years after Dad died. They’d lived there for 50+ years. I was 32 years old before I woke up on Christmas morning somewhere else than in that house. I still have moments when I think about some object and know exactly where it is. Uh, was.

The house went through some very tough times after it was sold, the low point being when it served as HUD housing for a single mother with eight (!) boys. It was bought by someone who put a lot of money into it – new siding, new windows, etc. Then an ugly, public divorce ensued, and the house was on the market again.

Every time I visited my sister, one of our regular activities was to “stalk the house.” We’d drive by and then drive though the alley so we could see the back yard. That was a heart breaker. Mom’s abundant flower beds, the two huge New Dawn rose bushes by the garage, the Blaze rose covering the arbor that arched over the back gate, the bed of lily of the valley underneath the kitchen windows – all gone. Everything was now unkempt lawn.

The last time my sister and I stalked the house, we ran into the couple who lived next door, and they said the current owner had told her we were welcome to stop by any time.

My sisters and I always talk about how we dream about the house. My older sister and I both dream about the closets being full of all these clothes we didn’t know we had, or a secret passage through the closet into a room we didn’t know was there. My sister who lives in Charleston has nightmares about having to get my aging parents out of the house because of some impending disaster.

All in all, it was a wonderful visit. We looked in every closet and went down in the basement. The narrow shelves that my dad built on the stairway – they were just the right width to hold baby food jars – were still there. My sisters and I laughed about how small all the rooms had gotten. The owner really enjoyed hearing about what the house used to be like. It was very good to get the vibe that the house was loved and cared for.

The yard was still a mess, but the new owner saw the possibilities.

We’re going to gather up a bunch of family photos and give her copies. The only thing I managed to get from the flower beds (stolen in an act of guerilla gardening during one of the house’s bad times) was bleeding heart. I feel like I need to take start of it to the new owner.

That is a beautiful story. I have tears in my eyes. Really sweet.

Awesome idea.

You and your sisters are just like my kids, curious about the house they grew up in. When it came on the market a few years ago, the realtor put photos on their website, so we were able to see what had been done inside. “Mama! They took down the paneling!”

My daughter says she’s going to knock on the door sometime, but so far, she hasn’t gathered up the nerve. I’ll tell her what happened with you – maybe it’ll help.

ETA: I have the closet and secret panel to other rooms dream too, but it’s in a house I never lived in.

I hope she does, because realtors’ photos only take you so far. Those photos are not likely to capture all the specific things. The new owner had a calendar hanging on the door to the basement. Mom ALWAYS had a calendar hanging on that door. It wasn’t a Twilight Zone moment or anything. Rather, it was part of what made my sisters and I feel like the house was in good hands.

When I was growing up a woman came and knocked on our door one day and told us she had grown up there in the 50s/60s (this happened in the mid-90s). We were happy to let her come in and look around and tell us about how it had been back in the day.

The coolest part was when we went out in the yard. She pointed out a large bush planted in an old concrete planted that was part of the foundation around the basement window wells (hard to describe). She pulled up one of the low-lying branches of the bush and there in the cement were two childrens handprints, and the year 1959. Her and her brothers handprints. So cool.

Oh Freckafree, I really feel you! I loved reading about you and your sisters going back. My mum sold my childhood home when I was fourteen. I loved that house with a passion, a two storey 1915 villa with a garden that was a kid’s paradise.

My dad took custody of me when I was eleven because of my mum’s alcoholism and neglect (the garden suffered during those years) and I wasn’t allowed to stay the night there after that, I could only visit during the day. It was awful, as his new wife wasn’t very happy being a stepmother and took my withdrawal personally and living with them was worse than taking care of my drunk mother. But I digress, the house was sold on a whim by my mother when I was fourteen with no prior warning, her new boyfriend told her it was like a mausoleum and it had to go. So she sold it and went travelling with him for a year and I didn’t hear from her for months on end. I cried myself to sleep every night that year over the house.

When I was seventeen I moved into the house next door to it with our old neighbours (things with dad and the stepmother had got so bad I left home at sixteen) so I would be brushing my teeth and looking out the bathroom window at our old place which was now a run-down student flat. When the neighbours decided to move, it coincided with the student flat changing hands, so our old house was empty. What was a girl to do? I broke in of course! I climbed up an old drainpipe to the second storey and jemmied the window open - my sense of ownership was still such that I didn’t have a single moment of feeling like I was trespassing. The first room I was in was our old ‘blue room’ my mum’s sewing room where everything was in it was blue and the window faced west; great for watching sunsets and thunderstorms. So much of our stuff was still in the house - lampshades, the seat under the telephone table that my mum painted, old tin signs, our heights and names etched on the kitchen door-frame… it was unbelievable how much of my family’s bits and pieces were still left after three years. I bawled my eyes out hysterically the whole time and took everything that was ours that wasn’t nailed down and have them in my house now. I’m so, so glad I did!

I still miss that place. Now the garden is gone and a hideous townhouse apartment has been built on it. I sometimes harbour fantasies of winning the lottery and buying both properties, knocking down rhe townhouse and giving the old place some TLC. Perhaps because my family life has been so fractured, the house itself has become a really potent symbol of my childhood - the one constant presence throughout chaos! I’d love to hear more about other people’s experiences with this - it’s something I feel so strongly and yet rarely talk about or hear about.

Several years ago my job happened to take me to the mountain resort in Southern California where our family owned a cabin in the 1960s and 1970s.

After my meeting, I drove down by the creek and there it was. Not quite as I remembered it, a few additions had been made to it, but it was unmistakably our cabin.

I knocked on the door and an attractive older lady answered the door. I told her about our ownership of the cabin and that I wished to walk down to the creek without her thinking I was stalking the place.

To my surprise she invited me in. She was a retired teacher who had bought the cabin as a retreat about 10 years previous, and upon her retirement, had sold her house down below and moved to the cabin permanently. She showed me around and I oohed and aahed about the additions she had made to the place.

When I passed the bathroom, I couldn’t help but notice that the ancient space heater still hung from the ceiling. My sister and I always called it the Flying Saucer, it was nothing more than a heater coil inside an inverted aluminum dish hanging from the ceiling. I laughed and mentioned this story. She was amazed that the Flying Saucer had been around that long. Apparently it was still doing it’s job well into the new century - and doing it well.

I left and walked down to the creek behind the cabin. To my surprise it was dry. I had never seen the creek dry before. I walked across it and sat on my favorite rock, and reminisced for about 10-15 minutes.

Walking back to my car, the lady waved to get my attention - and then asked if I had any pictures of the cabin from the period that we owned it. Of course I did. I scanned them when I got home, and emailed them to her.

It’s in my will that when I die, part of my ashes will be spread down by the cabin. It’s a fantasy that one day, I will be able to buy the cabin back and live out my life there. It will never happen, but it’s a wonderful thought.

I’ve driven past my childhood home, but I’m not sure I want to see the inside. My folks sold it in '79, but the last time I lived there was '73. I expect there have been a few changes in the last 35 years. On the other hand, I’d love to see if the closet that my dad build in the middle bedroom is still in use (he built in the chest of drawers to minimize the amount of furniture the room needed.) It would also be interesting to see the basement - I can think of 3 configurations at least when I lived there. I also wonder if the workroom still has that leak when it rains.

I used to think about going back and buying the place, but it’s a rowhouse - I’ve gotten quite spoiled with our houses sitting on large lots. And honestly, one of the worst aspects of living in a rowhouse is the lack of parking. It was a challenge when I was a teen and most families only had one car. And our house was the end of the row, so we had a long stretch of curb.

It did break my heart when I discovered that the beautiful flower beds that surrounded the house were gone - my mom loved working out there, and at Easter, all the neighbors would come take photos of their kids in their Easter bonnets in front of our flowers. We also had this thick, beautiful forsythia hedge between the side yard and the street - a great privacy barrier - but it’s gone now. Only 1 or 2 people who lived there back then are still in the neighborhood, and they’re widows who are in their 80s now. It’s not the same place as in my memories.

Oh, and I’ve had the secret-passage-to-secret-room dream, too!

The house used to have three small bedrooms and one large one where the four girls slept. During one of the renovations, that bedroom was turned into the master bedroom, and one of the small bedrooms (Liz’s room) was turned into a master bath and dressing room.

And guess what! Access into the master bath was through what had been our closet! So we walked through the closet into a room we’d never seen before. Liz’s old closet had been incorporated into a new walk-in closet, so there was her closet, full of clothes she’d never seen before!

We all found it rather amusing.

How cool, freckafree. Bet you never thought you’d see the secret passage dream come true.

My secret passage dreams all involved our basement. There was a little room that my Dad originally used as a dark room. I regularly dreamt that it led to another set of rooms.

Our house is in a neighborhood that now mostly consists of student rentals. I haven’t been inside the house since we sold it almost 20 years ago, but I drive or walk by every time I visit my hometown. Last time I went home, I noticed that they’ve added a room in back, probably to maximize rental space.

I wouldn’t mind going in to see how it’s changed, but I’ve never felt curious enough to go knock on the door…

GT

Wow! I don’t feel so strange now.
My childhood home went up on the market last summer because the neighborhood is going to seed. It’s still on the market. Over the past year I’ve mourned it like I’ve lost a family member, and I told myself I was foolish for being so morose over what is only a building. I can see from this thread that I’m not the only one with strong attachments to a house.

It’s a ~120yr old victorian. It had been converted to three apartments when my parents bought it in 1981. They’ve slowly redone the whole house, room by room. They gutted, insulated, wired and plumbed, decorated and redecorated. I helped strip 120yrs of paint off the original woodwork. I learned to finish drywall and to paint.
One day my mother saw an elderly woman standing outside with a companion. She had to be in her 80’s. It’s nearly a dead end street, so Mom asked if she could use any help, directions, etc.
It turned out that the woman’s grandfather had built the house. Mom invited her inside where she marveled at the condition. She ran her hands down the banister, remembering how she used to get spanked for sliding down it when she was 5yrs old. She talked about how the back room used to be the kitchen, where her mother would feed railroad workers out on the back porch. What is now the living room used to be the good parlor.
It was clear that she had good memories of the place, and she was delighted at the condition it was in. I think she really enjoyed her visit.

Do you spell it “GirlZ” to make it sound more urban and edgy? :wink:

That was a really sweet story.

I’ve driven by the house I grew up in from 0 to 6 a few times. It’s completely different now, surrounded by trees where we had a bare open garden and they filled in what was the car port. I would love to go in and have a look around but don’t have the guts to ask. I don’t get nostalgic, and the street itself seems to have stood eerily still for the intervening 20 years.

You betcha! I just turned 50 – and I’m the youngest. We are an awesome trio with many spectacular qualities, but urban and edgy are not among them, even though we’d like to think they are.:slight_smile: