Old houses give up few secrets


We’ve been doing some remodeling in our house recently. We’re not doing anything extreme like adding a third story, or tearing out all of the walls, but we are attending to several long-overdue maintenance tasks, like tiling a worn bath, replacing flooring, painting walls. Although our house is over 50 years old, we are only the third owners. This is a contrast from my first house, where I was the sixth owner in five years, one owner in a long line of owners stretching back to 1918.

One always uncovers something when you start to do such work. Yesterday I noticed that the painters who did the painting when we first moved in, didn’t remove some of the registers. While setting the tiles the contractor’s young assistant learned how chicken wire was used in old lathe and flooring. Since they apparently didn’t realize that those walls, though difficult to tear out, were paper-thin, I heard all about that in some rather colorful language while working in my office. While not anything I hadn’t heard before, I think they would have been embarrassed if they knew I overheard; they were most professional when around us. The contractors were not quiet either about how out of plumb the door jambs were. I’d never noticed the angle on the trim. I likely will have forgotten about it in a week or two. Crooked walls happen. But, while the house is older, it isn’t so old as to hold any fascinating secrets. Perhaps the property does — the old, tall trees perched on the hill that have presided over many generations — but there are no hidden rooms or secrets the walls might hold inside this house. And yet, there are always small surprises.

When we moved in, one of the bedrooms was covered in an old-lady-print wallpaper. It was fine stripes of cream, with peach and blue accents in a glossy sheen finish. Everything about the room shouted “The kids are gone! I made a pretty guest room!” When I eventually got around to tearing off that horrible wallpaper, the dart board holes in the wall, along with crayon colorings and inked cartoon drawings, confirmed that.

One of the first things we did upon moving-in was to replace many of the light switches with switches compatible with a home automation system. For some now inexplicable reason, the light switch from the cream and peach room, covered with the old-lady wallpaper, was tossed into a box of electrical supplies instead of the trash. Sorting through the box while looking for a dimmer switch for another room today, I came across the switch plate. Without thinking I threw it into the trash. But, as it sailed towards the wastebasket, the wall paper, its glue long since released, unfurled. I picked up the plate, curious. The original plate had an image of a boy and a name — Jamie — painted on it. It’s been years since I’ve met a boy named Jamie, although it used to sometimes be used as a nickname for my son’s given name. (Bodies would need to be buried if anyone had ever suggested that he be called Jamie.) The drawing, though, could have been him around the time when we moved in: a lanky, skinny-legged, redheaded boy of 10.

My son moved out of the house this past weekend, heading across country to begin his post-college life. Finding the switch plate with the little boy on it was a sweet reminder of the years when we first moved into this old house.

The switchplate, however, will go out with the trash tomorrow morning.

Advertisements

4 responses to “Old houses give up few secrets

    • Thanks, Mobius. I think my son would have been horrified if we had discovered this when he was a teen. But I wish that I had found it earlier this summer when he was still living here and could have switch the plate in his room just for fun!