by Denise Dykstra
When we moved into town, we moved into a very iconic home.
Have you ever watched that show on HGTV called “Hometown?” The stars of the show, Ben and Erin Napier, take a prospective home buyer around town and introduce them to a house they are about to look at by saying, “This is the Smith house, the Smiths owned this home for 40 years and ran the train car diner in town” or something like that.
I always love hearing the back stories of the homes.
Wanting to know the stories could be because I myself grew up in an old school house, in a community that does not exist any longer. Or is it just could be my love of a good story? Either way, I am always sucked into a good back story of a house.
So, I think it was God’s way of giving me an extra special gift when we moved into our iconic home.
We did not know the previous owners of our home. But it took about a day before we began to hear the stories.
The home we bought had been the home of one couple, Lawrence and Adelene VanDerMolen, for around 50 years. They had sold it in an auction, and the new owner had never moved into it, not sure what to do with the house. He ended up selling it, and we happened to be the family that purchased it.
When we called the local insurance agency to purchase home insurance, they asked if the hot tub was still in the living room. It was. It is not any longer.
When we told people our address, they immediately told us about the swimming lessons they had had in the backyard pool, or the car shows held in the back yard or the auction sale we had not been interested in attending. It was more common to hear a memory about our home than not.
All over the home, we could see it had been loved. That, mixed with all the stories, had me writing a note to the previous owners. I delivered it to the insurance agency. “You don’t have to do this, but here is a letter that is stamped, and just waiting for an address. If anyone happens to know where the previous owners of our home live now, could you send this to them, please?”
A week later, I received a phone call. A woman gushed over the phone how she was so happy to receive my note. A few conversations later, the couple arrived at their old house to see our new home.
I’ll admit, I was nervous to have them come see their old place. I worried it would be hard on them, seeing the house they had built as a newly married couple now inhabited by another family. Instead, they wrapped us up in hugs, told us what a wonderful job we were doing, and told us story after story of the house that was their home.
Over the years, we went back and forth visiting each other. They would wait on their front porch for us to arrive, waving with both arms in greeting when they caught sight of us. Whenever we parted ways, we were hugged hard and told “to be sure to visit again soon”. We heard countless stories of the town we now lived in, of the adventures that transpired years ago in our home and they celebrated with us whenever something new happened in our lives as well. She regularly had me “put that picture on my (her) phone!” so she could show others our family photo, or a photo of something we had done at their old house, such as the window boxes blooming.
They were old and not in good health. The text informing me that she had passed that morning should not have shocked me. But it did.
That day, I wandered around what had once been her home. I began pulling pots out of the cupboard and making up supper as she had done hundreds of times in much the same way I was now. I sat on the couch and looked around at all the over the top touches this couple had put on this home, and I missed her more than I thought I could have. What a gift they had given us in their friendship!
We attended the funeral. The husband’s dementia and sadness was hard to see. Not a family member, not a part of their church circle, merely someone who bought their old place, we quietly gazed at photos and tried to place their location in our home. But as we greeted those around us, the names brought back the memories. “I have heard of you!” I would say in surprise. “You are the one who would snowmobile in the backyard!”
“Yes!” they would grin, and then tell me a story that was just as over the top as the stories we had been told these past few years.
Over the course of time spent at the funeral home, we laughed as we met more and more of the family and friends we had recalled stories of over the years. “It’s you!” people would say in surprise, “The ones who bought the house! Oh, we loved that house!”
The feeling was like finding out your favorite fictional series was actually true, and you were meeting all the characters in real life.
What I would give to hear a phone call again where she loudly said to me, “Oh, honey! I just can’t wait for you kids to come visit us!” What I would give for the big hugs, and the big stories, one more time.
But what a gift this couple gave us, pulling us in and sharing the history and love this house we now call home, had. What an honor to continue the tradition!
However, I am glad the hot tub is no longer in the living room.
Their house is now our home, but their friendship has meant more to us than this house ever could. What a gift. What a great story we get to pass on, just as over the top as the stories we were told.