This is a story, taken from the archives of 2017. A few words have been changed, added, or removed.
When I bought my first house, it signaled my independence and I was thrilled beyond words. It had been an exhausting, arduous journey but I knew that when the right house came along, it would speak to me.
I’ll never forget the day I found it. I stood outside this wonderful old house, my imagination going wild, and I knew it was the one before I ever took a peek inside.
It was an old three-story stately manor with genuine cedar siding, which still bore the original mint green paint typical for the time it was built. It boasted intricate gingerbread trim on the outside, and stained glass windows adorned its façade.
I could almost hear the large yard, which had long ago gone to seed and become overgrown with weeds, silently begging for flowers to take their place in what looked like a neglected brick-enclosed bed, created years ago by some past caregiver.
As I entered the huge double-door entrance, I was greeted by wonderful things. A U-shaped staircase beckoned ascension, and a genuine Tiffany pendant light hung gracefully from the original bead board ceiling.
To get it back to its original glory was going to be a labor of love, but it was one that I was prepared, and more than willing to undertake in order to revive this grand lady.
“One room at a time, one day at a time,” I told myself. The old, neglected cracked and crumbling plaster walls seemed to wail with pain, but I could see beyond their gaping wounds. I could see the beauty that was once there, pleading to once again, shine with grace and beauty.
I knew nothing about the previous owners. Apparently they died with no heirs, and the house stood empty for years. Time had definitely left its marks and the marks had not been kind.
Carpet had been installed in every room, except the parlor and the living room. But it wasn’t thick, inviting plush carpet; it was indoor-outdoor carpet and had been affixed with tar. The floors underneath were solid oak hardwood, and restoring them was going to be a challenge to say the least.
The twelve foot high ceilings had been dropped in every room except the living room and the parlor, probably to make the rooms look more modern, or perhaps to help with the heat that escaped to the almost Heaven-like canopies of every room. Those updates had been implemented when those older, glorious homes were being deserted for new ranch styles out in the suburbs.
Some of the furniture had been left behind. As mine came in, it went out, but any piece that was salvageable was put aside for later restoration. My plan was to first work from sun-up to sun-down, repairing the walls with layers of plaster, and then priming them for a fresh coat of paint.
I began with parlor. All it needed was a quick waxing of the floors and stairs, and a good dusting of the baseboards and the light fixture. My grand piano nestled perfectly under the staircase, and a candelabra provided the pièce de résistance.
The next challenge was the living room. Like the parlor, the flooring hadn’t been smothered with carpet, and the reasoning for the towering ceilings to remain uncovered was probably due to two large pocket doors that separated the living room from the parlor; not to mention a stunning twelve foot tall bookcase. The glass panes had all the hallmarks of having been hand-blown, and not a single one of them was cracked.
Standing opposite the bookcase was a beautiful, ornate hand-carved mantelpiece, which had begun to escape the captivity of the wall. I was able to get it loose and give it a brief taste of freedom before it once again became a prisoner. As I was cleaning up the crumbling plaster bits that had fallen, I noticed a small folded piece of paper.
I carefully opened it, and was delighted when I saw a picture of a horse. It had obviously been drawn by a child, and I believed that it was a gifted child. It was a side view and a black circle had been drawn around its eye. There was no signature from the artist, but there was a date. The year was 1956.
I put the note into a tin box for safe keeping. It had been given to me by my grandmother and held only special things. I briefly deserted the mantle and turned my attention to the bookcase. I carefully began to pry open the doors. They creaked and moaned much like an old person trying to get up from a chair. The inside smelled moldy and the shelves were dusty. It was apparent that they hadn’t held any books in recent years, but the outlines in the dust left their footprints. As I climbed my rickety old ladder, I spotted another folded piece of paper, almost invisibly tucked away in the far corner.
I took it down and carefully unfolded it. Like the drawing, the note seemed to have been written by a small child. It said, “Dear God. Please turn me into a horse so I can run away.” The note was dated 1956, the same year the picture of the horse had been drawn.
I smiled as I read it. It brought back memories of my own childhood. Didn’t we all want to run away from home at least once or twice when we were young? I know I did, and every time I mentioned it, my daddy would smile and say, “Okay. Come on. I’ll help you pack.”
It took months to bring the living room back to life. Although most likely not an original color from years ago, I painted the walls a subtle rose and the baseboards and bookcase got a fresh coat of stark white paint. I splurged and put ornate crown molding along the ceiling, having to tease it a bit in the corners, due to walls that were no longer square. The antique chandelier hanging from its original medallion, was the crowing glory.
I filled the bookcases, not only with books, but with various collections, such as tiny Limoges boxes, and hand-blown glass spheres, which were supposed to bring good luck. My prized Betty Boop doll peeped timidly through one of the glass panes and my 1959 Barbie held court in her black and white bathing suit, blonde ponytail, poodle bangs and sunglasses.
When the living room was finished, it was more beautiful than any of my imaginings could have possibly been. At night, silhouettes from flickering candles danced unsteadily on the walls, like tiny ballerinas first learning to pirouette.
To be continued____________________