Tuesday, October 26, 2010

shadows on the walls

This morning I have been thinking a lot about this old house. Never have I lived in a place so old, and I wonder about the lives of the people who called this little house "home" long before we ever did. Built in 1917ish, this little house has known many generations of people - enough to house a family for their lifetime. I do wonder if this little house was ever some one's home for their entire adulthood. I wonder if their children returned to this little house for family holidays with their own children.

I picture a young couple being gifted this house for their wedding day back in 1917. He left to fight the Germans and she stayed at home expecting their first baby, herself only 17 years old. That was pretty common, I think. A few miles up the street (across from the University of Utah which was established in 1850) are the Fort Douglas Barracks. From 1917-1920, Fort Douglas was a prisoner of war camp that housed 784 men: Germans and Austro-Hungarians as "prisoners of war, civilian internees and conscientious objectors". The local ward is two blocks down the street and it has been here before 1900. I am sure the families that lived in this little house walked there each Sunday. 
Nibley Park Ward

These colder days have me imagining what it must have been like to shovel coal each day to keep the home warm. Wake each morning and build a fire in the fireplace, in the kitchen stove, and shovel coal. I wonder if there were ever chickens in the yard. And if these fences dividing the properties were always here, or if at one time all the children ran around together without property lines, the mothers greeting "good morning" from their back doors. The woman who lives in the house behind us makes me think of this. She is very elderly and has lived in that house all of her life (right now her daughter and her great-grandkids live with her). She always yells at me from her back door while i'm in my fenced-in back yard, "if it seems like i'm being nosy when I look into your yard, it's because I am," she said to me once.

Utah State Pen.
Up the street is St. Ann's Catholic School, which was once an old Catholic orphanage. And down the street in the other direction was the state penitentiary (which was removed in 1950). To get from our little town into the heart of Salt Lake City there was a cable street car with tracks all the way to the temple. 
street car, 1933

When our house was built, the Salt Lake temple had only been built for about 25 years. Polygamy had only been denounced by the church for 27 years, and I wonder if the first owners were children or grandchildren of polygamist families. I wonder the pain that inhabited this valley when at one point it was the duty of a good Mormon who could afford more wives to take more than one, and do so faithfully for 60 years worth of generations to suddenly be told that it is no longer allowed. The identity of those families must have been shaken, and the people must have been heartbroken. 

This little house is so small, I wonder how the families fit in here. With only two bedrooms, and the second being extremely tiny, it's a mystery to me. I would guess three children at most could live in this house (which would be seriously stretching it - if we ever have a baby, i'm not sure we could continue to live here). But I know that families in those days, especially Mormon families, were much larger.

Doons, watching the rain pour out of the edge of the gutter

I was outside yesterday looking at my house (trying to figure out where a mystery noise was coming from - the roof) and discovered that there is a chimney raising out of the kitchen. I never noticed that before because my refrigerator covers where it was in the kitchen. And it made me happy to think of all of the food that was lovingly prepared in my kitchen, just as I feed my family in love and joy, so did many other women before me.

It's pretty fun to imagine the history of this old little house, filled with poodle skirts, wedding dresses, Christmas trees and babies. It's a kinship I enjoy, to know that I shared this "home" with so many others who lived and slept and cooked and loved here. One hundred years holds many stories, memories, and shadows on the walls.


Anna said...

I love this post!

Brooke Hereth said...

I love history! You should be a historical arceologist. Oops I spelled that wrong but who caresss. NOT ME, i actually do. AH THAT IS SO EMBARRASING.(did i spell that wrong too? *IM FREAKING OUT*)

ily haha.