Tuesday, July 22, 2008

If These Walls Could Talk

In yesterday's post entitled This Old House, I guess I prompted myself for further information about the various remodeling projects in my family. So here goes:

Growing up, did your family embark upon a major home improvement such as a kitchen, bathroom or building an addition for more space?

I remember growing up that we lived in an apartment until I was 15 when Mom bought her first house. Over the years, my mother practically performed a total rehab amounting to a "gutting" of the house. She put down tile, carpeting, resurfaced cabinets and drawers, installed ceiling fans, built a wall unit in the bedroom I shared with my brother, and more.

In addition, she replaced the old "shed" which covered the well and the bomb shelter (the house was built in 1949 after all) with a much larger shed which could have doubled as a garage. And she planted flowers, removed two huge willows trees that had tapped into the water supply.

Currently, I have rented the house to a great family that insists on making improvements and they do a great job. My next project is a bathroom replacement - the original bathtub from 1949 is still there!

Did anyone in your family history experience major damage to their home that required repair? What were the circumstances of the damage?

As I discussed in a recent post, the house that my great-grandparents retired to in Grahamsville, New York basically burned down in 1978. An investigation proved that it was arson and it was probably done to cover up a robbery of items. Grandma was living with us at the time, having returned from Florida for the winter. This was such a tragic loss for our family, especially since so many items of family history were lost.

One item which was thankfully recovered and refinished is Grandma's old wooden rocker. It probably is at least 100 years old now and in possession of my uncle. But items lost include a huge cedar chest which supposedly came over with a family member from Ireland. Photographs, a hat pin collection, paper ephemera, and more.

The house was never rebuilt.

Have you come across any family history related to when indoor plumbing was installed? An electric or gas stove instead of a wood stove? An ice box and then a refrigerator?

I remember Grandma's stories of the Grahamsville house as well as my mother's recollections. When they bought the house in the mid-1940s, there was no indoor plumbing, or if there was, it did not include toilets. My mother's greatest fear of using the outhouse (which was a two seater thanks to 12 grandchildren all summer long) was that a snake would be down below in that hole.

Grandma didn't have electricity until the late 1940s or early 1950s. Everything was done by kerosene lamp and cooking was done on a wood stove. Of course, growing up in the 1970s, she still had the original appliances from the early 1950s in the kitchen. And the old wooden ice box was down in the basement.

I believe telephones came to the backwoods of Grahamsville in the late 1950s and even then it was an 8-party line. I just can't image having to decipher the ring code to see if the call was for you. And I do remember, the 8-party line was there until the early 1970s. One time I overhead Grandma get into an argument with a woman who tended to sit and talk on the phone all day. I believe the words "selfish" and "common decency" were used.

No comments: