It was July 2018. Sitting in my parents’ house, my mother handed me a stack of papers and asked what my guess was about the appraisal. I was within $5000.
Not bad for a house on ten acres sitting nearly 200 miles from where I live. Then again, I knew the house quite well as I’d been going there my entire life. The appraisal was for my grandparents’ house and my mother, as eldest child of Violet and “Albert”, had the responsibility of liquidating it for my grandfather.
It’s amazing how a little time can change one’s perspective on things. For my entire life this house was an oasis of pleasantness, a place to escape various dramas, the only place in which the memories were entirely good. I simply possess no bad memories from there. That in and of itself is highly remarkable.
But I had not been to this house in eighteen months. This was to be my last time there, a bitter pill to swallow, but the reality was obvious. My grandmother Violet was gone, my grandfather “Albert” was in assisted living. It was time.
This visit was different. Having entered the emotionless mental state I occupy when dealing with life’s various unpleasantries, I knew this visit was for neither fun nor relaxation. I was not going to dwell on the reasons for this final visit, the primary task of which was to dispose and donate all remaining personal items. However, this didn’t mean I could not have my daughter take pictures so I could savor the memories.
This visit was also different as I was objectively viewing the house for what it was – a well built, century old farmhouse that was in need of abundant rehabilitation. The windows were the same ones present when my grandparents bought the house in 1961. The green aluminum siding was from the 1960s, thanks to a long ago tornado. The electrical wiring had cloth insulation and there was nary a neutral wire in any outlet. Even the 220 volt wiring for the dryer was tied directly to the power line, with no breaker in the circuit.
At least the roof was new. It was replaced when my grandfather was 92; he said with its fifty year warranty he didn’t anticipate having to buy another roof again.
Some people say memories fade and perhaps they do if the stimulus is absent. But this stimulus was present in my life until I was nearly 46 years old. Yes, I am fully aware few people can make a claim to being that old and still having grandparents around. It seems longevity is in my genetic code – at least for some generations.
So let’s go on a tour. While the house is six rooms filled with the evidence of departure, what is contained in these rooms could fill volumes. Keeping this to a manageable length is going to be tough – we are already at nearly 500 words.
Where do I start?
The Scott County Assessor says this house was built in 1910; nobody knows for certain. Legend has it the original owner was a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi River who spent some coin to get a solidly house built for his family. He invested well.
How often do you see wooden ceiling tile like this? The wood in the house is amazing.
Since this ceiling tile is in the kitchen, let’s start there. It is the first room you enter off the enclosed back porch (the front door was rarely used then nailed shut at some point) and it was the social epicenter for the interior of the house, a fact stemming partially from Midwestern custom but also from my grandmother invariably offering food to any visitor. If you eat, you should sit at the table.
This countertop has seen a lot of meals being prepared. It also worked out well for access to the upper tier of the cupboard. I’ve witnessed my grandmother standing on the counter to the left of the sink more times than I can count, the last being when she was in her late 80s. For whatever reason, perhaps familiarity, the magnitude of it didn’t immediately register.
The kitchen was also a great place to be simply due to the wood on the walls. I could look at it for hours. There are more memories springing from here than anywhere else in the house. Perhaps the strongest, for whatever reason, was a knock-down, drag-out argument my grandparents had during a severe windstorm. As the storm was approaching, with the house being on a hill allowing for tremendous views of approaching weather, my grandfather stepped outside to get a better look. His timing was off; the wind hit as he stepped out and it blew the storm door from his hands, smacking the house.
This did not sit well with my grandmother. It seems such meteorological curiosity ran in the Lambert family as she brought up a similar situation that had happened with my grandfather’s mother decades prior, with the wind pulling her outside and having to be pulled back into the house. So during a ferocious windstorm, instead of our intended destination of the basement accessed by this door, my sister and I sat at the kitchen table listening to my grandparent’s discuss the (lack of) merit in stepping outside to investigate the weather. Her contention was any inspection could be performed through the windows someone saw fit to put in the place. He disregarded her opinion of storm chasing. Their tumultuous debate faded along with the storm.
But that was how they were; blunt and sharp, getting to the point and never holding a grudge. The talent of blistering yet loving honesty is a dying art.
There are two rooms off the kitchen – the living room or the TV room. Let’s go right, to the living room.
Every winter the living room was blocked off. Rarely used, a layer of quilts were hung over the doorway as there was no reason to heat it. The quilts came down for Christmas when the white elephant gift exchange took place. Decorations were a running gag; my grandmother never saw the need to decorate but acquiesced to family pressure. She kept the Christmas tree in an upstairs closet, draped with a bedsheet, for 364 days and 22 hours out of the year.
In her practicality, she had hot-glued the ornaments to the branches, negating any future need to waste time decorating.
It was one of these Christmases, when Grandpa Albert was in his early 60s, it was discovered their water heater had thrown in the figurative towel. Grandpa Albert, one who was not about to open his wallet without ample and urgent need, did not see any reason to replace it. It wasn’t the cost; rather, it was because a new water heater had a twenty year warranty and he was convinced he wouldn’t live long enough to see the warranty expire. No reason to pay for wasted benefit.
There was little to nothing sacred in my family. He was teased about it all night; a new water heater showed up a few days later. Unsurprisingly, he outlived the warranty.
The other room off the kitchen was the TV room. For years I would hesitantly enter this room as either the prior carpet or their 1970s vintage orange couch prompted my nose to run profusely. Both were replaced simultaneously and my reaction ceased.
Just on this side of the doorway there had been a metal grate for the old furnace. One winter when I was about four or five I was barefooted and forgot about it being hot. I walked across it and can still feel the pain from that. This was the closest to unpleasant I ever experienced here.
On my last visit I finally realized how dark the room was. The dark 1960s era paneling, combined with the single overhead light fixture, made for a very dark room. The numerous lamps were gone.
My grandfather enjoyed watching television, but in moderation. At their previous home in nearby Scott City, my grandparents were the first people in the neighborhood to have a television.
Many an episode of Sanford & Son, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, and The Young and The Restless have been watched in this room. I will credit my enjoyment of LaWanda Page to my early exposure to Sanford; I will blame my respect for soap operas on my grandparents, particularly Grandpa. His dive into the soaps was typical him. Turning on the television early one day intrigued him as Y&R preceded the local news broadcast. He worked his way up a few minutes at a time until the television came on for “Nikki” instead of the news.
They both enjoyed “watching Nikki” and laughing about the poor decisions of various characters.
I won’t dwell on the last room downstairs. It was their bedroom, the room where my Aunt Connie died in 1971. It was simply their bedroom and I stayed out of there.
Let’s look out the never used front door. I’m speculating this is the original door.
Now let’s turn around and head upstairs.
The area behind the steps would make a fabulous home office. The wall to the left had been adorned with two fish sent to the taxidermist, a highly uncharacteristic act for my grandparents. One had been caught in the Gulf of Mexico, the other was an eight pound wide-mouth bass caught in the neighbor’s pond. Both are now hanging on the wall of my office at work.
This first room had been my Uncle Ron’s bedroom. The holes in the closet door are from his target practice with a pellet gun. I’m not sure how that played out.
Behind this door is where I found the newspaper from 1963, mentioned here.
I was rarely in here other than to inspect my grandfather’s annual ginseng harvest. At one point there was a king sized bed in this room. The mattress was covered with newspaper, with the ginseng placed on the paper for drying before sale.
The other bedroom had belonged to my mother. In some 1960s era fashion statement she would later regret, she is the person who lobbied to paint the floor gray. It was quality paint as it still looks good nearly sixty years later.
While I have resisted the urge to dive into more of the stories these walls could tell, the story associated with this room needs to be told. It is nothing unique yet it is. Somehow it manages to encapsulate the humor, lack of pretension, and basic down to earth qualities of my grandparents. My grandmother would chastise me greatly for telling this, but she was a prime player. Some stories need to be told.
I was about ten years old at the time. My sister and I were spending the night and, for whatever reason, Grandpa’s older sister Stella and her husband Ed were also spending the night. For simplicity, Ed and Stella slept in Grandma and Grandpa’s bed downstairs. Grandpa and I were in one bed with my sister and grandmother in another bed in this same room.
This was also during the period my grandmother was flipping yard sale goodies at a flea market in nearby Sikeston so she always had a stash of stuff in this room, located around the floor vent. This room is big enough to handle it well.
As I was drifting off to sleep it all began with Grandma’s announcement.
“Dammit, old man, cut that out.”
Despite it being dark, I could hear her eyes narrowing. “Don’t lie to me. You are being uncouth.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. Go to sleep.”
“How can a person sleep with this stench? There’s something wrong with you.”
“You’re carrying on about nothing is keeping these kids awake.”
I could hear her climbing out of bed and walking toward her stash of stuff.
“No, you are keeping them awake with your passing gas. It’s disgusting.” She was digging through various bags of treasures.
It was at this point he no longer tried to hide anything.
“See, I knew what you were doing. Here, this should take care of it.” I could then hear the repeated pfffft from two perfume misters, one in each hand, spraying some of the most vile dime store perfume ever.
For several minutes this show played out. Fart, spray, fart, spray with an ongoing and pointed dialogue about it all.
This is likely the only time I ever laughed myself to sleep. But that room did smell like somebody had pooped a bottle of low-grade perfume. Years later, Stella and Ed were there for another visit. Stella asked me about her earlier visit in which she and Ed kept hearing all this laughing from upstairs. I told her Grandpa was farting. She started laughing, saying there was no need to say anything more.
But this chapter of life is now officially closed. The house was sold in August 2018. My Uncle Ron (his real name was Tom) died in December 2019 at age 61 due to a rapid illness; soon thereafter Grandpa Albert (his real name was Alfred), having lost two of his three children, began the inevitable downward spiral. He left assisted living and moved in with my parents soon after this pandemic started. He died July 19 of this year at age 96.
Yet this amazing house has started a new chapter after 57 years. It’s amazing how time flies as my mother was a freshman in high school when the house and ten acres was purchased for $12,000 in 1961; she was 71 years old when it was sold. Similar was the case for Tom as he was three in 1961 and was a few months shy of being sixty when it was sold.
During a visit to my parent’s house this past February, we made a trip by this house. The two outbuildings were gone and the septic system has been replaced. The house has been rewired and new windows have been installed. New siding was imminent.
The couple who purchased the place are in their 20s. In a reflection of the times, both he and she have the same first name with the same spelling. That’s okay. All that matters is their appreciation of the house. They fell in love with it upon viewing it prior to my mother taking bids on the place. They are addressing what needs attention while keeping the basic character of the house.
Something tells me this house will serve them quite well for the next fifty-seven years.
While unremarkable at first glimpse, this is the most remarkable house I have ever encountered in my life. But that does not mean my last time down this sidewalk was easy.