Blast from the past 9

History is no mystery, at least not when it comes knocking on your door as happened to me today when I opened my door and found an older woman standing there. On the sidewalk were two other women.  It turned out they were sisters.


The brave sister (or perhaps it’s better to say pushy sister) said that she and her sisters had grown up in my house and that, if it was not too much trouble, they’d love to see the place.  Turns out that their grandfather had built the house and lived here until his death.


I was delighted to let them see the house.  They wore their kindness and memories on their face. I like history and wanted to know more about who had lived in this home.


Their grandfather came from Ireland and built my house and the former barn behind it in 1883. He also built the house next door for their uncle.  Their uncle was a fireman as is the man who currently owns the house next door.


In this modest Colonial in Dorchester that my husband and I share alone, their extended family of three sisters, grandpa, mom and dad, and an uncle lived.  They shared the one tiny bath.  Where our half bath on the first floor is , there was a small screened-in porch in their time.  The room that was their shared bedroom is now my study.  The sitting area outside the two second floor bedrooms was their grandfather’s room and they used to have to tip-toe through it  quietly on their way to bed.  In the last year of his life, their grandfather’s bed was moved to the dining room on the first floor.  Their uncle’s bedroom was on the third floor. They spoke with fondness of the banister where treats were hidden among the Christmas decorations.  They confirmed for me that there had never been a fireplace.  (Darn!)


Their mother was born and passed in this house, living here all of her 72 years.


The small house behind ours used to be a barn.  It housed horses, chickens and a pig.  They were thrilled to see the hitching post in front of the house intact, although they never saw a horse hitched to it during their lives, their family having owned an automobile.  This modest house was one of the first on the street and had much more land behind and beside it than it does now. 


Anyhow, they regaled me with a few tales of growing up.  They didn’t stay long, not wanting to impose and on their way “down the Cape.” I told them that the cherry tree that used to be in their uncle’s yard next door had only been chopped down last year or so.  The youngest sister broke her arm swinging from that tree.


I showed them a few glass bottles found on the property and given to me by the previous owners.


Meeting them was a thrill for me.  Now I know two of the families who lived in this house.  The last owner was a contractor with two small children and he did a lot of renovation on the house.  His renovations and the peace and love in this house were evident when my husband and I looked at this house.  This spirit called us back to it and we made an offer. 


This unexpected visit filled in the nearly first 100 years of this house’s history for me.  I hope that they will send me a photo of the house from an earlier time.


Recently a friend in Jamaica Plain sold the house that had been in her family for 90 years.  While she has seemed pretty calm about the decision, I can’t imagine that she doesn’t have some feelings of sorrow at the move especially because she grew up with her siblings in it.


My house is the sphere of my marriage.  It belongs to my husband and me.  Our children come to it as visitors so I do not expect that they will have any feelings of attachment to it.  (Perhaps it will be different for our grandchildren.)


A house is only a home if your dreams and memories live there.  A house can be sold but the claim of others through their memories last forever.





About Candelaria Silva

Candelaria Silva-Collins is a marketing, community outreach and programming consultant; writer; and trainer/facilitator who lives in Boston, Massachusetts. She has designed and facilitated workshops on a wide variety of topics including communication, facilitation, job search skills, team building, and parenting issues. She currently coordinates the Community Membership Program of the Huntington Theatre Company. Her work as Director of ACT Roxbury was profiled in several publications, including The Creative Communities Builders Handbook. Candelaria’s children’s stories, short stories, essays and reviews have been published in local and national publications and she is an active blogger. Her publications include the booklets, Handling Rejection; Pushing through Shyness: Networking Tips when You’re Shy, Slow to Warm Up or Just don’t Feel you Belong; and Real Questions about Sex & Relationships for Teens: A Discussion Guide for Parents. She has served on the boards of Goddard College, Wheelock Family Theatre, Boston Foundation for Architecture, and Discover Roxbury. She is currently Chair, Designators of the Henderson Foundation.

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9 thoughts on “Blast from the past

  • Jim

    Great story and the sensitivity of your last sentence is remarkably true. Seems like we sometimes overlook the memories of others in our determination to own the present.

  • Whalehead King

    We forget how much more dense cities used to be even with the same architecture. Here in New Orleans, “shotgun shacks” are the norm in many neighborhoods, one-story homes with three to six rooms including the bathroom. My wife thinks these are too small for the two of us and doesn’t really want to hear me say that whole extended families used to live in them and, in many cases still do.

    This is a great story and a good reminder to be thankful for the privacy and space we take for granted nowadays. Sometimes too much. Thanks Candelaria. This was a lucky day.

  • Candelaria

    I know those shotgun shacks well,  Space or what is appropriate space is always relative.  The only time our home feels inconvenient for the two of us is when someone spends the night.  It would be nice to have a separate bathroom but it hasn’t really mattered.  No one spends the night who we can’t share our bathroom with.  My sister was fussing about wanting a double oven (instead of the lovely single oven she has).  We then realized that #1 she’d only use it 2-3 times per year and #2 thought about all the great holiday meals my mother cooked in her single oven in  small kitchen.
    Thanks for leaving a comment. We miss you up here.

  • Anali

    Love this story! I often wonder about the people who now live in places that I’ve lived before. It makes me wonder who’s living in the place that I will live in next.

  • Candelaria

    Like you, I often wonder who’s living in the various places I’ve lived.  A couple of years ago, I got to visit my old dorm and found myself saying hello to the young woman I was then.  Thanks for commenting.

  • Joe Jr.

    Candelaria — the woman who rang your doorbell is my aunt, and she just shared your blog with me. You did a wonderful job telling the story of her visit. In fact, my dad (her brother) Joe Sr., grew up in that house, too, so it was actually three sisters and a brother, among other assorted relatives, who lived there all those years.

    I’ve got a lot of fond memories of that place as a grandson who visited his grandmother, great aunts and great uncle there often. Summer nights sitting on the front porch listening to the Red Sox on a small transistor radio. My uncle’s basement hideaway, with his big recliner and small black & white TV, always tuned to a golf match, a Miller High Life by his side. The spotless white kitchen with a vintage enameled table where my grandmother served me the lightest, tastiest scrambled eggs I’ve ever eaten. My brothers and I climbing the ladder into the hay loft of the barn out back, and the sweet smell of saw dust around the old carpentry tools.

    It’s nice to know someone with warmth and intelligence calls that house their home. Keep up the good karma. I just might have to stop by.

  • Candelaria

    How nice to hear from you and to get additional information about the house.  There is nothing like the positive memories of home.  My grandfather built my grandmother’s home in St. Louis and I have lots of memories from there.
    My neighbor who occupies the renovated barn will be pleased to hear about this as well.
    Please let me know when you’re in town and come by for a visit.