The Life of a House

Appleton house ca 2009

I always feel sad when an old building falls into disuse and disrepair and gets torn down. The house I grew up in was a beautiful Victorian on the interior, with a parquet floor in the dining room and a terrazzo tile in the bath.  (And not terrazzo tile, but one solid floor.  With the clawfoot tub and old radiator, it was actually one of the prettiest bathrooms.)  I remember sitting on the radiators after coming in from ice skating, and slipping our shoes underneath to dry. I saw the house in 2009 and it has been a rental for 20 years. I can tell they have made the porches into bedrooms, and I shudder to think what the interior looks like. I am sure that one day in the not too distant future it will be torn down. That will indeed be a sad day. At least all my schools are still standing and being well used. And many of the other old buildings in my hometown have been well kept and upgraded.


Every tree on this lot was planted by my mother.  In fact we used to tease her that she was always planting ‘twigs’  Well 40 years later there are about eight 40 foot tall sugar maples gracing what used to be a larger yard.  They have widened the driveway significantly and eliminated nearly a third of the yard and tearing down some trees.

IMG_0092The house has been divided into two apartments, one upstairs, the other down.  I have no idea what they have done with the full basement and attic.   I notice a sky light in the roof, so maybe they are using that space as well.  The deck they have created for the upper apartment is using the same material my dad and brothers used to make a deck next to the garage.  Now that space is the muddy mess it had been before Dad built the deck.062 (2)

My dad worked 7 days–or rather nights–per week.  He tried working days once, but it seems as if that only lasted about a month.  Guess he was a night person.  He came home at 8 in the morning just as we headed out to school and slept until dinner at about 5.  Then he’d watch TV and nap until he left for work at 10 pm.  I didn’t like my dad, but he loved that house.  Every year he’d spend his two week vacation improving the house in one way or another.  One of the first things he did was replace the crumbling plaster with dry wall and painted the entire upstairs.  Himself.  He never hired help and much of the time us kids were too young to help.  He wanted his own space and so there came the year he moved the kitchen from one room to what had been a large pantry.  He spent one vacation re-doing the parquet floor in the dining room.  I remember the dust from that job.  One year he put in new carpet downstairs and repainted in both the living room and parlor.  Then there was the year he did the deck.  He never took a day off work.  Usually worked the holidays as well since that was a lot of extra money.  Plus I don’t think he liked having to deal with us kids.  I have to respect that.

Appleton House ca 1890

One year in the 70s a lady came to the door.  She told us her grandfather had built the house back in 1890 (or so).  She was very kind and my mother invited her in to look around.  In thanks she gave us the photo here.  It was a beautiful house.  I hate the way they did away with the wood and replaced it with the ugly stone exterior.  Most of the gingerbread was also missing.  The side porch, facing front, was still an open space.  It was later enclosed in glass and was used as a solarium, but it remained unheated.  I wonder if they have heat in that room now?


t was a melancholy trip I took in 2009 to go back home after 30 years away.  Much had changed.  The streets were wider and many trees were missing.  Each end of town had been built up and had a lot of shopping, new houses, and hotels.  When I was a kid it was all open space.  Nothing up there except the highway and some parks.  I believe the parks have been enlarged.

The place where the railroad tracks ran through town is now a hiking/biking trail and planted with beautiful full bushes and trees.  They refer to it as the Mosquito Highway now.  When I was a kid the train still ran through town about once a week.  Just a little freight train.  The tracks were pulled out in the 80s.

Aerial View OconomowocIt’s sad when places change.  As they say, you can’t really ever go home again.  It’s never the same as we remember, and it always seems the changes feel negative and leaves me longing for the ‘good old days.’  I guess that’s what happens when we get older.  So does our house and schools and town.

In the case of my hometown, the downtown area still retains some of it’s Victorian charm and several buildings have been rehabbed and saved.  One of them has always been a bar, and on the opposite side was the pharmacy.  It is now a tourist trap, filled with trinkets saying, “Where the Hell is Menomonee Falls?”

I did drive through my father’s hometown, and where the family first settled back in 1870 or so.  It still retains much of it’s turn- of-the-century charm and for that I am grateful.  I drove by my grandma’s house, and it hadn’t changed much.  Even the old garage was still there.


modern-architecture_0Why do we attach so much importance to objects like buildings: houses, schools, and childhood haunts.  It is sad to see the death of a beautiful thing I guess, whether it is a memory or the house you grew up in.  But as I wrote in my previous post, it’s all part of the cycle.  Just as we die, our hometowns are transformed into something new and different, and not to our liking.  It’s always too much growth, too few trees, too wide of streets, too many freeways.  Now here I am moving into a new house, built in about 1920 full of ceramic tile and real wood floors.  Full of charm and I’m sure memories.  We will make our own memories there, and then one day, when we have turned to dust, so will that building, and many of the other places I remember to make room for what is new.

I’m learning to accept New, not as ugly, but as different.  There’s not much else you can do.


10 thoughts on “The Life of a House

  1. Great job! Had no idea you’d get this post started so quickly! It has your unique touch — superb prose coupled with the heart of a poet. Can’t beat a combo like that. Really enjoyed the photos, too!


    1. I’ve never talked about my hometown or my trip back before. I guess it just all came out today after your haiku and suggestion.

      Thank you for reading and commenting. It means a lot to me.

  2. It’s true that nothing seems to remain the same as in our memories. I lived in so many houses in my lifetimes though, that I never really formed an attachment with any… sad in a way.. There’s not really any one house that I can say I’d like to see what it looks like now…. You at least have memories intact as it seems you lived in the same house for some time…. Your new home is lovely and I really feel you’re going to love it there…. Diane

    1. I know the fact that I lived in the same house from the time I was about 4 until I was 18 is unique. Though not for where I come from. I know kids I went to high school with who now live in the same house they grew up in. Inherited from their parents. Not that uncommon in my small town. My parents lived in that house 25 years. My husband’s family moved around a lot. I think he lived in about 15 places by the time he was 18.

  3. I really like this post. It was interesting to see parts of your life, and it inspired me to possibly take a trip to some of my own former homes. My husband is a builder/designer that does mostly historic renovations in Savannah, GA and is often called from other areas when people don’t want to destroy the original building. Hearing your story gave me new respect for his work as I’ve often become annoyed watching him agonize over certain projects with the challenge of getting it just right. I’ve seen owners go to extreme lengths to maintain the integrity of the original building. Gil is often responsible for ensuring that the building is upgraded to current codes, and he must make sure the project is not only aesthetically pleasing to the clients but also safe. Sometimes he acts almost like a therapist as he often meets multiple times with clients as they work through the process of what is safe to keep and what would be best to replace with more up-to-date materials. I can be less-than-sympathetic at times because I tend to not hold on to the past, at least when it comes to homes. Reading this gave me more understanding, and I now see how important it is for Gil to hear these people’s stories in order to give them what they want. Sorry for the tangent. Your posts always make me think. Thank you.

    1. I’m glad I offered you some insight into Gil’s work. I guess I’m a bit old fashioned in that I like the gingerbread work and all the other wood details. I am thrilled that our new place has wooden floors and original mirrors and tile in the bathroom. Somehow it makes me comfortable. I think of the house we live in now, and it looks like all the others in the neighborhood, in a word; boring. Nothing unique, whereas many years ago each house was an individual and built many times by the same people who then lived in it for generations. Makes it feel special somehow.

      Hope all is well with you.

  4. This is a beautiful post. You have a way with bringing readers into your world. I remember you telling me about wishing you could fix up that old house and restore its beauty. The old photo of it is a treasure. Now I understand better why you feel such a connection to the place, and sadness at how it has changed.

    Mature trees do change a place. I have also revisited a childhood home and was a bit disoriented about one side of the property because it seemed drastically different. Then I realized it’s because the little 3-foot pine tree my dad had placed while we lived there was now 20 years old, and towering above.

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