I have always loved old buildings. My first job out of college was with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and, for a fleeting moment in my young adulthood, I had considered going to graduate school to study architecture via a preservationist’s lens. I ended up on a very different path, but, my love for the old and antiquated continues to delight me.
I believe my fascination with old buildings is rooted in the fact that I’m an old soul. I love history and learning about the past. And I love learning stories about a place, the stories that give physical buildings metaphysical souls.
I’ve also been drawn to the elderly. My mother was the director of a senior citizen’s center when I was in high school. I used to volunteer there during my summers, waking up at 5:00 a.m. with my mom to leave by 6:00 a.m. We’d grab breakfast at the Bob’s Big Boy with her assistant, Faye. Then, by 7:00 a.m. we’d arrive at Groveton Elementary School in Alexandria, Virginia, where I’d help open the center, greet the seniors as they arrived, and spend my days playing card games, helping out with programming, serving lunches – many of these people were low income and this was their one hot meal of the day – and listening to their stories. We can learn so much from our elders. Today, it seems people value the wisdom of our elders less and less. Not me.
Fast forward a couple decades, and here I am in Newberg, Oregon. I was drawn to Oregon in 2004 for work in the world class wine industry nestled in the Willamette Valley. But, I also wanted to connect to my father’s family. His parents both passed away before I was born, so, I missed out on their stories. I thought, if I move to Oregon I can connect to my roots and create my own stories to help keep our family’s legacy and narrative alive.
I got married in June and found out rather quickly that we were expecting. My husband and I have been house hunting for about a year. We found our perfect place in August and on September 4th, we closed on a charming farmhouse outside of downtown Newberg, in the heart of Oregon wine country.
Moving has been a bit of a challenge for me because I’m pregnant and because we’ve started our grape harvest for our wine business. Piece by piece, we emptied out my apartment – an old charmer that had been my home for over eight years. I had been emotional about the move, in part due to my pregnancy hormones, but, also because it had been a special place to me for many years.
The new house has certainly soothed any sad feelings I’ve had for my old apartment. We are situated on a nice spot with about an acre of property that’s a blank slate – so we can dream up our perfect sanctuary with gardens, a bocce court, a soaking pool, a chicken coup, and adding an outdoor kitchen with pizza oven on the already established patio. So many possibilities!
Last weekend, my husband was outside on the patio surveying our property when a car pulled up on our gravel driveway. I heard chatting, so, I pulled on my sweatshirt and met them outside. Turns out, a small framed, sweet faced lady named Hazel used to live here. Hazel explained her family had bought the house in 1925, when she was just five years old. The house had been in her family until she had to sell it in 2005 to move into assisted living. Hazel was 98 years old and looked remarkably well!
We invited Hazel and her stepson and his wife to walk through the property with us. Hazel’s face lit up as she recounted stories growing up on the small farm. It was like watching the aged Rose tell her story about her voyage on Titanic.
Hazel was remarkably able to walk upstairs to the second level. She showed us a secret – a carving of “1910” scratched into the wall of an upstairs closet. We wondered who was our mystery scribe. The builder? The first owner?
It isn’t every day that you get to meet a previous owner of your home that knows the full history. We considered ourselves very lucky to meet Hazel. She told us where she played, where the outhouse was (and how she hated going out to the outhouse in her little pantaloons as a child), and how a room that looks like an attack was their “summer room” where her whole family would sleep when it was hot because of all of the windows kept the room relatively cool.
Meeting Hazel reminded me of the sweet seniors I would spend my summers with. I plan to visit her at her nursing home and my husband and I would like to invite her to celebrate her 100th Birthday at our house. While this is our first home, and we’re about to start our family here, it has been long lived in by a handful of souls. It was Hazel’s home for 80 years. We hope that this place never stops feeling like home to sweet Hazel.