5/12/2012

My Grandmother's House pt I

Imagine this: a 1920's Texas wood bungalow style house. Set up 4 feet off the ground on red brick pillars, with high ceilings to catch the breezes. (Day lilies and other flowers camouflaged the storage area between the floor and the ground.) Steep pitched slate roof. Mahogany wood floors throughout. Ceiling fans in every room. Wrap around deep porches on all sides to shade it. (Service porch on the back, with a drain hole where the ice box used to stand, and an outdoor toilet closet for "the help".) Bedrooms and the breakfast room were in that bump out style, with tall mullioned windows on three sides to create air flow. Art deco touches throughout- a wall niche in the hallway where the phone was plugged in, stained glass windows in the living room. Outdoors, hundred year old pecan and oak trees shaded it. Indoors, elaborate tile work in the enormous kitchen (maroon and soft butter yellow) and bathroom (light blue and sea green).

I remember taking cool tub baths in that bathroom as a child. Laying back in the tub, looking at the 12 foot high ceilings, surrounded by beautiful light blue bathroom fixtures, tile work, and a lush floral wallpaper ordered from France. It was a room of daydreams, an oasis in a hot Texas summer before air-conditioning.

My grandfather, a furniture maker, built that house for my grandmother when they got married. He hand selected every board in it to make sure there wasn't a knot or flaw in any of them. Made himself, in his furniture factory, the moldings, the balusters, cabinets, doors, mullions, and other stuff I don't know the names of. People often commented on what a lovely house it was.

Over time, modernization and a need for repairs changed the house. When the slate tile roof (originally blue-ish in color, with rounded slates) became leaky, brown square composition asphalt shingles replaced it. The house had always had electricity, with visible wires snaking down walls to giant switches that let out an audible "click" as you turned the lights on or off. Granny never felt the need to update the wiring, or add air conditioning, or change any of the fixtures or appliances. Vintage art deco light fixtures, door knobs, latches. She had a Chambers gas stove that was huge, white porcelain with silver knobs. A washing machine that was a round tub on legs with a wringer arm on the top. No need for a dryer- clothesline did the work. We'd consider that "green" nowadays. Granny considered it frugal; she preferred the smell of fresh air dried laundry, anyways.

When granny got to the point that she could no longer take care of herself or her house, she moved into a nursing home and the house went for sale. As the years passed, our family continued to keep an eye on it, driving through granny's small east Texas town on the way to somewhere else. The house seemed to have had a series of  owners - Granny's once genteel neighborhood gradually became commercial, all the homes but hers were torn down and laundromats and car repair shops built on the lots - until eventually someone moved the house to another side of town and turned it into a law office. Then one day, as we drove by to check on it, the house was a charred ruin. Clearly the original electrical wiring had not been updated.

I wish we'd had the foresight, or the time and money, to pull out the light blue bathroom fixtures or some of the art deco lights, door knobs, hand carved moldings, the stain glass windows. Wish that time would stand still, and I could visit the house again, and my grandmother would be waiting for our car to pull up, with a Siamese cat in her arms, stroking its fur.

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