Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Teddy-Bear Ladies

The Up-Block-Down-House* has long been a perplexing study for my fellow house-historians and I. 

As lovely and comfortable as it is, my home of the last 2.5 years is nonetheless riddled with oddities that have stumped even some of my best friends, highly-esteemed for their knowledge of turn-of-the-century architecture, as well as common twentieth-century home changes in Minneapolis.

Questions that have plagued us include:

Why is the second flight of foyer stairs steeper than the third?

Did my office used to be the kitchen?

Is the kitchen an addition?

Was the house ever duplexed?

Why are so many blocks stamped “UP” laid UPSIDE-DOWN?

Why is my house-mate’s studio floor different from the rest of the wood?

And the list goes on…

But I wasn’t thinking about ANY of this today. 

In fact, I hadn’t thought of these things for quite some time. You see, I’ve grown comfortable in my home. Fond of it, in fact.

Those of you who have followed my blogging over the years may recall my mostly-chipper attitude about the acquisition of this house, even in the face of its utterly revolting state

But what you may not know is that I actually hated this place. I hated it not for what it was, but rather for the change to my life which it signified.

I had been going through a breakup. a protracted, painful, mind-bending experience, about which even the closest of my friends were not really and truly informed.

I left my beloved Healy House to come here… to this… this… place. This place where I would live all alone, ripping filthy carpet and scrubbing filthy ceilings until (I thought) I became so fully coated in UBDH residue that my tears of rage and anguish would be absorbed by a crusty shell.

And indeed that happened. And I lived like that for some time.

A hermit of sorts, as I struggled to figure out who I was, where I was, and what it all meant. And for a time, it pretty much sucked.

And BFF came.

And Uncle Ray.

And then Geri(P)atric.

And before I knew it, we were painting. And we were decorating. And we were cooking and living like undamaged people.

And we were celebrating holidays.

And at some point along the way, it became my home. Along with all of these people, and this neighborhood, and these dogs.

And I became whole again, without even really noticing the specific moment at which that occurred.

So as it happens, and as I prepare to sell this place and move onto the next exciting phase in my life, it was all of THIS that I was considering today, with a great sense of comfort and satisfaction, when I spied the white minivan pull up in front of the UBDH from the comfort of my –now lovely- front porch.

Three elderly women exited, all staring at my home. As they made their way into the street and toward my house, I caught myself thinking “are they looking at the dinosaur? No wait – it’s on vacation at the Nevermind Gallery in St. Paul… WHAT ON EARTH are the doing?”

They were smiling and giddy, and as they came closer, I saw that two of them were holding teddy bears, and the third a digital camera.

Before I could react, they saw me on the porch and one of them giggled, before stating loudly “well we should ask HER!”

Slightly embarrassed at having been caught spying from my porch, I got up and walked out to meet them.

And oh…

It turned out that two of them were sisters. Sisters who had grown up in THIS, MY HOUSE – THIS UP-BLOCK-DOWN-HOUSE, FIFTY YEARS AGO.

I nearly fainted when they told me that.

I wish I could adequately describe either their happiness or mine, but words truly escape me with respect to that particular sense. But suffice it to say, I was overwhelmed. In a good way.

We took photos of them on the front stoop with their childhood teddy bears, and I invited them in to see (after so many years) the same funny staircase, with the banister they had slid down as girls, and the porch that no longer has French doors (THE PORCH HAD FRENCH DOORS?!) and learn about how their parents housed a family of seven on just the first level of my house… because yes, in the middle of the last century, it was in fact used as a duplex.

And it brought tears to my eyes.

Though when I bought this place I didn’t think of it as a home, it WAS a home to others in the past. So special, in fact, that they came back 50 years later, from places like Elk River and Andover, to see if it was still here. And they brought their teddy bears.

And in spite of its long hiatus as a vacant, broken-down foreclosure…

…and before that a rental by a notorious slumlady…

…site of chronic drug-dealing and heart-wrenching family violence…

It has become a safe and wonderful home AGAIN.

My home.

*So named by the BFF for the curious inversion of several basement blocks, embossed with the letters UP


M. Clinton said...

This blog post was nothing short of a joy to read. It reminded me of a quote once from the mayor of Charleston, SC. A man who is a staunch preservationist. In Charleston they preserve buildings even when it seems almost ridiculously insane and may cost more money. Why? (his quote) "Cities need memories." I had folks who lived in the house neighboring mine (an identical sister house) stop by last summer for just the same reason. Just think with all of the demolition, there are families who come back to empty dirt lots in search of their childhood homes.

Jen Swift said...

Brought me tears. :) Thanks for the overage.

Irving Inquisition said...

Nicely done, Over North. You could mention a little something about the lovely basement windows donated from the A.A. Swan House.

So now that your house is all lovely n' stuff.... Oh never mind. :-)

auntie carol said...

Connie, I just have to say I feel lucky to know you. And I look forward to growing that knowledge in years to come. You are a peach. amen.cjc

The Hawthorne Hawkman said...

This is amazing! I moved around a lot as a kid, and have lived at several locations in the Twin Cities. This makes me want to go back and visit each and every place I've lived.