Instead of flying home from the Haven Conference, I had to fly directly to Richmond, VA, to help my mom clean out my Opa’s house. (Opa means grandpa in German, for those who don’t know…) He passed away a few years ago, but his wife has been living in the home until recently. The time has now come to clean out the house and put it on the market. Fortunately, we had already cleaned out the attic and things have been thinned out over the years, so it wasn’t too big of a job.
This house is special to me. My Opa, who was a builder, custom built this house about 25 years ago. In addition, he built half of the houses in Petersburg from the 1950′s – 1980′s.
My dad was in the Army, so I never lived anywhere longer than 4 years as I was growing up. This home was always my home base. It’s where we spent most summers and where I lived for a few months when I graduated from college. Whenever someone asks where I’m from, the long answer is, “Well, my dad was in the military, so we moved a lot, but my family is from Petersburg, VA. That’s sort of my home.”
This house is more than a house to me. It’s filled with memories.
I don’t just see a kitchen. I see the custom cabinets my Opa designed and made. I remember hanging out in the cabinet shop, playing with the adding machine and drawing out house plans on graph paper. I see my Oma bent over the oven, stirring her famous nuts & bolts (sort of a chex mix.) I see my Opa at the dining table, cleaning fish we caught that day at Belches Mill Pond.
Now the cookbooks are all cleared out and it’s staged to sell.
I don’t just see a family room. I see the dentil molding my Opa cut by hand. I remember sitting around in a hot house because it’s 2 degrees cooler outside than inside, so we have to shut off the A/C, open all of the windows and turn on the fans. I remember watching cable TV for the first time, cheering for Jennifer Capriati in Wimbledon and taking sips of champagne on New Year’s Eve.
(Isn’t the color on the walls beautiful? It’s Quiet Moments by Benjamin Moore.)
The dining room is so much more than that. The chandelier is from my great-grandmother’s house. It was originally gas, but my Opa had it wired for electricity and designed the dining room around it. I see the “widows & orphans” Thanksgiving dinners, the cocktail parties and my Oma polishing her silver.
One of these decanters was a wedding gift to my great-great-grandfather, William Ransom Johnson, by the Robert E Lee. Unfortunately, we don’t know which one, so we need to have a specialist look at them to see if we can figure out which one or at least narrow it down.
We did find some really cool things while cleaning out the remaining furniture, including my great-grandfather’s desk…
…like a photo album with pictures of Jimmy Dorsey and Helen O’Connell, who were, like, way famous back then.
…my Opa’s WWII dog tags and an autograph book my Oma had signed by her school friends.
I managed to hold my emotions together most of the two days we worked on cleaning out the house, but I fell apart when we found my Opa’s wallet. I could see him leaning on one hip to pull out his wallet, handing me a ten and telling me to go get some King’s Bar-b-que. I had to take a few minutes to get it together. I love all of my grandparent’s but I always felt closest to my Opa. We would sit on his back porch, watching the birds and squirrels, singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” together, seeing who could hold the last “I” the longest.
He was a great man and I love and miss him. My first son was even named after him.
So, I pulled away yesterday evening, knowing that was probably the last time I would see that house and it was like saying goodbye to home.
PS – My great uncle may be taking the chandelier, but it is very heavy and has to be specially removed. It also cannot be hung without reinforcing the ceiling joists, so it’s not like you can hang it anywhere. We’re fine, though, with leaving it as a part of the history of the house. It seems fitting for it to stay in the house my Opa built.