Not Eudora
By Harry Welty
July 18, 2008

Our Old House

If memory serves my home’s deed shows that it was built in 1914 during Duluth ’s heyday when the City had more millionaires per capita than any other city in the United States . It was the year that the nations of Europe blundered into the Great War further enriching Duluth ’s mine owning elite. Their Mesabi and Vermilion iron still rusts under the soil of French vineyards where it fell as shrapnel and barbwire. Some of it lodged in my Grandfather’s shoulder till the day he died 56 years after hostilities ceased.

If in a fit of modernism I demolished my house and rebuilt it before it hit the century mark some of this past would be lost with little to show for my vanity.

Old houses can be a hassle. Last year I had ours reroofed. The twenty year-old shingles still had some life in them but I didn’t want to wait for a leek. My new shingles are supposed to endure for thirty years and might outlast me.

One thing I didn’t catch in time was my drainage to the City’s sewers. During a fall downpour my son roused me from a sound sleep to tell me that the basement had flooded with sewage. I spent the next miserable day ripping sodden carpeting out and hauling it to be recycled. It was time to remodel the basement and we timed it to coincide with this year’s installation of a sump pump.

From now on the rain from our yard will bypass the city’s sewage system. I asked our plumber if he thought Councilor Jim Stauber was correct when he said that Duluth ’s clay would contain most of the sewage draining from our homes making the replacement of old pipes unnecessary. He showed me the corroded pipe we had dug from under our foundation. Although the pipe was kaput the impermeable clay surrounding it was still channeling water.

We decided that our remodel would include the addition of a second shower after years of getting by with just one. Yippee! We would enter it through a dingy old door we found stored in the attic.

As I prepared to wash it off I found a cryptic list of dates penciled on its side. My contractor surmised that they recorded the delivery dates and weights of coal. Deliveries averaged about 12 tons annually from 1927, the year before my Mother’s birth, to 1943 a few years into a war that slipped through the fingers of the War to end all wars. Three tons of coal was delivered on Dec 5th 1941 , two days before the infamous Sunday of Pearl Harbor.

This house will always remain the home of my children’s memories. At one of my daughter’s birthday parties she invited her friends to explore the crawl space under our sun room. After fifteen minutes of laughing and shrieking she and her friends scrambled out like miners with dust in their noses. They hauled dusty old treasures into the light of day including a wooden barrel left behind from our home’s construction. Her greatest find was a cardboard box mailed to our home back in the coal age. It had given the girls a chill when they shined their flashlights on it. The box had been mailed to a Mrs. Welty forty years before we took up residence.

Since we moved to Duluth in 1974, thirty four years ago, we’ve been the only Welty’s in the phone book. Years before another Welty preceded us to Duluth and not just to the phone book but to the very same home we’ve lived in for twenty years.

Today our home is poised between two diverging neighborhoods. To our east lies some of the grand homes of Duluth’s past and to the west single family homes and duplexes which are giving way to rentals. The boundary betwixt the two is 21st Ave. East . When our home was built horse drawn conveyances traveled up and down its steep slope. Some of the horses stabled in carriage houses which overtime converted to garages.

We’ve met a few of our home’s past owners. A year ago we were charmed by a painting by Duluth talent, David Ericson, who prospered in the years after our house was built. This painting had been the possession of one of our homes previous occupants. We later learned from their daughter who grew up in the house a generation before our daughter that her parents so cherished this painting that they lived without living room furniture in order to pay for it. It hung in an otherwise empty living room for ages.

By coincidence we too had lived without living room furniture for several months after moving in so that we could buy furniture for our children’s rooms. Today our own favorite painting, one of my Mother’s watercolors, hangs on the same wall.

Before we moved to our old home we had the chance to buy newer houses but I balked at this. I’ve always lived in old homes from infancy when my parents lived downstairs and ceded a second floor to a family of squirrels. The houses I’ve lived in all required the occasional fresh coat of paint, new wallpaper, shingles, plumbing or electrical upgrades.

All but one of them still stand with timber felled, bricks fired and foundations laid in a previous century. Their bulk has not been hauled off to a landfill and except for the occasional rehabs they do not require the plundering of additional natural resources. We continue living comfortably with the ghosts of our home’s past that hung paintings, ordered coal and even tossed some cardboard boxes under the crawl space.

Welty is a small time politician who lets it all hang out at: www.lincolndemocrat.com