This weekend, a man who grew up in our new-old house visited unexpectedly.
My husband was outside working on the couple acres of lawn that the house sits on, up at the top of a hill.
The man brought his son. He asked my husband hesitantly if they could come inside. My husband said, “Of course.”
He showed his son where he and his brother—the boy’s uncle—had once had “sock wars.” The shy boy said quietly, but with palpable excitement, “He’s told me about those!”
My five-year-old daughter was ecstatic to have guests, and she breezily played hostess, much to our awe.
She showed the older-than-her, young boy her pony (the kind with a stuffed-animal horse head on a stick). She skipped around her playroom on it and offered him a turn (he shyly refused). The man was, as my husband put it later, in another world—the past—as he looked around his old attic bedroom, where those sock wars had once-upon-a-time happened, which is now my daughter’s playroom where we stood.
She made us tea and, later, her “famous” chocolate soup in her pretend kitchen as they looked around. My heart swelled more than ever before as I watched my tiny girl know exactly how to properly entertain. (She even shook hands—this taking multiple attempts for the man to understand what she was trying to do, in his surprise I think, since she’s so young—and she hugged the little boy.)
He told us that his great-grandfather had built our home and that, actually, the small street adjacent to our hill is named after his mother. He and his brothers were raised here and the house wasn’t sold until fairly recently. In short, this house was a family treasure and he hadn’t seen it since it left their hands a few years ago, to move his elderly parents to the South where their sons had all settled.
He told us many private memories and details about the house that we didn’t know—tales that we can hopefully share with our own girls as they grow older.
He showed us where a bay window had been, before his parents had put on a two-room addition. He was wistful as he remembered watching snow fall on the other side of it, during the blizzard of 1978.
This is exactly why I’ve always wanted to live in an old home: the memories—these types of stories—and, frankly, the old craftsmanship are rarely recreated in modern times.
With our permission, the man took a few photographs of his son in long-ago special rooms.
He awed at how the carpet was now wood flooring and noticed, too, what was still the same.
I showed him the antique mirrors and how as much of the house was preserved as possible, when the people who bought it from his family had renovated it. I told him we loved living here, and that I envision my girls playing upstairs together the way he did with his brothers.
Later, when the man and his son left, my daughter cried; my miniature, natural hostess no longer had guests.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget the animated look in that man’s eyes as he walked around his childhood, familial home with his own son. I still can’t believe that we were home and that my husband was out working on the grass—the man might not have stopped otherwise. (My husband told me that he had almost whispered—in shocked feeling of such an opportunity—that he “grew up here.”)
Our house is still filled with boxes from moving in a few months back.
Because of this, the man and his son couldn’t see where I hope to put a mirrored chair in the entry way, from the same time period of the house.
He didn’t see, either, the way I want to dress up that little attic bedroom as a play space and slumber nook for our girls.
I hope he could see that we love it here and that his visit was, just maybe, as meaningful to us as it was to him—although that’s sensational, I know.
He said it seemed smaller now than in his youth—it’s funny how we grow and our memories aren’t quite as pristine as they seem, although they feel crisp and vivid.
The man and his son blessed our house that day, whether they realized it or not.
I found out that our home has been in the same family for nearly 100 years. I found out that his mom—who has that street named after her; the one whose sign I see every time I look outside of our window—and her family were one of the main farming families in my community, before the land was all sold and divided. I found out also that his dad’s family was a farming family of a neighboring town.
I don’t know if I’ll ever look at that doorway, with two small steps down into the addition, the same way, now that I have secreted away the picture of a young boy looking out at a blizzard when it was still a pane of glass.
He might not have stopped that day, as he drove past with his son, but he did—and I’m eternally grateful.
I already loved this house—knowing it to be a writer-mother’s dream!—but now my home up on the hill has the best thing of all: a story of a family’s unforgettable love.