Several weeks ago, when I wrote an excessively wordy reflection about evil glee sledgehammering and other delights, there were many lovely reader comments — very thoughtful responses, which kind of got to the heart of the issue much better than I did. The issue being, how we can respect and show gratitude for our vintage homes and the tastes of their previous owners, at the same time we make them our own. Here is one such story: Dawn tells us about her house… its longtime owner Miss Jean… and Miss Jean’s rose bush. Dawn writes:

I absolutely love my house. Like, I am IN love with my house. To the point that most of my friends and family think I have lost a few marbles.

I have a great love and respect for her and the families she has served.

Built in 1959 I researched and feel I know BOTH previous owners. The original was the builder. And he indeed built a solid fine house. Seven years later he sold it to his daughter’s mother-in-law. Still in the family!

I bought the home from Miss Jean. This is what I call her. I absolutely feel she is in every corner of this house. She owned this house for 52 years. She LOVED this house. Her husband and she bought this house when he returned from the war. He had polio. And he died in this house in 1988. She lived here alone in the house she loved without her husband. By all accounts she was feisty and fiercely independent. I love this. For I am the same way! She was forced out of this house due to old age and Alzheimers. And it was so much a part of her that one year later, she passed away and her funeral procession went by the house.

In my heart, this will always be mine AND Miss Jean’s house. I share it with her willingly and with love. I have updated it slightly. Always thinking to myself, “I hope Miss Jean likes this!” I ripped up her carpets. And I felt bad. But I also asked her forgiveness.

Carpets do not fit my two dog and one cat lifestyle. Miss Jean is probably cringing up there thinking of my dogs in her house. LOL.

After living here a year I feel good. My house is a mix of old and new. Because that’s who I am, too. Jean was the old. I am the new. And I don’t think there is one thing wrong about blending our two lives and styles.

The point of this rambling mess is this. It IS my house, and I can and will do what makes ME happy, but part of what makes me happy is thinking about what Miss Jean liked and what would make HER happy. I honor her because she honored this house.

This year on the one-year anniversary of her death, I took a clipping from her rose bush out to her grave site. When I first moved here I started hacking away at the darn thing because I didn’t know what it was and it was horribly over grown. My neighbor came over to tell me to stop. She said that gets BEAUTIFUL in the spring!

She is right. It does. Its over grown. It sits to close now to the driveway so we can’t park there. But, well, Miss Jean planted it God knows how long ago, and it’s absolutely gorgeous in full bloom.

What I once hated I have now grown to love…

Thank you, Dawn. <3 And thank you, dear readers, for all your thoughtful comments.

  1. Dawn says:

    Thank you everyone for the comments! I do appreciate it. I have to laugh at some of them though because yard obsession must have been REALLY big with some of our previous owners.

    I have been told by numerous sources that Miss Jean mowed her yard DAILY. DAILY!?!?! She loved her yard for sure. We felt bad when we moved in because we only mowed once a week. I laughed with my husband and said “Man. The neighbors are really gonna hate us!”

    I do know the rose bush needs professionally pruned and it really does need relocated. Its gotten way too big for that spot. But, I just moved one of Miss Jeans Hydrangea bushes this spring and it did not do well. So now I am very hesitant to move the rose bushes…

    We recently also removed several pine bushes from under the windows. They were not doing well at all. It really hurt me to remove them because I know she loved them and took care of them for 50 years, but, well, it was a compromise me and Miss Jean just have to make.

    Thanks for all the comments. It is so nice to know I am not a lone in my thoughts and feelings for a house I love and a woman I never met. (I did meet her son though and her best friend and both of them assured me Miss Jean would have gotten a “kick” out of me!) Hah…

  2. IMissLiberty says:

    I’m typing this with tears on my cheeks.

    Of course, I bought my 1956 house from the bank that foreclosed on the local meth user, and before he used meth, he repaired cars in the yard, so I’m busy sifting loads of gravel out of the soil so I can get a shovel into it.

    On the other hand, I have a clean slate. Plus, I feel like I’m bringing life back, not only to my house, but to the neighborhood. And the neighbors are happy.

    1. Anne-Marie says:

      I am cleaning up a meth house too! Well, it was cleaned before we moved in, so we moved into a very very sterile house. We have been here two years. Slowly slowly life is returning.

  3. Nina462 says:

    Nice story. Could be mine, as well. The lady who built her “dream home” is now my “dream home”. She was a single lady – as am I. She had what must have been a nice day lily garden, as they come up ever spring. The neighbors say she did. I found the original house plans in the basement, with her specifications. I am the 3rd owner of this house (the 2nd owners were a young couple, only for 1 year). When the original owner passed away – I saw the notice in the paper, and wrote to her brother, telling him that the house was my dream home. He called and we chatted for about an hour. He said if he found any pictures in her remains, that he would send them my way. It’s been 2 years, and I don’t think he’ll send pictures – but it was nice to find out little details about how she used the house. The only changes are: new windows (which I regret I had installed- but that’s another story); some tree removal; and a new deck out back (which I would like to take out).

    P.S. My Mom has a huge rose bush – from her Aunt’s house, that must now be over 100 years old – grows big and lush every year. Someday it’ll find it’s way over her as a shoot – to go with the snowball bush from Grandpa’s house.

    Keep the rose bush alive & thriving 🙂

  4. So beautifully written and thoughtful. I think that Miss Jean would be touched to read what was written here. I also have a Miss Jean. She lives next door to us and has lived there since she was a small girl in the 1940’s. She lived there with her parents and since their passing, she lives there on her own. We live in such an expendable society these days. I think it’s really touching to see homes loved and lived in for decade after decade and then passed down to be loved and lived in some more.

  5. JKM says:

    What a thoughtful and touching story! My mother was a Southern lady who had a green thumb and could be sentimental about plants, which I thought was odd as a child in the 1960’s but grew to appreciate as I got older. We lived in two houses as I grew up – one built in the mid-1960’s and the next in the early 1970’s – and she moved certain plants and cuttings from one house to the next. I remember thinking “Why doesn’t she just buy new?” and also remember the landscaper at the new house getting a little annoyed with her for wanting to include her transplants in his state-of-the-art design plan. We had altheas from her grandparents’ home, roses from her aunt’s home and spider liles from a friend’s home. All gorgeous but considered “old fashioned” in our comfortable 1970’s neighborhood. She didn’t care because all meant something to her – and reminded her of earlier times and people she loved. I admire her for that now. I’m getting teary-eyed thinking of her and those simple plants from a long time ago, all of which are probably gone. Thank you for thinking of Miss Jean.

    1. JKM says:

      I forgot to add that, like Miss Jean’s Rose Bush, the plants we had that she’d gotten from someone else were always referred to by that person’s name – as in “Go water Mama’s Altheas.” They were never ours! I suppose we were stewards.

      1. Dawn says:

        I tend to talk to Miss Jean a lot. I am not sure why. I still call this her house and I always say “I hope you like that Miss Jean”. Its just a habit now. I am sure its an odd one, but I am an odd girl, living in a 1959 Pink stucco house, so it fits!

  6. Barb says:

    I love my house, too. We bought it from the builder’s wife, Mary. She is from Croatia and her husband built it for her. I luckily have a neighbor who grew up next door, watched the house being built and still lives there. Their children went to school and played together.

    It came with a rose bush a good 8 feet tall. I pruned it heavily and it’s been flowering beautifully. It’s been here since the house was built in 1961. It’ll be here a good while longer. It’s a Mamie Pink rugosa, of course. Just a couple of weeks ago, my neighbor commented on it. It felt so good to have my neighbor admire the rose bush … I knew it was her backhanded way of saying I was doing ok with the house. I’ve added my mother’s white peony (all the way from Kansas, via my brother’s house then my last house), so our brick house, so similar to the one I grew up in back in Kansas, has a bit of my history and Mary’s.

    I’ve finally just started (after almost 2 years) to think of the house as mine. I know I’ll never forget it’s heritage. And my neighbor has given me pictures of it’s history, that will be going on our wall.

  7. Noir says:

    What a beautiful story. My Miss Jean would be my grandmother, who loved her 1954 home, and kept her favorite rose variety growing in the back yard. When I inherited the house that rose had grown as tall as the roof line and fully covered a set of windows. (grandma wasn’t able to keep it trimmed very well in her declining years). We pruned it back so far I was afraid for a week or so that we may have been too aggressive, but it’s already growing again. Roses are pretty hardy, and I’m so glad it’s coming back. I even went looking to see if that particular variety is still available I was so worried.

  8. Dawn says:

    Such lovely stories! It is so nice to know I am not alone in my infatuation not only with my house, but her history.

    I researched the builder and Miss Jean. I think if I didn’t know how much she loved this place I wouldnt have, but I knew it from the moment I met her son at the closing. We have stayed in touch with him. I was so sad when I heard she had passed away just two months after we bought her house.

    Her best friend Miss Wanda lives across the street from us. She too is an original owner. She is in her late 80’s and as feisty as ever. She tells me all the time that Miss Jean would get a “Kick” out of me. I hope so. I really do.

    Its so nice living in an established neighborhood with people who knew my Miss Jean well. They have shared so much of her with me and that has helped me feel I really know her.

    I am told Miss Jean mowed her yard DAILY. 1.2 acres, DAILY. When we moved in I could just hear the neighbors cringe. NO WAY am I mowing my yard daily. I am sure they were thinking “There goes the neighborhood” Hah…

    Anyway, thanks for all the comments. I originally posted this in response to Pam posting about guilt and remodeling. And it just touched me so much. Home ownership is so different for everyone. And no one should ever feel guilty. I have found my balance between me and Miss Jean. I hope everyone finds theirs too!

  9. Elaine says:

    Beautiful stories!

    I feel the same about my 1963 time capsule built by Granddad (not my granddad, the sellers’ ). He and Aunt June lived there. We got all the original furniture, drapes and lighting. We immediately ripped out the worn shag carpet and took out a wall to rearrange the kitchen and open it to the living room, but once we did that, I wanted to make sure Granddad and Aunt June would approve, so I invited the sellers (the two grandsons) over to see it. They loved it.

    Their parents had lived there close to twenty years after Granddad died and they didn’t change much about the house. Dad Bill was very fussy about his lawn and flowers, and those had gone away in the five years the house stood empty after he died.

    So, if I do anything in the house, I talk to Granddad, and outside the house, I talk to Bill. I have promised Bill I won’t cut the beautiful huge magnolia tree no matter how much my lawn caretaker complains about the leaves.

    One of the grandsons still comes by on Saturdays to feed the birds and squirrels in the yard. There are white squirrels about which he feels quite possessive.

    People live their lives in these houses, it makes sense to me they leave something of themselves when they move on, even if it is only the thought they put into making the house their home.

  10. Mark E. says:

    It makes me sad to know that in not too many more years it will be impossible to find mid-century, original owner homes. Those years were such hopeful, uplifting times. People were grateful and thankful for what they had. They worked hard for their homes, stayed a long time and TOOK LOVING CARE of them. Today’s discontentment and sense of entitlement keeps so many people moving out and up (at least until recently) so that many properties have had 3, 4, or 5 owners before they are 20 years old!

    1. Dawn says:

      I absolutely agree! I feel lucky. About HALF of our neighborhood are still original owners. But they are easily in their late 80’s and early 90’s. The rest are newer, younger families. And sadly, a few have become rentals. In the next ten years I imagine all the original owners will sell for obvious reasons…And the trend among my generation is buy new. Buy bigger.

      An interesting story for me was last summer we had a yard sale. A man stopped by and said he really just wanted to see our house. Apparently he and his wife looked at this house when it went on the market. He loved it. She did not. He said she could not get past the “Old” ness of it. The orange, yellow and blue carpets, the paneling and the pink stucco.

      I told him then his loss was my gain because she could have changed every one of those things and it made me sad that she had absolutely no vision…But she probably would have gutted this place…

      I have no doubt I got this house on the first try, for an unbelievably great price because Miss Jean wanted me to have this house…

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