Ancient History

Follow Me?



She died in her bed, in her bedroom, in her home. My Grandma Alice left us two days before Christmas 2005. Her home recently sold.

Her humble little brick bungalow happened to be in a fashionable, sought after area of Denver. Until recently it was just another neighborhood. Now it is teeming with backhoes as quaint old homes are being torn up to add square footage. The buyer paid a lot of money for the priviledge of ripping her home to shreds. A second story will be added. The kitchen will be expanded. A garage will be built off the alley.

The massive tree in her front yard is going to be chopped down to make way for the new.

Red brick with white trim, three little bedrooms with sunny windows, a covered back porch, gardens, a long kitchen with a closet door that never quite shut—all will be rubble. Large white painted cabinets with round silver cut-out knobs reached the tall ceiling and were filled with mugs and teacups, boxes of Jello, dishes from the days she fed seven children. I never imagined how they’d be future junkyard cloggers as I washed dishes in Ivory liquid and put them away on doomed shelves. She kept potato chips in her oven, glass bottles of every color, shape, and size lined the deep windowsills throughout the living areas of her home. Three steps up to her front door, which sported a gold knocker, will be hauled away by a truck. A mail slot received cards and letters from near and far—she had a huge family and a very wide circle of friends. A little red shed built by my deceased uncle stands out back. A push mower and potting soil, clippers and flower pots were the occupants.

She invited me for Easter once, when I was a student at nearby CU-Boulder. I arrived in my dress and heels, only to be asked to mow her lawn with the push mower. I did it. I thought it was funny, odd, so her. That patch of grass will be dug up to make room for a room where a stranger will sleep.

We drove to her house a few Saturdays ago so I could take pictures of her house. I wanted to remember it the way it looked when I was a newborn, a baby, a child, a teenager, a lawn-mowing college girl, a young married woman, a mother. I wanted to touch the bark of the tree and measure the circumference of the trunk.

After snapping a few pictures, I approached the house and looked over the bricks and glass. The window of the room where she died had a white curtain drawn and I considered her last days surrounded by lavender walls. My attention turned back to the tree outside the window. I intended to take a measuring tape, but forgot. My husband got a roll of paper towels out of the minivan and we wound it once around the tree, marking the length with a pen. We would measure the paper towels at home.

While we were outside the house, two neighbors watched us and talked with each other. The paper towels were their threshold. One of the men said “I have to ask. What are you doing?”

I explained it was my grandma’s house, recently sold. I was there to take pictures and measure the tree because it would be torn down soon, becoming unrecognizable, “It’s going to be yuppitized,” I said.

“It’s inevitable. It will happen to all the houses on this block,” he replied.

I was sure this was great news to him—his home’s value rose on the heels of my grandma’s death. All I could think about was how angry and sad I was that years of work, play, laughter, and tears housed inside were going to become dust in the name of money. As we drove away, I cried.

Weeks later, I find myself calmer as I consider the situation. What did I expect? For her house to stand as-is for 10,000 years, memories of a back porch dinner with macaroni salad eaten on a June night in 1987 rippling on and on forever, lilting around the backyard in phantom form? Did I expect a 90-year-old woman, bearing a striking resemblance to the previous occupant to move in and invite me over for really strong coffee and homemade cookies? She is gone, so is her house. It will be torn down and replaced by a new house, with a new owner.

But it will still be #1632 on a Denver street. Life can change dramatically in the blink of an eye. We might like to entertain the delusion our life can’t be ours when bad things happen. But it is. The outer structure, the frame, the floors may change. To the pizza delivery driver and the fire department, it doesn’t matter. It is all still #1632.

I am reminded of the C.S. Lewis quote from Mere Christianity, often repeated but never diminished in it’s power and truth. I have quoted it in the past.

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what he is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is he up to? The explanation is that he is building quite a different house from the one you thought of — throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but he is building up a palace. He intends to come and live in it himself.

I wish the new occupants of 1632 all the best when the house is done. I know it will be lovely when completed.

The tree was 14 feet in circumference, measured at hugging level.

21 comments to 1632

  • Tracy (tjly)

    I feel the same way about my grandparents’ house. When I was little and we would drive from Indiana to Cleveland, OH to visit them, I used to announce “There’s Cleveland!” as we turned onto their street. Their house was the city for me, a magical place which looks and feels exactly as it has my whole life. I wish there was some way to preserve it for my children.

  • You have such a beautiful way with words. What a sweet post. I know you miss your grandmother, but I envy you your beautiful memories of her. My grandmother and I were not close and she died while I was a junior in high school. I wish I could have known her better.

  • Oh, Mopsy. Thank you for that. I have two precious grandmothers, one living, one gone, and your words bring back so many memories.

  • What a beautiful tribute to a place you held dear. There are houses I can’t even bear to go back and see again because of the changes. How wonderful that you got to go back and see your grandmother’s house as it was. Remember it in your heart.

  • Mel

    That was beautiful. (As usual.)

  • …and you will stil have your memories and photos.

  • I absolutely love that you measured the tree. This was so fun to read. It made me want to write down the memories I have of my grandparents’ homes.

  • It’s difficult when things like that change. I’ve been back a few times to visit the house and area we lived in til I was 11. So many changes have taken place, but in my heart, it still looks the way it does in my memories and pictures from when I was young. Thank you, God, for the precious memories!

  • Stacey

    I remember when you used that quote by C.S. Lewis before. It was the first time I’d ever heard it and it has since become a favorite of mine. Thanks for sharing that again. It is so true!

  • Such a beautiful post. It is sad when life moves on, but I’m glad you made one last trip out there to preserve your memories. Hugs.

  • Julana

    I know how you feel. I went in and snapped photos of my grandmother’s house after her funeral. I haven’t been inside since. It was remodeled for my cousin’s family, and I want to remember it as it was.

  • What an incredibly beautiful post, Gretch. I can relate. It is very hard to go back to my grandparent’s ranch as it is all being developed. I cling to the pictures I have in my head. I don’t want to replace them. I guess we all just have to think of all of the good living that happened in these spots and then begin to think of all of the good living that is still to come on the same chunk of the earth.

  • goslyn

    What beautiful memories. It is wonderful that you were able to go and get the pictures before the house disappeared.

    Fourteen feet is a lot of paper towels.

  • Jenni

    My grandmother’s house was torn down also, but I think, in this case, it was worse. They didn’t build onto her house, or even create a whole different house with the same address. They turned it into a parking lot. Now that’s sad.

    I loved this post, Gretchen. It made me want to write a few memories of my own.

  • A lovely post. Someone bought my grandmas little house and rented it to drug dealers. Neighborhoods rise and fall and then rise again eventually.

  • Hi, I’m brand spanking new to you sight, here by way of Shannon (Rocks in My Dryer).

    I can only dream of having that kind of relationship with a grandparent, for you see, although they were alive growing up, we rarely saw them. And when we did, I hated being there because there was never the kind of love to which you have referred.

    I so desperately want my children to have that connection and for my grandchildren to have the same.

    You have a treasure with those memories. Thank you ever so much for sharing them.

  • I’m here by way of Shannon. Thank you for such a sweet post. We are heading out of town to attend my husband’s grandmother’s funeral this weekend. I’m sure the tears will come again when I see her little house.

  • What a lovely story. I can feel the heart ache in your words, and also the cherished memories filled with love and wonder.

    I’d love to see that house some day? Think you could put up a picture with the post?

  • Wow. This. Was. Amazing. A Perfect Post, indeed.

  • Well deserved. Wonderful writing about wonderful memories and loves.

  • That was beautiful. I love the ending especially — 14 feet, measured at hugging level.

    (Came via Chilihead to read your definitely perfect post!)

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>