Sunday, August 27, 2006

They Say You Can't Go Back Home Again

They say that you can’t go back home again…maybe not but I did. I was out on my bike yesterday and I found myself not far from the home I grew up in. I decided to go a little off my intended route and cycle through the old neighborhood…something I do maybe once every couple years. Anyway, yesterday was the first time I’ve ever seen anyone out in the yard and when I did I didn’t hesitate to stop and introduce myself. The owner’s name is Byron; I forget his last name. He was out edging the grass along the sidewalk and I biked up to him and told him I was one of the original residents of his home and that my dad had this house built 40 years ago. His face lit up and he put out his hand and we exchanged greetings.

I looked around the yard and told him that my dad had put in the fence and I helped him a bit but I mostly remember just trying to walk along the top rail all along the perimeter of the yard. I told him how I'd loved it here. I mentioned the tree swing in the backyard and how our Canary, Tweeter, got loose one day and we had to hose her down out of the tree. We talked about the large oak in the front yard which died a few years back and how to one of our pets it was the ‘big tree’. I mentioned the first black family which moved into the neighborhood in the house behind his and how that was a big deal back in the day but how it was a good thing for everyone. I pointed to the sidewalk where a few of us neighbor kids had signed our names and ridden our bikes through wet concrete. He said they finally got around to replacing the two sections about 5 years ago. I told him how it was a great place for a kid to grow up…how none of the schools were here when we arrived but when they were finally built they made great places for us to play once the workers had left for the day. I told him of the countless hours I’d spent across the street in the pond in search of anything living which I could bring home and make a pet. Byron commented on my bike and the GPS unit and I told him that “yeah, it’s not quite the same as the bike I used to ride on these streets”.

I inquired about the inside of the home and if the basement was still finished in the cedar my dad used. He told me that it was and asked if I’d like to come in and have a look. He didn’t have to ask. I road my bike up the driveway and parked it in the garage and I had this surreal feeling that I was coming home just like so many years ago. I stood in the garage and looked around expecting it to look much smaller than I’d remembered it but it was much the same. A bit more stuff but it was our old garage. Byron walked me into the house through the garage door and the first thing I noticed as I was removing my shoes was the linoleum…it was the same linoleum that was in the home when we were there…brown brick in an alternating pattern. I couldn’t believe how good it looked. Byron assured me that it was original. I stood in the entrance and looked around imagining myself some 30 or more years earlier. The swinging doors in the hallway which separate the front entrance from the garage entrance are no longer there.

We walked through the kitchen and he led me into the dining room. The hard wood floors may still be there but they’re all carpeted now in a near white color which never would have worked for our family of six kids who weren’t very good at taking shoes off. The dining room and living room have a very open and clean look that I liked very much. I looked around and told him that many memorable Christmases were spent in this area.

Byron next took me downstairs…probably one of the spaces I mostly wanted to see. The first thing you notice is that the tongue-in-groove cedar ceiling is no longer there. It’s been replaced with (I believe) a textured ceiling. I mentioned to Byron the time capsule we’d placed in the ceiling when Dad finished it and that it’s most likely gone now. The walls have been changed some too. No longer are there thin strips of cedar banton strips between sections of cedar. There’s now a ledge that begins about 3-4 feet high and runs along the two long walls and extends out about 8 inches. There is also a dry bar which was built of the same type cedar Dad used and that’s located where the shelving for stereo components used to be. The area under the stairs is still used as a desk area.

We next walked into the laundry/utility room. They wanted to show me where one of us (Keith) had signed our name in black marker on the laundry chute hamper. “Keith Gilmore April 1971 10 years old”. We walked toward the back of the utility room to where Dad had his workshop set up. I mentioned that if we were ever looking for my dad you could almost always find him down here tinkering with something. There is still a workbench there…maybe it’s the same one Dad used…I can’t be sure. There is also another workbench directly across from it. As we were leaving the room Byron mentioned that they’ve still got the original furnace. Wow.

I asked them if the house has been good to them and they said yes. They raised their two daughters there. About the only complaint they had was that there should have been a sump pump and drain tile installed with the house as they’ve apparently had some water issues with the clay soil. They also mentioned that although it was quite a job, they installed central air conditioning a while back. They love the baseboard heat for the home.

I didn’t get a chance to tour the upstairs.

We walked outside and looked into the backyard. I told him how it had changed…no longer a garden and the trees are so large. I mentioned how I used to mow the lawn with a non-motorized, reel mower and how I used to crosscut it. I also recalled then how I used to have to use hand clippers to clip the grass at the base of each fence post…that was before anybody had thought of a weed whip. I pointed toward a spot between all the houses, behind the Kelly’s and Testins’ where for a week one summer a bunch of us neighbor kids tried to organize a petition to have a neighborhood pool built. It was a fun thought but probably got lost to other summer distractions.

Byron replaced the concrete driveway a few years back and told me he wasn’t happy with how it turned out. The day was very hot and the concrete was setting up faster than they could manage it. It looked fine to me. I asked him if he’d replaced the hedge along the front of the house and he said he hadn’t. I told him that my folks had put that in. I mentioned how I used to throw a baseball against the front of the house…I’d pick out a brick which I’d use as dead center for my strike zone and throw for it.

We talked a bit about the two owners before him. He said the person who bought it from us was an assistant coach for the Vikings. He sold it to a dentist and Byron and his wife bought it from the dentist in 1979.

In parting I asked Byron if he had an email address as I’d like to send him some photos of the home as it was when we lived there. I put together a few links to photos on my website for him to see. My only regret is that I didn’t have my camera with me. I hope to arrange another meeting sometime soon and maybe take my mother along...and my camera.

Some moments from then...

Video 1

Video 2

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I reached your blog through FB and read about you visiting your childhood home in Bloomington. Is the house on W. 102nd by any chance? Would you remember if the man's last name was Opstad? This sounds so much like him, friendly, moved to MN about 1979 or so, has two daughters. He used to be my boss and we miss him dearly as he died a couple years ago this coming fall. He was just the type of guy that would would be thrilled to give you a tour around the place and just "thrifty" enough that some original things in the house would not be updated, i.e. floor tile. I'll have to share this with co-workers if it might be him. Thanks

Kevin said...

Yes, his name was Byron Opstad. He and his wife (I believe her name is Pat) were very kind to invite me in and show me around and I was happy to tell them a little about the people who first lived in their home and what little history I knew of the area.

I was hoping to bring my mother by so she could see it once more but we've never been able to find a good time for that. But I'm still holding out hope.

Thanks for your comment.

Kevin