In every place I’ve lived, I think about the people who created a life in the home before we did. We moved to our current house in 2001, when our son was a few months old. Soon after, we began pondering the renovations, patches and upgrades to the property since construction on it started in the late 1920s. As with most older Mt. Lebanon homes, some of the changes made sense and others were perplexing—a common experience, I’m sure.
One New Year’s Day, when my son was 2, I was feeding him in the kitchen high chair when I heard a car door. My husband, Myles, had run to work quickly but I thought he had returned. In my front yard stood an older man taking photos of the house. Almost annoyed, I asked if I could help him.
“My father built this house when I was 15 and I haven’t been back since,” he said wistfully, and I instantly felt like a jerk.
“Come on in!” I said without hesitation. He asked if he could bring his girlfriend, motioning toward a silver-haired lady in the car.
As we walked around the house, he was the perfect historian, telling me they used to flood the side porch (now our office) in the winter to ice skate on it. Their toy trains were set up in the finished attic, right where my son’s were. They made hooch in the basement, exactly where my husband was making beer. He told us all the places they had to cut corners because of the Depression, as his father worked as one of the first salespeople for KDKA radio. A portico took the place of an intended front coat closet and powder room. A master bath became the shared bath for all bedrooms.
A pantry and first-floor powder room that I would’ve sworn were additions were original. I watched his eyes drop viewing his large, open backyard cut short by homes built on the street behind us. “There was nothing back there,” he said sadly.
When we were chatting upstairs, my husband did come home, to find our son still in his high chair, talking with an unknown elderly woman—in hindsight, not one of my better parenting moments. Thankfully, they were a lovely couple, we learned much about the bones of our home, and we connected later for our own set of blueprints.
Get hints for preserving the historic elements of your home in Merle Jantz’s story.
Since we met that first resident, we have been fortunate to meet others who have lived there. We will continue to welcome its former families, as they offer critical keys to the past. The walkthroughs also seem to spark warm nostalgia, even if that means some sadness as well.
I wonder if the current owners of our first home would be OK if we knocked? It would give us an opportunity to apologize for the perplexing things we added!