Philadelphia Metropolis


This Old House

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By Rachel Levy Lesser

I grew up in a house built my grandparents. The new construction was complete in 1967, and it was distinctively theirs. The 6-foot bathtub and extra high counter tops were designed by and for my 6-foot-4 grandfather. The art studio complete with a science-like lab sink and oversized slots for canvases was what my grandmother, the budding artist, had always wanted.

 It wasn't their house for as long as they would have hoped. After my grandfather died suddenly, my grandmother wanted nothing more of their dream home in Yardley. She moved to New York City where she could be near the art and culture that she craved.

 This left my young parents in a precarious position. They had outgrown our small ranch house just 5 minutes away in suburban Philadelphia, but they couldn't find a place that felt right. When my grandmother generously offered them the house, they accepted, although my mother had her doubts. She feared seeing ghosts of holidays past in what would be her new home.

 "It was the best decision we ever made," she would later say. "I love the house for all of the reasons I said I wouldn't." She loved that my grandmother, who never looked down on any of my mother's decorating decisions, could tell her that there were, in fact, hard wood floors under the living room carpet. She was the one who had them installed.

 I loved that I slept every night in the same room that my young father had. I loved that the extra attic space built for my grandmother's love of coats became my secret playroom. Her art bins were used to store my brother's baseball gloves and lacrosse sticks, and the extra-high counters became a fun challenge for us to climb up on as children.

 Neighbors urged my parents to cut back the 5-foot high hedges, but my father watched them grow with pride as he remembered when they were planted around the property some 40 plus years ago.

 The house has seen happy and sad occasions - some more memorable than others. As a little girl, I'd walk down the long staircase with an oversized towel hanging down my back imagining that I'd one day walk down those steps wearing a wedding veil. I eventually did just that as my soon-to-be  husband met me at the bottom of the steps before we headed out the door to be married.

 My brother and I both celebrated our bar and bat mitzvahs in and around the house. The party tents that famously blew down the day before the big events caused my mother to panic and my father to reassure her that the house could handle whatever the weather had to offer.

 What I remember most about that house, was feeling safe and happy inside it. The noise of the heavy kitchen door opening and closing reminded me that extended family and friends had stopped by for a quick visit or to drop something off.

 My friends always felt welcome there. Everyone knew where we hid the spare key (in the metal band aid box inside the delivery closet) and they figured out where we kept the good snacks (in the oversized drawer below the silverware one.)

 We mourned the death of several grandparents and of my mother inside the house. I'll never forget how empty my mother's closet - the one with the cool slots and shelves made originally for my grandmother's shoes and pocketbooks - looked after we had cleaned it out.

 The house is in a precarious place once again. My brother and I are grown with families of our own. My father, a man who has lived in it for most of his life, wonders what to do with it.

 When he re-did the kitchen last year replacing the white Corian countertops with modern granite and the old coiled top stove with a sleek stainless steel one, I thought he was getting ready to put it on the market. There is still no sign up in front of the hedges.

 When I was growing up, I imagined that I'd live there one day with a family of my own. Although I have the family, I no longer have the desire to live there.

 I understand now that it is simply a place, and that our time in it is complete. I sometimes think of it as "The Giving Tree." It sheltered us, kept us safe, gave us wonderful memories and now has no more left to give to us.

 I bet that it still has more left to give to a new family. If and when my father does sell it, the new residents will have my blessing.

 And if they're really nice, I'll tell them about the "hidden" key.


  Rachel Levy Lesser is a writer who can be found in her own home iin Yardley, Pa.



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