“Congratulations, Mr and Mrs Robinson, I am sure you will be very happy in your new home. So full of character, plus you have the detached garage at the rear.” The agent gave them one of his best pasted on smiles as he handed them the keys.
The young newlyweds, just back from their honeymoon, stood on the doorstep of their Victorian terraced house. Anna couldn’t control the huge smile on her face.
“Oh, Colin, I’m so excited. Our own little house. I can’t wait to start decorating it.”
“Well, let’s get in first. Ready?”
He unlocked and opened the door then turned to pick up his new wife.
“Tradition says that I carry you over the threshold so, my darling Mrs. Robinson, alez-up.”
Inside, he carefully put her down and they looked around.
“It looks a bit darker than what I remember,” Anna said, as she did a 360 in the hallway. “And there is a bit of a pong too, but we’ll soon brighten it all up. It’s amazing what a bit of paint will do.”
“We’re lucky that we don’t need to move in straight away so we’ve got plenty of time to make it all lovely.”
“I’m so glad we bought this old place, Colin. It must have so much history. If only the walls could talk.”
“Funny you should say that,” thought the house. “My walls can actually talk, but not in a language you can hear or understand.”
Anna and Colin busied themselves over the following days with cleaning tools, paintbrushes, wallpaper, saws, hammers and nails. Their plan was to move in before the end the month when their furniture was due to arrive. They had been making appropriate purchases prior to their wedding and had everything in storage while they stayed in a furnished rental apartment.
Scraping old wallpaper off the wall in the living room, Anna found a particularly hideous old pattern.
“Colin, come and look at this old paper.”
“Oh, that would be the O’Brien family,” thought the house. “They were the first family to move in here back in 1893. I believe Mr. O’Brien was a supervisor or manager at the big mill that used to be in the village. A very nice family with six children. You can imagine the noise that they created. But, they did have a lot of fun times.
“That wallpaper you see was all the rage at the time. Of course, I was just happy to have my bare walls covered up. It made them feel so much warmer. I suppose the dark roses might seem a little old fashioned now but, let me tell you, Mr. and Mrs. O’Brien were ones for politeness, decorum and setting a good example. They often had visitors who used to compliment them on the décor.
“There was a piano against the back wall and the fireplace always had a roaring fire in it. Mrs. O’Brien was an excellent pianist and she taught all the children to play too. They had regular sing-alongs, particularly on Sunday evenings. Mostly hymns but some popular tunes as well.
“Mrs. O’Brien was also a very good cook. There was always the smell of freshly baked bread or scones wafting around. Mealtimes were always an adventure but the children were kept in check and were very polite. They were a lovely family.
“Unfortunately, Mr. O’Brien died of a heart attack in 1914 and the two oldest boys never returned from the war. Mrs. O’Brien carried on as best she could but she was never the same. One by one the other children found spouses and moved out and then Mrs. O’Brien died in 1923. Such a shame. I did like that first family.”
“Hey, Anna. Come and look at what I’ve found under the stairs.” Colin held a torch and pointed her towards a painting lying on its side.
“Drag it out, Colin. Let’s have a good look at it.”
Colin carefully pulled the picture out into the hallway.
“Why, it’s a picture of this house,” Anna exclaimed. “Wow, that is amazing. We could get that cleaned up and hang it again.”
“That,” thought the house, “was painted by Miss Ermintrude Shockley. She lived here with her sister Gloria until 1949. “Ermintrude was a very talented painter and Gloria was a writer. Mostly short stories, but a couple of books as well.
“They were a little eccentric, keeping themselves to themselves and were well known around the village. They didn’t seem to have any family or real friends, only acquaintances. Visitors seemed to only want them to donate items to the local fetes or support other charitable affairs. A cup of tea, a slice of cake and a short, polite conversation usually satisfied the caller.
“Of course, there were no gentlemen callers. Well, only gentlemen who wanted to buy a painting or, once, an agent from a publisher wanting to offer a contract to Gloria. None of them were offered the tea and cakes. But Gloria did get her books published. I’m not sure what happened to them afterwards.
“The painting, though, used to hang on the wall in the hallway until… Well, it’s rather sad really. Because of a paucity of coal after the war the sisters started burning wood and charcoal in the fireplace. That caused a build up inside the chimney, which led to carbon monoxide escaping into the room. The sisters had nodded off one afternoon and succumbed to the carbon monoxide poisoning.
“When they didn’t attend church as usual on the following Sunday, the Vicar called round to see if they were ok. He looked through the window, knocked but got no response. He went to find the local Police Constable and, together, they broke in the door and found the two ladies expired. Very sad.
“Apparently, each had made out a will leaving everything to the other or, following their demise, to St. Winifred’s Parish Church. The Vicar was able to make repairs to the roof with the proceeds. He cleared out the house, selling or giving away most of the furniture but, he shoved the painting under the stairs thinking that it may be useful for a future owner.”
“Yes, my love?”
“Can we get rid of this carpet? I’d really like to lay hardwood floors and just have a small rug in the lounge.”
“Of course. Let’s pull it up and heave it into the skip.”
They pulled up the wall-to-wall green carpet and were surprised to find an older looking carpet underneath. Around the sides of that carpet were the original floorboards.
“Wow, look at this Anna. Let’s pull up this old carpet too and hope that the boards are in good shape. If they are we can just sand them down and re-stain.”
“Now that old rug reminds me of the Blairs,” thought the house. What a rambunctious family they were. So unlike the Shockley sisters. The children always running round and being cheeky, and the parents constantly arguing.
“I think he was a factory worker and always came home dirty. His wife could never keep his clothes clean enough. She seemed to always be pulling the washing machine out to do a load and then there was the ironing. His meal always had to be ready when he got home. Sometimes on a Friday he would be late and then he complained that his meal was cold or burned. She argued that he was late and it had been ready for his normal time. I suspected that he would call at the pub on the way home and that what he consumed added to his poor communication style.
“Anyway, money was never plentiful for the Blairs. Most of their furniture was second-hand or bought on the never-never. I remember when they first moved in and laid that carpet down. It was a bit threadbare and, I thought, did not really suit me. My previous owners were so much more considerate when it came to furnishing and decorating me.
“They lasted about 10 years and then had to leave because Mrs. Blair said she had had enough and wanted a divorce. I wasn’t sorry to see them go. I just wished they’d taken that hideous carpet with them.”
“There’s another project that I would really like to do,” said Anna.
“Your wish is my command, my love. What is your desire?”
“I’d really like to get rid of that boxy covering under the stair rail. I’m sure there must be spindles underneath. Many people used to box them in during the sixties. Can we look to see if they are still there?”
“Consider it done.”
“Oh, yes. That boxing in,” thought the house. “So modern and practical but it hid one of my best features. I never forgave the Joneses for that work.
“Mr. and Mrs. Trendy Jones, all the way from Gloucestershire. Boxing in the staircase, wall to wall carpeting, colour TV and, to crown it all, an avocado bathroom suite. Avocado! I felt ashamed and humiliated. What would the neighbours think? Well, apparently the neighbours liked it because I heard that several houses all had similar suites fitted. I suppose they all wanted to keep up with the Joneses.
“They were a nice enough couple, I suppose. A bit snobby but they did look after me. At least, superficially. Made sure that my paint outside was kept looking spick and span; put in a new front door, which I did like as it made me feel quite classy; kept the garden neat and tidy and even built a detached garage at the back of me.
“They also put in a new hot water boiler and rewired most of the property. I started to feel rejuvenated, even, dare I say, trendy.
“What I shouldn’t tell you is that they were very fond of hosting parties. There was quite a lot of alcohol and the odd vol-au-vent trodden into those carpets.
“They were also very frisky. Many was the time when they would chase each other, naked, around the house and enjoy a little rumpy-pumpy wherever the fancy took them. On the sofa, on the kitchen table, in the avocado bath, even under the stairs once. Or was it twice? Honestly, I didn’t know where to look.
“When they found out they were expecting a baby they decided to move. They thought I wasn’t big enough for a growing family. Little did they know that six children used to live here at one time. Anyway, they decided to make a couple of changes to brighten the place up to sell. New paint throughout and, joy of joys, replace the avocado bathroom suite with a new white one.
“I’m glad to see that this couple seem to have a sense of my history. I think they will make some nice changes to bring me back to my original best. I like what they have done so far and they seem to have some interesting plans.”
“There. I knew the spindles would look better than that hideous plywood box, Colin.”
“Yep. They certainly do. I think they look a bit dark though. What do you think about sanding them down and painting them and the rail white?”
“I think that should look good. We can still retain the character and yet make them look brighter and more modern.”
“You know Anna, I am really glad we bought this house. It feels like it will be a super home for us, especially when we start to have kids.”
“You’re right. It really reflects our personalities. I felt that as soon as the agent showed us around originally. It just felt right.”
“Modern houses are nice but you can’t beat these older properties. Houses with character; with so many stories to tell and to discover.”
“Like I said before, Colin, if only walls could talk. I’m sure these walls could tell us so much.”
“Oh, if only you knew,” thought the house. “I think we are, as the saying goes, on the same wavelength and I am sure that we are going to have some wonderful conversations in the coming years. Perhaps my memoirs will never be published but I will enjoy helping you to create your own fabulous memories.
“Now, what shall we talk about next?”
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Hi David, What a delightful story! This line made me laugh out loud: Honestly, I didn’t know where to look. I live in a house built in 1902. I’ve had musings about what these walls have seen and heard. I like your house as a character with opinions and reactions while simply standing by, letting its owners do what they will. Good job! Thanks for writing- you made my day!
Thank you, Cathryn. I'm glad you enjoyed it. David