My mother would often ask me what would become of her house after she died, and to put her at ease, I would tell her maybe one of our sons would move in, but let's not hasten your passing, ok?
She'd look at me like I'd grown two heads, "This house won't be good enough for either of them. They'll want something nicer."
Below, my mom with her father. I never knew Grandpa George very well, in fact I didn't quite grasp the fact I even had a grandfather until I was much older. I don't know why really, Mom always said it was because he had enough on his hands taking care of her brother's large family and we were too busy on the farm to visit. He lived a mere three miles away in town and we only visited him once, though he made a good impression on me. I was too young to even understand whose house we were in, but I do remember the kindly old man who went and got me a sugar cookie.
Coming to live on the small dairy farm would be another difficult life to bear, but Mom was always cheerful and stoic and the hardest working woman I have ever known. She lost her first-born son at birth, and then, three years later, in 1945, my late brother, Robert, was born.
Thirteen years after my brother was born, I came along as an afterthought.
She wanted her house to shine and was proud of her efforts, but not everyone was polite. One of my cousins would come from the big city for visits occasionally with a passel of unruly urchins. Since I was raised pretty much as an only child of very modest means, being around these rude brats came as a huge shock.
I remember the incident like it was yesterday. I was quite young, maybe ten years old, but it made me mad. I looked at Mom and wondered what she would say. She was never one to start a fight and always polite, but I knew it stung. Though she did not have a retort at the time, it was the one thing she used to repeat to me for the rest of her life, 'Do you remember that day? It's not like there's anything valuable around here to break.' Oh, yes. I remembered the jerks.
Despite the devastating loss of her eyesight, she spent her last days with us painting with watercolors and playing hymns by ear on the tabletop organ/keyboard during the afternoon. One late March day she turned off the organ and sighed.
"Do you think when the weather gets warmer in the spring I could go back home for awhile?" she asked so wistfully, my eyes welled with tears.
I knew she was missing her aged Wurlitzer organ which had a much richer sound than my silly tabletop thing, but what she missed most of all was her home, her privacy, her old life. And who could blame her? There is no place like her home.
She seemed very relieved and decided to take a short nap in the Lazy Boy.
I had to go up to Mom's house to gather things we needed the next day and was immediately struck by how different the house felt. The warmth had gone out of the building, it seemed infinitely familiar and yet incredibly foreign, almost forlorn.
As fate would have it, Mom never did go back to her house. She died here on April 8, 2017. I'm still not over it, and I know I never will be.
Standing as a stark reminder was her house, the one thing she never stopped working on. I kept the heat on until the fuel oil ran out and then the house went cold the following winter.
We tried to give the house to anyone who may want to move it off the property, and we had three interested parties, but eventually they all backed out. I couldn't blame them, it's not an easy job to move a house even if it was free.
Then in 2021, a breast cancer diagnosis for me and a double mastectomy followed by a second surgery in 2022, and physical therapy and well, before we knew it, 2023 arrived.
Joel and I did pluck away at Mom's house as time allowed; once we knew no one was going to want the house, we took out all the hardwood floors and sold them to a flooring company. The day we took an exacto knife to Mom's soft rug, the Wall to Wall Carpeting, and ripped it out.....I lost it. I waited until after Joel went to his house for the night before I laid down on her living room floor and wailed my heart out.
I know it sounds so melodramatic, but all I could repeat through my tears was, "I'm sorry, Momma, I'm so so sorry."
Tearing apart my childhood home was far harder than it was to see the contractors here sledgehammering my own house to bits before the remodel; so many memories, good and bad.
There was no huge profit from the hardwood sale, but I was glad to see the maple flooring go to good use somewhere. He listed countless items on Marketplace and often delivered things to people who were interested for free just to have it gone.
I wasn't feeling very good for most of 2022, but with physical therapy, by early December, I decided it was time to take the next step and begin demolition of the outside. We tore the garage down just before Christmas.
2023 arrived and we kept picking away at the house when the weather permitted, but with no heat or electricity, it wasn't pleasant work. Which leads us back to May of 2023 and my plan to devote the entire month to demolition before it was time to plant the gardens and get ready for the busy gardening tour season and our youngest son, David's wedding.
None of this work would have been possible without Joel. The man works tirelessly, and always with great patience with his parental units.
First week in May, and we borrowed scaffolding from our good friends, Terry and Jerry. Joel climbed up to remove the windows from the house that were still fairly new and in good shape. We gave them to a neighbor who is hoping to use them in his own remodel.
Safe on the ground, I ripped off the plastic shutters. I also felt just as sad as the little light post looks by the back door. The front porch was the next thing we thought we'd remove, but it was paneled in Douglas fir beadboard, so I thought we could use it for paneling our unfinished garage.
The joke was on me; after Carl and I painstakingly removed the beadboard from the walls on the outdoor porch and the back door entrance and hauled them all down to our garage, we were in for an unpleasant surprise. Years of ladybugs hiding in the beadboard had fallen out when we took it all down and the stench in our garage of decades of bugs and mildew was too much. Out it went.
Once the windows were all out, the house was a former shell of itself.
Joel carrying out my mom's big porcelain sink. It did go to a new home.
This was my mom's dining room, though at one time it was the master bedroom.
I was very happy someone could use the old windows.
Mom's kitchen, bereft of it's vinyl flooring and maple hardwood. The ceiling fan was also feeling quite sad.
The front porch where my grandmother used to wash clothes with her wringer washer and hang the laundry out on lines with a pulley to the trees. When I was still at home, I used to sleep on the screen porch in the hot weather. Mom always sat there in the evenings to take in the sunsets.
My father's old Lazy Boy, looking out the west living room window.
The windows all out and an assortment of sinks from Mom's house and ours, awaiting pickup from people on Marketplace.
Joel tried to scrape off the insulation that had been applied upstairs during the 70's remodel with the excavator, but it all crumbled, so we took the rest off by hand.
Neighbors stopped in to visit as we progressed on the siding removal. Many of them wanted tours of the house before it was gone. I was asked, "Aren't you glad your mother isn't alive to see what you're doing to her house? She always kept it so nice."
I know they meant well, it wasn't mean-spirited, but yes, I did feel guilty. Very.
I used the tractor bucket to raise and lower Carl and Joel as they took the siding and insulation off and put it in the dumpster. If there was any lumber worth saving, we loaded it onto our old trailer and brought it home.
Finally, on Mother's Day, it was time to actually tear the house down. I really did not want to be present for this, but knew I owed it to Joel and Carl to keep a stiff upper lip. The picture below was the worst part; once the north end of the house was ripped open, it resembled a dollhouse, and in my mind's eye I could see my parents sitting in the kitchen and the bedrooms upstairs. There was a tiny curtain that I'd missed blowing in the breeze from a window in the bathroom, and when I saw it waving forlornly, I had Joel stop the excavator and went in and rescued it.
Carl said, "Oh, I didn't know you wanted it, I used the other half to wipe the dipstick on the tractor this morning."
Oh, it was fine, I didn't mind. I did keep the little curtain, though.
It took us days to sift through all the lumber and get it into the dumpster. Hard, emotional work, but I did quit crying after the first wall was out.
The excavator made the job much easier. For that, I was grateful. Below are the basement steps. Mom had painted each one with flowers years ago and they were so pretty. I kept two of them.
I have a video of the last bit of the house finally giving up and falling in. I sat on the tractor and watched and shed more tears, but it was a relief to see it done. Amazing how strong the construction was; they don't build them like that any more.
Down to the foundation now, but a lot of picking up to do.
And, just like that, the 103 year old house was a mere memory.
Though I know Mom was fiercely devoted to her home, I think she would have approved. She was never one to be overly sentimental about things and was always practical. She loved her little great-granddaughter, Audrey, with all her heart, and I'm sure she'd be happy to know she's living back on the farm, too.
It's only been a few months now, and we're still caught off guard at times when we look out the window and the house is not there. It was a landmark for over a century, after all.
All things come to an end, but for me, the memories remain.