Those Who Lived Here Before Us

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    One question most of us probably don’t ask when we’re thinking of renting or buying a home is, who were the people who lived here before us? I’ve lived in many different rental properties in urban areas over the years and the question never occurred to me. Most of these houses were built almost a century ago and one can only imagine how much history occurred in the very rooms I occupied. But even when I was shopping for a house, my main reason to inquire who had inhabited the place was to find out whether the property had experienced a lot of rapid turnover (possibly a bad sign).

    A couple of weeks ago I noticed the obituary in the paper of a woman who had lived in the house I now call my own. She had owned the house for 37 years. What’s more, hers was only the second household at that address; the previous owners had been there for 43 years, starting when the house was built. I find this remarkable, in light of my experience living in youthful neighborhoods where the population turns over dramatically from one decade to the next.

    What was this woman like, who cared for the roses in our garden and watched the maple in the front yard grow into a little giant? The obituary tells that she was an elementary school teacher and a volunteer for her church and the food bank. It doesn’t tell why she and her husband came to this community, why they chose to live in town rather than out in the country, or why they chose this particular house. It doesn’t tell what the neighborhood was like back in the 1960s, when she first came here, compared to today. As a newcomer to the community, I don’t have much of an idea, but after seeing this woman’s obituary, I am all the more curious.

    What I also wish I could ask her is what her thoughts were on how to improve the house. Was she the one that put the mudroom onto the back porch? Did she put up that dreadful wallpaper in the dining room? Did her kids grow up here? I guess I’ll just have to wonder, as my family puts its own mark on the character of the property.

    Photo by MHBaker (CC BY-NC-ND)

    David Holtzman is a planner for Louisa County, Virginia, a freelance writer, and a former Shelterforce editor.


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