Sunday, November 11, 2007

while the banana bread bakes


I could wait until the loaves are finished baking to take the picture. Oh, you've seen pictures of quick breads before but you've never seen a picture of the inside of my oven. It's not original to the kitchen. I groaned when I first saw it, made another mental hatch mark under the Home Renovation column. The space alloted for the original range is 36 inches; this one comes in at a regular 30. The extra space is too narrow to be useful but large enough to catch all sorts of crumbs and kitchen(/kid)-related garbage. My kitchen would love to have a funky fifties jobbie with warming ovens and a lot of chrome but instead what we've got is some early eighties number with a light switch. Actually, an analog door-positioned switch for turning on the oven light is maybe a little charming, and the almost two year old in the house is quite pleased with being able to control it himself. But I was disappointed with the oven when we first moved in. It works like a champ, though, heats up faster than any oven I've ever used before and gets the kettle boiling for tea or the french press more efficiently than I'd like to admit. I guess it'll be sticking around a while. I wonder how long it's been living here. My suspicion is that the sellers may have put it in when they sold it. See, the funny/strange/mysterious thing about my house is that before we bought it - it was vacant for twenty-five years. I've had to put the details together from bits gleaned from erstwhile realtors, information pulled from furtive late night googling sessions and surprising relics we've turned up since we've taken residence. It seems as though an elderly couple commissioned the home built in 1958. They lived out their respective lives here, twenty odd years, and then the heirs kept ownership of the house, though it remained untouched. From what we gather, it was maintained but not used as a dwelling for over twenty years. And then this past Spring, it was donated to the local college, the local college slapped some putty colored paint on the walls, laid new awful cheap vinyl down in the kitchen and baths, and attempted to board up all the pocket doors before we begged them to stop, and then we bought it and moved in. I think the college might have had this oldish range floating around somewhere and plopped it into the house, because the age of it doesn't jive with the rest of the story. It's vaguely spooky to move into what is essentially a fifty year old one owner home. We speak kindly of Mr. Jacob Duerst and appreciate his handiwork, finding his puttering grandpa touches in surprising places. When I open up the bathroom cabinet and get a sudden acrid whiff of something vaguely menthol-y, it seems like I could just about imagine him standing there, tapping his razor on the sink edge to flick off extra burma-shave. Let me preface what I'm about to say by clarifying that I am, in fact, a pathological skeptic. So when I tell you that I feel the presence of those who lived here before me all the time, it's not in some odd creepy haunted house way (I'll save that story for another time, though you probably wouldn't believe me anyway because some things have to be lived before anybody can believe them at all, they're just so outrageous). It's just in this familiar -I don't know- feeling way. They lived here. I see the evidence all around me. They built this house and loved this house and finished out their lives here. And now I get to call it mine. Our house had a quiet energy about it (whoa, that's bordering on woo-woo territory and is going to cost me my big mouth skeptic card pretty soon if I don't watch it) when we first arrived, but it's warming up to us now, feeling comfortable with the noise and ruckus of my loud, little family. I'm not sure what the Duersts would think about the changes we're making. I'm sure they'd prefer my new paint choices over the recent bland putty color. I think they'd approve of our putting in wood floors. I'm certain they'd be sick over the damage my dog did to the top of the basement stairs (I'm pretty sick about it, too). And I just bet Mrs. Duerst would want to know what the heck happened to her oven.


Angelina said...

My house was built and owned by one couple as well but they didn't die. We bought it from them when they had to move to an assisted living facility because the wife was really frail. They built it in 1958 as well, raised three very tall kids here, and then in a fervor of modernization they erased most of the original charm by covering all the wood floors, ripping out the original kitchen, and adding on two rooms with dark wood paneling.

I have been looking at pictures of your house and the original charm that's there and feeling just sick that I have such awful 80's oak cabinetry in mine.

However, I've been coming to appreciate what I have and at some point when we aren't in such tight financial circumstances, we can bring the kitchen back to something really functional and stylish.

I really like hearing about your house and seeing the good changes you're making.

Lisa said...

You guys are so lucky to have some background on your house. The only thing I know is that the current fire department chief used to live here as a kid. I know this because he told me himself when I had to call the fire department one time because my basement was full of smoke and he came to investigate it. Turns out the city was running sewer tests by smoking the sewer pipes and the smoke was coming from a basement floor drain. You'd think they'd let residents know this kind of stuff so a mom with little kids doesn't get alarmed that her basement is smoked up!

Anyway, we don't know anything else except a few sketchy (and I believe inaccurate) things that our seller told us. We aren't even entirely sure of the age of the house because it is different on documents 1915 or 1912; we are leaning towards 1915 because it is more frequently noted. What kind of family first lived here? Were they happy? I think most of the people lived here were happy because this house doesn't have bad vibes and I was really worried about living in an old house because I do believe in some sort of spirit presence though I don't think I would call it haunting.

Like you Angelina, I wish we had money to restore it to its original Craftsman beauty. We've done a bit, like restore the wood floors in the living room and dining room, but there's so much more we could do with the appropriate funds.

I'd love to hear your other story, April!