927 Delaware

 

Life is a watercolor painting.
Watercolor on antique, faded wallpaper.
It is colors swirling with memories –
a brush across the canvas –
an image of a memory faded over decades.
It is gray shingles
and pink trim
and rose bushes blooming
in front of a slanting screen porch.
It is my grandma’s house.

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I am from a family of keepers.

We are collectors and we have been molded by our family history to be thus.  We have been surrounded by trinkets and knickknacks and mementos for as long as we can recall.

My grandma (or “gramma” as she preferred it to be spelled) had a drawer of rubber bands, an abundance of sugar packets in her purse, and baby jars filled with an assortment of items.  She had a medicine cabinet of old lipsticks and tiny, glass perfume bottles.  A buffet stuffed with curiosities – buttons and flash bulbs and cards and old glasses and marbles and wooden nickels and tiny plastic tiddliwinks.

What began deep in the Dirty Thirties as a fundamental need to hold on to things grew into a lifetime of keeping and chronicling time using artifacts.  And this keeping was coupled with ingenuity and creativity.  No room was void of something that had been crafted by my grandmother’s hands.  Dressers, an armoire, clothing hooks, pretty dresses, and a variety of other handmade necessities filled this house on Delaware.

When I was small, my grandparents’ house was love.  It was a place where people gathered, where Santa came to visit, and where our family memories lived and breathed.  My grandfather was a stern yet warm man who smoked too much, coughed too much, and loved us in laughter and stories.  I would give anything to know my grandfather as an adult – to look into his amazing blue eyes and hear his stories now, but life never asked what I wanted.  My grandmother was everyone’s grandmother.  All knew her to be kind and loving and witty – she was the lady on Delaware who rode her bike and waved – she was the sweet smile watching from the porch as children and families walked by – she was liked and known by all who met her.  Many did not know that she was an artist.  Charcoals and watercolors, landscapes and horses.   My gramma was a keeper because everything was beautiful to her.  She had a way of making you feel loved and beautiful with just a grin.  My grandfather’s work shirt from decades long before became a regular part of my grandmother’s wardrobe after his death.  It was a way for her to hold on, a comfort to keep him near.  And this was how my life – at least in part – was shaped by the keeping.  It was a necessary part of remembering.

Sometimes people don’t understand the keeping.  Sometimes they don’t see its value.  A few years after my grandmother’s death, someone decided to break in.  In their eyes what we had kept was for their taking.  The items left behind weren’t memories, they weren’t stories; they were an easy fix for fast cash to some stranger.

And so, on that fateful night a few years ago when thieves chose my grandparents’ lonely house as an easy target, they didn’t simply steal priceless items.  Instead, they plundered our history.  They didn’t steal objects that had a monetary value to us, but rather a wealth of stories and a history of keeping.  We cried because we had lost connections to the past – and we cried because we were never able to pass along the stories that surrounded those objects.  We didn’t get the chance to look the new owners in the eye and show them the magic of those items.

Now I suppose it is time to be honest with anyone reading this.  I do have an ulterior motive for writing.  It is because I know that the public understanding of our family memories and connections to this place have been almost completely lost or forgotten over time.  For many years after my grandmother’s death, people would stop us and ask about the house – about her.  They would pause to tell stories of barbecues and card games and dancing and laughter.  But, just like any memory, the passage of time begins to smudge the details.  The watercolors fade around the edges of the painting until all that remains is a muted hint of what once was.

To many in the community, this house is one of mystery and confusion.  It sits on a busy street and people pass it often, sometimes they barely even notice that it’s there.  And other times they slow their pace to stare and wonder.   College students walk through the yard and speculate about the former occupants.   And many people assume it is due to abandonment or apathy that the house continues to stand alone in the middle of a busy space.  But this couldn’t be more removed from the truth.  The truth is that we all care too much.  We all feel the presence of this house and what once was, but collectively we have not been able to move forward for a very long time.  Because what is moving forward?  Would it mean destroying a history that had been built by our family’s hands over time?  What would that mean and would it equate to wiping out all those eras of keeping?

The truth is that every person walks through grief and memory in a unique way.  And every family holds on to emotions and history in its own way.  It is easy to trivialize this process.  It is easy to dismiss the emotions of another person because their path does not run parallel to our own.  But it is also easy to get stuck – to not want to let go because holding on is comfortable and familiar.  It is not easy to be a keeper, especially when it’s time to let go.  And it is not easy to understand the keeping when someone has let go.

And so, how does a family let go of the place where all of the memories have been kept?  How do we watch it fade into memory?

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It is not through the walls or the floors or the murals painted inside, but rather the stories and the love and spirit that have been passed to each of us.  We are all a part of this place and that will never change.  But we are so much more.  We are a family of loving, passionate, creative and strong individuals.  We are spirited and brave and happy.  We value the weight of history and allow it to carry us into the unknown future.  I am from a family of keepers.  Where faith and family and love are what keep us together.  I am from a family of keepers.  We are not defined by a place or items, but rather of how they have kept us together.

I am from a family of keepers.

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927 Delaware was owned by Edward N. Mann and E. Nadeen Mann.
They raised three daughters there – Connie, Deborah and Judith.
The property has been sold to York College
and will be torn down in the upcoming weeks.
As you pass by the space today, tomorrow or in the future,
all I ask is that you take a moment to breathe.
Take a moment to say a prayer of gratitude,
to tell someone you love them,
or to look at the sky and revel in God’s beautiful world.
Life truly is a watercolor painting.

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30 thoughts on “927 Delaware

  1. To the family of Nadean Mann. As you know, Nadean and my dad were first cousins. I remember her well. She was a kind and loving person. Her smile would light up a room and any space she was in. I, for one, will miss her little house as we occasionally drive by and it brings back memories of Nadean and Ed. God Bless you all.

  2. The McBride family knew and loved your ‘gramma’. We lived down the street on 10th street from her. I can best describe her as a gentle soul. One day a knock on our door and there she was with our puppy that had run away. I used to marvel at her hair and thought it was beautiful then and how beautiful it must have been in her younger years. Quite often she wore the long denim shirt with the embroidered flowers on it. Your gramma was a special lady and our prayer is that our grandchildren hold as cherished memories of us as you have for her.
    Tom and Darcy McBride

  3. Loved that home
    Too bad the college got it
    Your grama always had it going on:)
    Loved watching her always being busy
    Outside 🙂
    Hold onto your memories 🙂

  4. I’ve lived in York as a student and community member on and off for the last 30 years. I’ve walked passed the house often and wondered about the family. Thank you for sharing this story. I will pray for your family during this time of letting go and reliving of lose. I will pray for you in the future when I pass the corner, because for me the house will always be there.

  5. I knew your Gramma and have some of the same memories as you – her kindness, riding her bike, wearing the big plaid shirt. I was in her house a couple of times (Connie and I were classmates) and I remember thinking “for an old house it sure is warm and inviting in here.” What a wonderful tribute to your family and “the house.”

  6. Thank you for this. I did not know your family, but I knew this house. I have fond memories of walking past it on my way to school from 1st grade on. Then, many more from college days walking to and from chapel. I know this deep keeping. I know this attachment to place, to wooden doors, metal knobs and even sidewalk cracks. I know our world moves on. But the Keepers must not only keep, but also tell the story… as you have done… here, and beautifully. Thank-you, thank-you for this gift!

  7. I have been a York College professor for 32 years. This is a very touching and wonderful peek into your life and heart. If you can help me think of a creative way to try to preserve any part of the memories, please let me know. You may reach me at croush@york.edu Thank you for this!

  8. My boys both attended York College and we often wondered about that house when we visited. I am pleased to see the joy that the family home brought you. God Bless.

  9. What a beautiful tribute to your Gramma, and to preserve this here for your family!
    Lived in York from 1975-1980 and went to York College for my Freshman year.
    Thank you for sharing it with us.

  10. What a wonderful tribute to a great old house. I lived in the little white house just to the west of your grammas house for almost two years. I watched it from my kitchen window and wondered… I wondered what it looked like inside, what curiosities and secrets it held? The laughter, joy, and maybe sadness that echoed in it’s rooms. It was like a doll house… just waiting for some special person to come and play with it again. I watched as fall turned into winter and the branches of the bushes became a haven for small critters during the snows, and then in the spring I rejoiced when the lilac began to bud and bloom. What a beautiful sight and smell! I often snitched the blooms. I remember walking past it when I was a student at York College… as it was the beacon on the street that told me I was just a little closer to turning away from the cold instead of into it! I too recently had to watch as my G’ma’s house changed hands and I understand your heartache. I appreciate your words and feelings of having to say a more permanent goodbye to something so pivotal in your family history. Thank you for sharing — and giving us a glimpse into the ‘inside’ of that special house. It will be remembered by 100’s if not 1000’s of people who have walked that sidewalk and I hope someone may rescue a part of that lilac!

    • Thank you so much for your words! I am so happy that this piece has impacted you and and others. And yes, those lilacs….those beautifully, fragrant lilacs. Love them!

  11. I went to school in York from 1967 through 1982 to include York High School and York College, Many days I rode my bicycle across Delaware back and forth and always saw your family, sharing love, happy times and memories. Having met your Gramma and aunts, I remember them as busy and kind ladies. Memories are best kept in the heart and some shared with others. Hopefully you will find a window or a hidden treasure like a pitcher or a kitchen item to be remembered at York College so the students can appreciate the heritage in the community.

  12. I loved walking by that little house during my time on campus. It reminded me of the town I grew up in and the many little houses like it in my neighborhood that held many wonderful memories of the people who lived there.

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