My neighbor from my medical school and residency era, text me last week to tell me my old house was on the market. The whole family linked to the MLS listing to reminisce over the photos.
Wow! All the memories came flooding back. We purchased the 1896 historical home near downtown Mobile as medical students - talk about a fixer-upper! My husband, the main renovator and contractor, hired some key craftsmen who cared more about restoration than making money. Over 7 years, during the heart of medical school and residency for us both, we completely renovated the structure, keeping as many original details as possible.
It had become a piecemealed house broken into 6 apartments during the depression that had back porches later enclosed upon back porches. It was in one of those enclosed back porches that my oldest daughter claimed her first solo room since her sister had been born. She even had a playroom off of it. Oh, so many hours were spent with me sitting haggardly on her floor post-call, helping her decide what the next category to clean up was. Unsurprisingly, she turned into an amazingly organized young woman.
Between the grand parlor and dining room was the lone floor heating register that the girls would stand beside or on during the winter months as we dried them after their baths. We hit below freezing temperatures several winters, and it was the main source of heat for the drafty house. Zip-up fuzzy footie pajamas were standard sleepwear and what they wore while eating cereal in the mornings.
Due to a fire in the 1920s, the foyer had soot that would coat your shoes, socks, or feet. I have photos of each of us covered in soot while renovating. Even our youngest got in on the action. (Some plaster was beyond repair, and she loved demolition).
There had been multiple additions of paint to the grand wooden staircase over the years. I remember slipping and falling, holding my 18-month-old, and keeping her from injury while sacrificing my back. (Did you know that you can’t wiggle your toes without feeling it in your back?) With much time and effort, we finally stripped it down to the beautiful bare wood again, and I was able to walk pain-free.
Wallpaper from the 1930s was painstakingly removed tiny strip by tiny strip. We let the girls pick out the colors of their rooms. My youngest chose purple. Oh, how many nights I remember sitting beside her tucking her in that we had to discuss spiders. There were many, and they particularly loved her 11-foot high ceiling. We discussed how helpful spiders are and even read a book called “Be nice to spiders.” We finally named them so they would be seen as allies rather than enemies. (This was just as helpful to me – I also was not a natural fan of them.) On one of our front porches, we had the quintessential swing. Spiders would make these amazing huge 3D webs between chains. Well, since we had cultivated a love for spiders, my youngest didn’t want us to remove the homes of Itsy and Bitsy that lived there. Unfortunately, a traumatic moment that the Sears pest control man sprayed them - lots of tears.
There was a point when the house was open to the exterior in areas that we temporarily moved across the street to another historic home broken into apartments. While my husband was an ortho resident on call, it was there that an angry pain-seeking patient showed up late at night wanting a Rx. Nothing happened, but it was incredibly scary for all of us. It was also in that house that the girls developed an idea to surprise their dad when he arrived home from a conference. We all jumped out of the closet when he entered and yelled “Surprise!” and nearly scared him to death. It was then that we found out he wasn’t really a fan of surprises.
During that period, we had the great lice pestilence of the 1990s. There were 2 other families on our street making up the 5 girls total that played together constantly. I got the call from one mom that my daughter helped pick bugs from her daughter’s hair. My oldest had hair to her waist. We painfully eradicated the lice, only for it to reemerge 3 more times. I remember sobbing that last time while entangling the little mini comb in long hair. I pleaded with the neighbor to find some way to help the neighborhood. He was an ID doc – he reminded me that the “I” stood for infections and not infestations. We finally cracked the issue – it was a shared bicycle helmet!
Under some loose floorboards, we found a newspaper talking of Al Capone’s arrest. Evidently, they had used newspaper for insulation after the fire. We began making real progress on the house. The floors were sanded and polyurethaned. I remember my oldest daughter and her friends getting a running start in their socks to see how far they could slide down the hallway.
There was the new pantry in the kitchen, which contained all the ingredients for fun supper nights – that’s what we called it when my husband and I were too exhausted to create a meal. The girls got to forage for themselves. There was the new upstairs sunroom where I found my youngest watching Disney’s sing-along-songs and cutting her bangs mindlessly. There are so many amazing memories that I could go on for hours.
So many trials, so many fun times. I am grateful for every one of them and wouldn't give up any of the tears or laughs. Over 7 years, we got rid of the clutter not serving us, updated and improved many areas, and sanded and uncovered existing beauty. The house had become a real home, and we, as a family, had become our strongest - forged together like never before.
Have a joy-filled day! Tonya
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