And Then Came the Demolition Crew

In my dream, everything was different in the old neighborhood. The house was gone. Where the road used to continue, now there was swath of green grass. After crossing it, Annie the dog and I found ourselves on a freeway overpass with nowhere to go except to jump off. Annie went first, landing in a pile of broken bones. I followed, knowing I would be badly hurt, too, but I had no choice . . .

I seemed to land unscathed, but I knew I must be injured. I went to get help, but no one seemed to care . . .

This morning, Annie is fine, but my body feels as if I did jump off a bridge and fracture every bone. Welcome to winter plus arthritis and a couple other itis-es.

What spurred this dream? Partially the book I just finished, Raven Stole the Moon by Garth Stein, in which the characters are being chased by shape-shifting spirits, but mostly the email I received Halloween night from a man who lives in my parents’ old neighborhood. He sent me the picture above and a description of what he’d seen. Click here for the Google Earth view of what it used to look like.

The old house where I grew up is gone, torn down except for the frame of the bedrooms. I had to look hard to recognize the site. It appears the old fences and patio are also gone. The fruit trees in the back might be there; it’s hard to tell. A dumpster sits in the driveway, and next to it, so forlorn, sits the old piano, the 1890s cabinet grand passed down to us from Grandpa’s house before it was torn down in the 1960s. An old blanket partially covers the piano, but even in warmer, drier San Jose, that’s not much protection.

I cried. It’s just a house. It was falling apart. It needed new plumbing, wiring, roof, floors, heating, and windows. It had giant cracks from the Loma Prieta earthquake. Once Dad passed away a little over a year ago, our story in that house was done. I know that. In my head. But in my heart, it was still home.

It’s not a surprise. This is what people are doing in the old San Jose neighborhoods. They buy the old houses for a million dollars then tear them down and build new mini-mansions on the property. They want the land, not the house or someone else’s memories. Will the new owners live there or will they “flip it” for millions of dollars? I don’t know.

Why did they bother keeping the bedroom frame? I have heard that people do that so it’s called a “remodel” and not construction of a whole new house. Something about fees and taxes.

So sad. Also such a waste. Before the sale, the realtor arranged for the house to be repainted in and out. New carpet and linoleum and bathroom fixtures were installed. I barely recognized the place when I walked in to pick up a few last boxes last November. And now it’s all gone. Poor people with bare floors could use that creamy new carpet, but into the dumpster it went, along with the wood from the patio and the brick from the barbecue that my father and grandfather built by hand . . .

Why couldn’t the house be sold as affordable housing to a family that does not have a few million dollars in the bank? But that’s not what’s happening in that neighborhood.

As far as I know, not a single Fagalde remains in San Jose. All the descendants of Great-Grandpa Joe and Grandma Louise have either died or moved away to where it’s less crowded and less expensive and where they can find that sense of community that seems to be lost in Santa Clara/Silicon Valley. Just like Fred and I did when we moved to Oregon.

I am so grateful to Dad’s neighbor for letting me and my brother know about the house so we didn’t have to drive there one day without knowing what we would see. Because of COVID, neither of us has gone to San Jose since March. Now we don’t need to.

Although you know I will. I’m too curious to not look. And I will weep some more. Then I will leap off the metaphorical bridge into my own life here in Oregon with my own home that I love, and I will go on with Annie, who is just fine. She has eaten her kibble and gone back to sleep because hey, it’s still dark out, and that’s what dogs do.

In movies and books, people are always returning to homes that have been in the family for generations. Even in Stein’s spooky book, Jenna revisits her grandmother’s house in Alaska. It’s empty except for rodents and ghosts, but it’s still there.

How about you? Is the home where you grew up still standing? Does anyone you know live in it? I’d love to hear your stories.

The old house is packed with memories

IMG_20190822_173002965_HDR[1]In the wake of our father’s death, it’s time to clean out his house in preparation for selling it. It’s the house where my brother and I grew up, not changed much since our parents bought it in 1950. Since neither of us wants to move back to San Jose, the place we have always known as home has to go. On top of losing Dad, this hurts, too.

As it became clear that Dad was not going to live in that house anymore, I brought home keepsakes, knick-knacks, books and usable items, such as oatmeal, crochet hooks, and cookie cutters. I bubble-wrapped my grandmother’s blue tea set that my mother always said would be mine someday. It’s bittersweet.

Over the 23 years I have lived in Oregon, I have made many trips back to San Jose, sleeping in my old bedroom, waking up to the chirping of squirrels on the fence. During my father’s injuries and illnesses, I spent long periods of time there, right up to when he died. Now sometimes when I wake up in the middle of the night, I think I’m still there. I bang into walls searching for the bathroom before I realize I’m in South Beach now. THIS is my home.

IMG_20190824_081431250_HDR[1]Last weekend, while I was working here in Oregon, my brother and his family did the big clean-out, filling a giant dumpster and packing up things to keep or give away. There’s a memory in every item, but we can’t keep much. We have enough of our own stuff. We have to move on.

Mom and Dad bought the house the year after they were married. Located in a west-side housing tract where half the houses hadn’t been built yet, it contained the family’s history: our baby crib, Dad’s fishing poles, Mom’s needlework, the table on which we ate, and the flowered lamp in the living room that was on when my angry father would greet me in the wee hours after dates and parties, asking, “Do you know what time it is?”

IMG_20190824_081400085[1]There’s the floor heater that collected our errant marbles and jacks, the fold-down ironing board, the pink tile counter where Mom hammered walnuts into bits for cookies and brownies. There’s the circular clothesline that my grandfather built, the patio our father built, and the orange tree that was only a foot tall when I gave it to Dad one Father’s Day. Now it’s massive and full of fruit.

The house is old. It needs extensive repairs. It’s quite possible the new owners will tear it down and start over as others in that neighborhood have done, replacing the vintage three-bedroom one-bath homes with mini-mansions valued at well over a million dollars. That’s what happened to the house on the next block that my late husband Fred and I were renting when we got married. The new owners changed it so dramatically the only thing I recognize is the address.

Our parents’ story in their house is finished. My brother and I have our own homes and our own stories. The house may be filled with renters, or it may be torn down. Maybe it will be lovingly renovated and the garden brought back to its former glory. I hope a young family can use it as a blank canvas to paint the story of their lives for the next 70 years or longer. It’s a good place.

How about you? Is your childhood home long gone or do you still spend time there? What would you keep if you could walk through and take just a few things? I welcome your comments.