We are constantly reminded in this business that we are dealing with highly emotional transactions. Recently we closed on a home that two sisters sold after their mother passed away. They grew up in the home and the letter she wrote highlights the emotional intensity of selling and buying a home.
Dear Vanessa and Andrew,
In a few short days’ time, the house at 1109 Chantal will no longer be in my family’s possession, but it will always remain in our hearts and be ours in spirit. You know about physical properties of the house, but there is some history to the house that I would like you to know.
My parents moved into the house when I was a year old. My sister was eight. They had been living in my grandparents’ apartment building on Leland in the U. City Loop, and they needed more room for their growing family. They fell in love with the model house in “Rainbow Court” (a designation you will still see on official maps but that no one knows), with its pink kitchen, sputnik chandeliers, and vaulted living room ceiling. At the time, the back yard appeared truly expansive, as there was no post office, and the flat land spread all the way to Olive Street Road. They were not sure what would go up behind them, but apparently, they were not concerned.
The house was perfect for them. It wasn’t that different in square footage from the apartment from which they had moved, but it had the advantage of a bedroom large enough to accommodate a crib (mine), a twin bed (my sister Sheila’s), and a pink piece of furniture with drawers built by my mother’s father, Grandpa Morris, who was a carpenter (More about him, later). While it had a third bedroom so that we girls could have each had our own, our mother was a very exacting person who wanted to keep the living room formal and pristine, with the baby grand piano and the chairs and sofas that were only for company (or me, when I was watching out the window and waiting for the van to pick me up for preschool. Yes, a van for preschool! Mom didn’t drive.) Speaking of “exacting,” if you ever hear the echo of a voice calling out, “Whose fingerprint is this on the wall?” that would be Mom’s.
Many houses could have fit the bill with a bedroom large enough for two girls, but that wasn’t the only advantage of this house. As I said, Mom didn’t drive…yet. My dad taught her to drive when I was about six, and she drove up until two weeks before she passed away at the age of 92. (She was a force to be reckoned with!) You know the shopping center across the street? It had almost everything one could need, and it was within walking distance. When I was a child in the 1960s, it contained a National Supermarket (where Pier One is) and a Grant’s Department Store (like an early Target) where Party City is. In the space next to Pier One was a Ben Franklin Five and Dime, where we bought school supplies; kitchen accoutrements; penny candies; games, puzzles, and art toys; Troll dolls with every color hair; and more. (Have you been to a Ben Franklin? There’s one in Eureka. You can get all kinds of fun things there!) Further along the strip mall was a bakery with wonderful cakes and confections, a delicatessen with terrific Kosher corned beef, a Porter Paint store, Via’s Restaurant (which all my friends loved but my parents refused to frequent because it wasn’t clean enough for my mom’s liking), a shoe store that sold Saddle Shoes and Penny Loafers (shoes of choice for kids in those days), a greeting card/record store called Cook’s where you could listen to the records in a booth in the back to decide if you wanted to buy them, and last but certainly not least, a Glazer Drugs with a lunch counter! As if that was not enough, you know the Bridal Store on the corner of Olivaire and Olive? It was a laundromat (which came in particularly handy because we had a washer but not a dryer, to start), and in the back was a pet store that sold puppies (which I got chased out of on more than one occasion. That was before the days when we learned that buying puppies from a pet store is a really, really bad idea.) Oh! There was also Flotkin’s Market, another grocery store, where the Shane Company is, and a shoe repair where the candy store is next to Subway, and the bank has been there from the beginning (having undergone numerous buyouts and name changes). As you can see, the area was perfect for a housewife who did not yet drive.
Back to the house, itself. As I mentioned, my grandfather was a carpenter. Together with my parents’ help, he built the green vanity in the hall bathroom, constructed the big room in the basement and paneled the walls, laid the black and white tile floor, and made a large bookcase for the “den.” The first bedroom you come to on the right, the one with the curtains with the red and black stripe, that’s the one we considered the den. It contained a black vinyl sofa, the aforementioned bookcase, a record player, and the TV on which we watched the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show in February, 1964. I also watched my share of Saturday morning cartoons in that room, a slew of 60’s and 70’s sitcoms, and it was the place I first saw David Bowie and became fascinated with his Ziggy Stardust persona.
The second bedroom on the right was the room I shared with my sister, and it started out a lovely soft pink color, then was a most cheerful yellow (that I picked out), and eventually went back to a deeper pink (my mother’s choice when I went away to college). My old room and my parents’ room are currently carpeted in the grey, wool carpeting that came from the apartment on Leland. When my parents moved in the house it was all hardwood, with the exception of the kitchen and bathrooms. Although my mom said it was lovely, she preferred carpeting, and so she immediately had the carpet taken up from the apartment and laid throughout the house. That grey carpet was originally in the living room, dining room, hallway, and den, as well as the bedrooms. When it became threadbare in those rooms, my mom had it replaced with the white carpeting that actually looks very nice when it is cleaned. It is amazing how many years that wool carpet lasted in the bedrooms, still looking good. The point is, however, that the hardwood under the carpet is pristine, and I have always wanted to see the house without the carpet, but alas, that is yours to discover now. I do know what it looks like because the closet floors are uncovered, and I spent a fair amount of time sitting on my bedroom closet floor. My friend Michael from across the street would shove me in the dark closet and sit against the door so that I couldn’t come out, and ask me multiplication facts and not let me out until I had them memorized. Good times! (I’m happy to report that I know my times tables very well.)
Now I want to tell you about “outside.” The post office bought the land in the early 1960s and promised my parents that they would never know they were there. For the most part, that is absolutely true. They are very quiet, the wall provides visual coverage, and I used to go out and play in the yard, absolutely oblivious to the fact that they are there. One time in the ‘60s I saw a mailman sitting on the wall eating his lunch, but that was one time in the last 50+years. We just waved to each other. There used to be a weeping willow tree in the middle of the back yard. It was pretty, but don’t plant a weeping willow tree. Their roots get wound around pipes and that’s not good. We also had a peach tree back there, on the right side of the yard as you look out the back door, and every summer we had an abundance of delicious peaches. It was my job to pick up the ones that fell on the ground and spoiled. (Maybe you don’t want a peach tree.) We also had a Flowering Mimosa Tree on the left side of the yard, and I highly recommend one of those, as kids love to tickle their noses with the flowers, and we had a Flowering Peach Tree which is not supposed to bear fruit, but which one year actually had a single peach! I once planted lettuce at the back of the yard and my garden yielded one leaf of lettuce. I do not have a green thumb, but perhaps you do. I had better luck with flowers next to the back door. I remember planting little flowers called four o’ clocks next to the stoop, and my sister says that originally there were gladioli growing there. Although it’s been a while since there have been any flowers planted there, you can probably get nice things to grow in the yard.
Speaking of growing in the yard, you will notice that there are shrubs of some sort growing rampant on the side of the house. There’s a funny story about those shrubs (or the ones that preceded them). There is a house on Basswood Lane whose back yard meets up to ours. (I’m talking about the one that is
immediately to the right if you stand in the middle of the back yard). There was a very nice family there by the name of Kuegele. One day, Mrs. Kuegele came to our back door and told my mother that there was a shrub growing in between their two houses that contained poisonous berries and needed to be removed. Now, my mother was not a gardener and knew nothing about poisonous berries and was not greatly concerned. Those were the days when parents didn’t worry so much about those kinds of things, and Mom just told us kids not to eat the berries, so we didn’t. Several months later, Mrs. Kuegele appeared at our back door again proffering several jars of something delicious-looking. It seems that the berries were not poisonous after all, and were in fact elderberries, and she had made jam out of them! That was the best jam I have ever eaten. I don’t know what those shrubs are that are out there now, but if they ever produce berries, you might want to find out if they are elderberries and get cooking!
Also, somewhere among those shrubs there is a tree stump. If you ever have it removed and unearth a small cardboard jewelry-sized box, you will find the resting place of my baby turtles, Sleepy and Squirmy. They lived a good life in their turtle bowl and enjoyed clomping around the pink bathroom floor. When their time was up, my sister and I gave them a funeral and buried them next to the tree stump. If you come across them, please just find them a new resting place. I’m sure they won’t mind— they were the uncomplaining sort.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the huge pin oak tree that was planted in the middle of the front yard. I loved that tree. Sitting under its shade on a hot summer day was a joy. Over the years, it grew, and grew, and grew. The taller it grew, the more times it was struck by lightning and branches would come down and have to be hauled away. When it finally got to be totally lopsided, my mother had it taken down. To me, the yard still looks bare without it. I was in a house of my own by the time she had it taken down, but my mother knew I loved that tree, and she brought me leaves, lovingly wrapped in silver foil. Surprisingly, they are still green!
The house was also home to my dogs, successively, Patty and Sandy. Unbeknownst to us, we purchased Patty from a puppy mill and she was not well, but she was well-loved for the short time we had her. Please be careful about where you get your pets. Adopt from a reputable rescue agency or check out the breeder carefully. Sandy, a collie-cocker spaniel mix, came from the Humane Society and she was a sweet girl, and well-behaved, too. Although my present dogs have the run of the house, my mother’s concession to my having a dog was to have her live in the kitchen and basement. She loved Sandy (and affectionately called her “Pootsy,”) but didn’t want her roaming the carpets. Sandy never attempted to set foot on the carpets, although one time she did hide a bone just behind the dining room drapes within reach of the kitchen floor. Surprise!
There is an area of the basement just past the HVAC units that contains a Formica tabletop anchored to the wall. That was Sandy’s room, where her bed was and where we fed her. I mention this because of my father. My father was an electrical engineer who could jury-rig anything. He always felt that if there was a will there was a way, and he decided that there should be a way for Sandy to get directly from her room in the basement to the back yard whenever she wanted. A tall order, perhaps, but he found a way. My dad constructed a ramp that went from the basement floor up to the window, lined it with a non-slip, gripping rubber surface, and taught Sandy to walk up the plank, out through the window, and back down again. All we had to do was open the window and she could go in and out as she pleased. I can’t look at that room without seeing that ramp! Although personally, I wouldn’t think of confining my dogs to a kitchen, basement, and yard, I assure you that Sandy was well-loved, went happily to her room to sleep, and had plenty of company. She lived a good life and made it to age fourteen. This house that you have just purchased is full of wonderful memories of family parties. When I was a child we didn’t have whole-house air conditioning. There was a fan in the window of the master bedroom and a window air conditioner in the side window of my bedroom. On summer evenings it was often oppressively hot in the kitchen, so my parents set up a card table in my bedroom and we ate dinner in there. After dinner, my father would spread out on my bed and read his newspaper while I went outside to play with the neighborhood kids. We often had my aunt and uncle and cousins, as well as my grandparents, over for parties. As there wasn’t room for everyone in my bedroom, the parties took place in one of two places, the cool basement or out on the carport where there was a breeze. Birthday parties almost always took place in the basement. Try to imagine how it looked when the floor was in good repair, with cloth-covered folding tables holding presents and birthday cake, and filled with multicolored balloons. (If you blow up a balloon and rub it on your head to create static, you can get it to stick to the basement paneling!) So many parties of all sorts (holiday, bridal shower, sorority, graduations, etc.), so much balloon head-rubbing, and so many of my mom’s delicious fudge brownies and cupcakes with a red-hot on top! That oven has made myriad delicious treats over the years (and by the way, Easy Off Oven Cleaner works great on it.)
So, my mother learned to drive, and the carport began housing an extra car. She went on to earn a Master’s Degree in Counseling and Guidance. She became a cherished volunteer at the Alzheimer’s Association and set up a scholarship fund at Washington University’s Memory and Aging Department in honor/memory of my father, who had the disease. She was a beloved mother and grandmother who insisted that she wanted to live her entire life at 1109 Chantal Lane (and at age 92 she was still talking about how she didn’t want to go to a retirement home and be surrounded with “all those old people,” as if she weren’t one of them.) She filled the doors of her house with drawings done by her grandchildren and kept talking on that rotary pink phone in the kitchen until it finally gave up the ghost in the 2000s.
She would be happy to know that someone is going to love her house as much as she (and we all) did. She was a huge proponent of education and adored children, and she would be gratified to know that educated people and small hands and feet will occupy the house. Here’s hoping that you will teach your children to ride their bikes on the driveway, that they will have neighborhood children to play with, and that you will fill the house with baked treats and love. Cherish the house the way we have.
All the best to you and your family from me and mine,