I’ll admit that I was nervous. The night before, I made sure the floors were spotless. I pulled all the weeds. I roped a friend into a Sunday afternoon of spraying white paint on the railings leading up to the front door. Moments before she arrived, I stood for a moment on the sidewalk to make sure the lines in the mowed lawn were straight.
I wanted her to like it. It was her home, after all, for 60 years. It was her house before I bought it and started tearing up carpet and painting the living room walls Hague Blue and before I learned that there are 100 shades of taupe.
I was going to order takeout for our planned lunch at the house because it was a weekday and my schedule was busy. But it didn’t feel right. So, I woke up early and went out to the garden to pull radishes and cut lettuce for a salad and I drove home 20 minutes before she arrived to whip up mini blue cheese souffles.
I heard about Fran Hansen as soon as I moved into the house. A quirk of older homes in the Quad-Cities is that, to others, your house is not yours until you move out. Fran and I joked about this as we stood in the foyer. She lived in the house for decades and people still referred to it as the Charles’ house. It wasn’t until I moved in, that people started calling it the Hansen house.
While I was setting the table and fussing over which seat would give her the best impression of the dining room, Fran was on her way and preparing herself not to like what I had done with the house, she told me later.
She looked around and said she liked it. “I understand you,” she said. We were standing in the living room talking through the changes and she saw the stereo table I made out of old wooden printers drawers found in a newspaper warehouse years ago. She showed me the wooden purse she made out of an old sewing box.
I gave her a tour of the rooms and she told me the glass doorknobs were in the house before she bought it in the 1950s. She showed me the things she had changed when she moved in to make it her own – replacing the wallpaper, filling the rooms with carefully chosen antiques. She showed me the bookcases put in by the previous owners in the 1940s and the changes she and her husband made to the fireplace mantle in the decades since.
“It took 16 rolls of wallpaper to cover that room,” she said.
“It took me months to take that wallpaper down,” I said. We both laughed. “I feel like I got to know you during those long hours of steaming and scraping wallpaper,” I said.
As we ate the souffles and salad, Fran told me some of the history of Davenport and Bettendorf as she remembered living it – memories of landmarks, stories of shopping at department stores downtown. But mostly we talked about the house. The rooms, the creaks, the yard, the neighbors.
We said goodbye after lunch, my hand on the newly painted white railing. She admitted it had been an emotional day and she was ready to rest, but we would talk more on future visits. She looked forward to our friendship, she said.
When I came back home that night after work, I noticed her visit had an interesting effect on me. It changed the way I saw the house. Seeing it through the former owner’s eyes made it feel more like home, even if it won’t really be mine until I leave it.