The first time the Old Lady (my nickname for our home) and I met was a Johnson/Wade family Christmas Eve. Erin and I were engaged as he drove me into the dirt driveway of what he called Grandma's old farm house. I had pictured a quaint farm house, not the Grand Old Gal you see below. I was welcomed with open arms by the lady of the house, Marie Johnson, never imagining I, a city girl, would be the next lady of the house.
I would be remiss in not talking more of Grandma Marie as I came to call her. Marie was a small woman and truly a lady. My own Grandmothers didn't have Marie's gentle nature. My Grandma Muriel was a tough as nails, tell it like it is retired nurse of Scottish descent. Baba (Ukrainian for Grandmother) Olga was taken from her homeland by the Germans during WW II. She was a woman who believed everything had it's place, especially children.
All my husband's cousins, who were teens at this point, respected and truly loved Grandma Marie. When Grandma Marie spoke in her dulcet tones everyone listened. Which is very contrary to my Grandmothers, who spoke in a drill sergeant's cadence. Grandma Marie took pleasure in having her family around her. She was happiest listening to her children, their spouses, and her grandchildren fill her house with laughter and lively debate.
Often times you would find Grandma Marie on the periphery of the action of debates, memory filled conversations, or game play. It wasn't until I became the lady of the house I truly understood what Marie was experiencing. We have had a few family and friend gatherings. Also energetic gymnasts running through the house reveling in all the Old Lady's wonderful hiding spots.
In the times the Old Lady has been filled with reveling is when I find myself on the periphery as well. Just enjoying other people's joy or fun, but mostly feeling the Old Lady's energy of contentment. The Old Gal is happiest when rambunctious children run through her hallways. In those times, if I am quiet enough, I can almost hear the echoes of previous gatherings in the Old Lady. So I too, like Grandma Marie, just quietly enjoy my family and friends' voices and allow their energy fill my heart and soul.
I looked forward to trips to Grandma Marie's, but never for moment even entertained the thought of moving to the country, from the city. As many previous family members in this home it came time for Grandma Marie to move into Mendota. Alzheimer's robbed her of her memories although I am sure this Old Lady did its best to comfort her lady of the house.
Once Marie had moved to Mendota Lutheran Home, this Old Lady was left empty once again, something that has happened several times in her 154 year life span. Marie's son, Joel Johnson, set about painting, wallpapering, updating electric, uncovering old pine floors, and many other needed tasks. With heavy hearts the Foulk decendents put the Old Lady on the market, a first in her history. There was interest, but no buyers.
The one bathroom to six bedrooms with it's green fixtures probably didn't endear the Old Lady to prospective buyers. I will admit the green fixtures have grown on me (but not enough to keep them). The bathroom walls when remodeled will be a shade of green in homage to the 1970's fixtures that have held up unbelievably well over time.
After not selling the Grand Old Gal for sometime it was suggested my husband and I take a look at her. Well I won't lie and say I was excited at all, but it was a house my husband spoke fondly of and what harm would come of just looking? Silly me, it was like going and "just looking" at a puppy and thinking you are not going to take the puppy home.
As we walked through her empty rooms once filled with family treasures I watched my husband's excitement grow. As I tried to see what he saw all I could see were cracks in the walls and Japanese Beetles on the walls, floors and ceilings; an old bathroom & an old kitchen when I had newly remodeled one in our current 900 square foot home. This Old Lady had 6,000 square feet for our small 3 person family.
In our Rockford home we had just replaced a drafty old picture window banishing drafts forever. As I looked around there were about 30 154 year old windows, not to mention the drafty doors. She had no air conditioning and the upstairs only had heat running to two of six rooms. No way was I going to move here!
The kitchen alone made me want to cry. I had a newly remodeled open concept kitchen with roomy counter space, plenty of storage, a breakfast bar, and it was painted in the warmest red.
Yet, I could feel my husband, Erin's growing excitement, which I couldn't blind myself to. I could hear Joel talking with his sister, Julia, my mother-in-law, about all the memories The Old Lady held for them. My daughter, Moya, 7 at the time, was happily exploring all the rooms, closets, nooks, and crannies. Her favorite spot was the steep, somewhat hidden, back staircase.
Then this Grand Old Lady worked her magic. I'm pretty sure she reached out and grabbed me as I went up the front staircase, which I had never been up before as Grandma Marie kept to the first floor only. My hand touched the worn walnut banister, that had blistered in spots from time, and an unbreakable connection formed. A sudden picture formed in my head of that very same staircase only in the future. The staircase was refinished and was decorated with pine garland with white lights for Christmas.
Then my eyes and heart were opened to all the possibilities. The Old Lady filled me with a sense of responsibility and purpose. The Grand Old Gal was challenging me.
Erin had worked long and hard to get his PH.D in psychology and had become sought after for his talents. Moya was a rising star in gymnastics, therefore our family was always on the run. Our small city home didn't provide the space or the serenity needed to recharge.
The Grand Old Gal sitting on her hill whispered to me "if you don't take care of me, who will, what will become of me?"
I was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. My father moved us to the States for a job when I was 7. We lived In a mobil home, a duplex, and apartments until Dad finially bought a home when I was in high school. I went from living in a big city to a small town, to a medium city, then to a college town, then back to Rockford. I saw my Canadian relatives on rare occasions and missed the big family gatherings with the food and laughter. The Old Lady reminded me that the first time I felt that again was with Erin on a visit to Grandma Marie's old farm house.
I was a gypsy, for lack of a better word, and the empty Grand Old Gal embraced me and in my heart and soul I heard her say welcome home. I am a romantic while my husband is a realist. As we walked through the Old Lady that day he was dreaming of what we could do with the Old Gal, but I knew his sense of responsibility would snap him back to reality. So the Old Lady and I conspired to make her the Wade home.
Five years later here we are, still with the old bathroom and kitchen, but no regrets, even on the most cold drafty days that require extra clothing and an electric blanket. Now that Moya is no longer doing gymnastics 25 hours a week an hour away, we have made some head way.
Just before we moved to this Old Lady I became a stay at home mom and two years after moving Moya began to do online schooling from home. I have more projects than I know what to do with, but I'm giddy with challenge of it all, which keeps my sanity intact. So not only did the Old Lady become home but she and I are taking care of each other. We are also preserving a family legacy and taking her into the next century as Serenity Homestead.