Tuesday, September 29, 2015

This Old House


An-di-fan, soon to be someone else's house of tranquility.

I never had a home town, but I always had this house.

My grandmother moved into the house on Baker Street in 1945. She'd been widowed for a year, and had decided to return to McMinnville to teach at Linfield College, where her husband had been president in the 1930s. Now, at the age of 54 (my age now), and for the first time in her adult life, she needed a house that was not provided by my grandfather's employment. The house on Baker Street had been built forty years earlier, and had been the home of a botanist. It stood on a double lot, the huge back garden filled with mature flora that he had planted. It had, the realtor told her, a good hearth, and this was important to her as she entered this new phase of her life.

She named it "An-di-fan," after the name she and my grandfather took as missionaries in Shanghai. It was something of a pun on our Swedish family name of "Anderson," and meant "house of peace" or "house of tranquility" (I've seen "An" translated both ways) in Mandarin, a language in which she was fluent. During the forty-three years she made this her home, she was both a professor and college administrator, a world traveler, a writer of inspirational books, matron of the McMinnville American Baptist Church, hostess to international students, and, not least, my grandmother.

I loved visiting this house. As far and wide as my family traveled--for my father, like my grandfather, moved wherever his work as a pastor took him--we always had An-di-fan as a constant. And it was a place of wonders, every room filled with Chinese knick-knacks, antique gadgets, vintage Life magazines, and so much more. That huge back garden was a perfect place to play hide-and-seek, to pick cherries, or just to read a book on a hot summer day. At the heart of it all, though, was Grandma. She traveled often to see us, but it was always better to see her in her home.

She lived there until she died there, in her own bed, in 1988. Two years later, my father retired from ministry, and my parents moved into An-di-fan.

They made it their own, renovating the house extensively. It had fallen into disrepair in the later years of my grandmother's life. The appliances were hopelessly outdated, the dark wood finish throughout the downstairs was depressing, and much of the garden needed to be uprooted. This became my father's retirement project, and today, every room bears the stamp of his ingenuity. He already knew how to do most of the work required, and anything he didn't know, he taught himself. He refinished, painted, wallpapered, rebuilt, until my grandmother's ghost could rest, and the house was unquestionably my parents'. 

For twenty-four years, he lived there with my mother. During that time, my brothers and I and our spouses and children came and went, almost all of us spending at least some time living in the house. In the last decade, poor health began to take a toll on Dad's ability to maintain the house, and now our visits and stays came with chores. The garden had to be tended, the vegetable and fruit beds weeded, the produce harvested, the lawns seeded, watered, and cut, the bind-weed pulled again and again. In the house, there was always something that needed doing. Our father's decline meant that, toward the end, our visits were more and more vital to keeping the house going. And then, last December, just hours after seeing all his sons and daughters-in-law, and almost all his grandchildren, for one final Christmas party, my father died, as his mother had, in his own bed, in the house he loved so well.

And so it's on the market. The House of An, the one place that has always been there, wherever else I may have laid my head, will soon pass to another family. Children I don't know will run up and down the stairs, hide in the closets, watch TV in the den, have dinner in the dining room, breakfast in the nook, play in the enormous back yard. Their parents will sit in front of the fireplace, the good hearth that warmed my grandmother in her time of greatest loss holding Yule logs for them. Someday, their grandchildren may come to see them in this old house, just as my brothers and I once did.

Once it's sold, I probably won't be going back to McMinnville for a very long time. My mother will be living somewhere else--probably Wilsonville--and our family gatherings will, of course, have to be somewhere else, too. She'll still have the grand old dining table we've always shared holiday meals over, so most likely we'll be coming together in her new home for that. I won't miss McMinnville too much--I only actually lived in the town for a little over a year, in the late 1990s--but the house, oh, the house, the House of An, I will grieve for the rest of my life.

Goodbye, old house. If the next family to live within your walls experiences even a fraction of the love my family has there, they will be well blessed by your shelter.

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