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Grandparents house held many memories

by Christy Chalmers, staff writer

Just over a week ago, firefighters burned down an aging single-family home on Carson City’s west side.

I cared a lot, but I didn’t know why. I figured maybe it was because the house was once occupied by Paul Laxalt, the former Nevada governor and U.S. Senator. I had just finished reading the family trilogy his brother wrote, and from that recognized the westside ranch-style house that was described in the final book.

But it was more than that. I was wondering how the Laxalts felt about having their onetime dwelling intentionally burned, even for a good cause like training firefighters.

Now I know, because it happened to my grandparents’ house.

These developments have a planetary-convergence kind of feeling, the sort that comes from several random events transpiring to culminate in something meaningful.

I had finally gotten around to several things I had been meaning to do, including finishing the Laxalt book, calling my grandmother and getting caught up on local news. I was intrigued by the burning of the house and learned later that the house site will be used for several new houses.

Then came the call to grandmother, who revealed that her old house in Chico, Calif., had been burned down in the middle of May.

I felt a pang of regret. I knew the old house would go, because it and the surrounding acreage were sold a while back to people who plan to put several houses on the property. But I expected bulldozers to do the job.

My grandfather had built the house 38 years ago. He had no degrees or special knowledge, other than a vision of what he wanted and the determination to do it.

The house sheltered six children and 14 grandchildren, but the wear began to show over the last 10 years of its life. The roof started to sag, and the ladies in the family surreptitiously began avoiding the middle bathroom, aware that they might find themselves sitting in the crawl space.

I said my goodbyes to the house a year and half ago. My grandfather died in the summer of 1998, and soon after, grandmother picked out an apartment in a senior complex. Over several weekends, children and grandchildren journeyed to the old house to pick out treasures.

I spent some time wandering from room to room, remembering.

In the family room with its wood paneling and huge brick fireplace, I gazed at the high ceiling. Grandpa always bought a 16-foot-tall Christmas tree for this room. By the hearth hung the driftwood mobile one of my uncles had made when he was a boy. This room was always full of life, the noise of a family. It was the hub of all our celebrations.

A look in the hall closet yielded a bucket full of wooden blocks, the edges worn smooth by years of use.

I walked down the long, wood-floored hall, the ultimate Matchbox car drag strip, and stopped in the middle bedroom that had belonged to my youngest uncle. A framed picture of an early-70s Lincoln Mark III still hung on the wall. It had been there as long as I could remember.

I thought about the day I found a set of late-60s football cards in the closet. I discovered what I thought were certain prizes: a Joe Namath and a Don Meredith. I have no idea if they’re worth anything, but I still have them.

On to the back bedroom where the kids always congregated. At one time grandma kept an exercise bike back there, an ordinary cruiser whose back wheel had been suspended. We went all over the world on that bike.

Out into the back yard, with the old waterfall in one corner, and beyond to the “very” back, five acres that had hosted grandfather’s kiwi patch until it caught fire one summer.

I remembered running among the kiwi rows, looking for feathers. When we were older, grandpa let us ride his three-wheeler out there.

I wandered back to the house through the side yard, where a Scotch pine and fruitless mulberry trees towered over the house. Once, my cousin Janine and I were perched in one of the fruitless mulberries and she reached back for a branch that wasn’t there. I’ll never forget her expression as she leaned back into the empty air.

I have not been back to the house since that day. I knew I would not go back, because it was time to move on.

I wish the house didn’t go the way it did. But what I should have told grandma when she expressed her disappointment about the demolition is that the house was only a tired old body. The soul within – the laughter, love and memories that made it a home – will live as long as we do.

Christy Chalmers is a staff writer for The Record-Courier