I got a most excellent letter in my email yesterday.
The note was from a former neighbor of mine, Jennifer Shoemaker, who now lives in London with her husband and four children. They moved there a few years ago now, but Jennifer continues to read La Grange Patch to keep up with the news going on in town.
In response to my call for submissions of love stories for Valentine's Day, I got this in response from her:
"I'm fairly sure this isn't exactly what you had in mind in your call for local love stories, but thought maybe you'd appreciate this recent entry on my blog about our old house. It is a bit of a Valentine to La Grange from abroad."
While it's not what I had in mind, it was exactly what I was looking for. I asked Jennifer if I could share it with our readers and she agreed. The following is an excerpt from her blog, And Now We Are Six: Our Life as Seen From the Top of a Double Decker Bus.
A Love Letter to Our Old House
Biggest Brother sent the following note to his friend in our old town: "London is amazing but it still doesn't beat La Grange." To be sure, this made my heart break a bit. We probably all would have written something similar. While I'd never trade the life changing experience of living abroad with the children, part of me will forever be heartbroken for having left our beloved old house, that sweet school, our church, the lovely town, and of course, dear friends and neighbors.
I could go on about all of those. About how terrified I was that first winter of the cold and yet how warm our life there became. That the town was a village quaintly out of another era. About how everyone, including lots of the staff, walked to school so even in Chicago winters (with 2 days' exception in about as many decades) the school didn't close. About how at lunchtime at school you could go home or bring a packed lunch, but that there was no cafeteria. How Biggest Brother, then in second grade, was on the approved list to bring Big Brother home from half-day kindergarten.
I could go on and on (already have, I know). About how I cried the first Sunday at Mass seeing pews filled with strangers, only to make lovely friends so quickly. How our neighbors, many of whom were from our parents' generation, became surrogate parents and grandparents, and even more, cherished friends. How the corner store ran a house account and never sent bills. They knew their customers would pay when they could. The boys would pull tiny Big Sister in a wagon down the street when we needed a few things. It was hard to explain to the boys the difference when we arrived in London and they saw markets even closer.
The first night I saw the town when we were house hunting, I thought the Mister had done some elaborate staging. I was pretty sure I was an extra in a Julia Roberts film set in the Midwest. That night we ate dinner outside and walked around seeing teenagers toss beanbags into boards with their parents in their front yard on a Saturday night. It is that kind of wholesome place.
I could go on for days talking about La Grange alone. About how the library had a summer movie program for the kids. I dropped them off and no one wanted my cell phone number, or even for me to sign them in. Why would they? Everyone knew each other. The kids would be okay.
But this is all about our house. The house was magic. We all felt it. Thousands of miles away and I still do. It was love at first sight for the Mister. Full confession: while I was captured by the whole town and saw the undeniable charm in the house, and its original woodwork and traditional floor plan, I was leaning toward one in a tonier neighborhood. It came down to those 2 homes. The one we were meant to have came and went off the market twice while we were preparing to leave Virginia. By the time we had our Virginia house sold and were ready to buy, it was ready for us to purchase. It waited for us. You might think I'm nuts for saying so, but it was meant to be ours.
We could have saved ourselves lots of looking if we'd realized that our email address, which we had randomly assigned to us 8 years prior, features 3 numbers. The address of that very house.
The house wasn't particularly fancy or grand but it was perfect for us. A 1920s American Four Square on a tree lined block. The boys had the converted attic bedroom. A bedroom, drum studio, LEGO suite and playroom all in one. We shared a bathroom with 4 kids and it was fine. (We still do that now, although the flat has 4.5 baths!). We made it even more ours. When we arrived, Big Sister was a bit out of sorts and would wake in the predawn darkness. I snuggled her for countless hours against my growing tummy watching the first commuters walk to the nearby train station in the dark, headed into the city. Our babysitter lived across the street with her parents in the home where her dad was raised. Her father went to the kids' school with some of its current teachers.
The detached garage, made for cars not as cumbersome as my Suburban, became a playhouse. The kids made a clubhouse in the trellised storage space under the front porch stairs. The fenced backyard was plenty of yard for tiny legs and insurance that they couldn't wander off.
I lovingly researched the house's history although much of that was congenially shared by many longtime residents of our block. Many a new friend arrived at my door only to announce that their popular high school football coach and driver's ed teacher had lived in our house for many years. On the way over to a cocktail party one evening, my girlfriend asked her husband if he remembered our address. He assured her he knew the house. He'd been to a keg party in the backyard years ago. It came to be that I felt like I knew the coach and his 3 boys.
In the movie of my life, I will always cry thinking of when it became very clear that we were indeed selling our beloved home and giving it to someone else. Our house was very popular when it went on the market and we were out one morning while there were several showings. Upon coming home, I met our dear next-door neighbor in the back yard. He told me he'd talked to the prospective buyers. They seemed serious and he said, "You're going to get an offer. It's a nice family with young children. They want to keep it for a long time and raise the kids in the house." He hugged me while I cried. I knew it was good. It was right. What our lovely house deserved. New life and owners who would cherish it for a lifetime, if not longer. Little children who would discover and treasure all the nooks and crannies. Teenagers who would throw great parties. A family who wouldn't gloss over the house's imperfections and quirks, but live with them and show them to their friends. If we couldn't stay, this was exactly what I wanted for our home. It was time. It was meant to be someone else's now, even if it felt too soon.
If bidding farewell to cars if trying for me, saying goodbye to that house was very sad. Even though we were enthusiastic about London and our life ahead, it was weepy in those last days. The day the movers arrived on a bitter December morning, the crew leader told me his dispatcher had grown up in the house. I knew he must have meant one of the coach's 3 sons. Of course. There were a lot of "what are the chances?!" comments among the guys, but I wasn't terribly surprised. It was another magical way of passing that treasured home one to another graciously. In exchange for that happy turn of events, I sent a copy of my house history research to the dispatcher with the crew. Ours was just another chapter in the story of a sweet house in a wonderful town in the middle of the United States. Sometimes it is still hard to turn the pages.
- By Jennifer Shoemaker