Thursday, July 9, 2009

This Old House

This old house has been around. Built in the 1860’s by a Bishop Hill trustee for his daughter and family, it became a part of my family’s history when my immigrant grandfather came to town in 1909, looking for a chance to open his own business and start a new life for his growing family. He rented a room in this old house, then eventually bought the place and set about turning it into a home. The remodeling was significant, with considerable cosmetic changes both inside and out, plus the addition of more living space in the already good-sized structure. An important add-on was a large, wraparound porch on the front of the house, with a gently sloping, overhanging roof that helped changed the look from Victorian to an appearance that was more contemporary for the time.
My mother and her two brothers grew up in this old house as part of an extended family that included her parents and various aunts and uncles. My grandfather’s business thrived, the family became a solid, well-liked part of the community, and life was good.
“We had wonderful times in the house,” my mother remembered. “It was a gathering place.”
The stock market crash of 1929 created a ripple effect that had severe consequences throughout the county, even in small towns like Galva. Chief among them was a lack of what would now be called "cash flow." Very quickly, my grandfather's successful business became consumed by debt. My mother would later tell me that the reason for the reversal was that he was unable to bring himself to pressure the neighbors and friends who owed him money, as he knew they were unable to pay him. The end result was that his business failed in 1930 and the family was forced to leave this old house.
For over fifty years, the house was occupied by other families until, in the mid-80’s, it went on the market just about the time we were looking for a larger, better-located home for our young family. I thought, at first, that it might remind me too much of what began and became a sad chapter in my family’s life. But, we chose to make it our own, thinking, correctly, that it could also become a symbol for the wonderful way life works out.
And so it has.
We’ve lived there ever since, raising our family, while trying to keep pace with the never-ending chores and projects that come and come again with a big, old house. It remains, as my mother said, “a gathering place,” that has seen celebrations of birth, death and all the life that happens in between. It can--as it did this past holiday weekend--hold a dozen extra family members and friends without a whimper. There is room inside for both privacy and companionship, for both peace and celebration.
And sometimes, like on the rainy Fourth of July, the the sprawling, park-facing porch is the place. A place to meet and greet and sit and smile and laugh and sing and remember. A gathering place for old friends, new acquaintances, and even family members who have been separated too long by time, distance and circumstance.
This old house is all of these things.
This old house is home.

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