Over the Fence: This old house
The year is 1910 on Johnson (now Homesteader) Road in Wilsonville, Oregon. A young girl stands in her front yard and watches while the house across the way burns to the ground. It is quite a fire, and she is filled with awe. It is a long time before help comes, because Johnson is a dirt road and sparsely populated. By the time anyone does arrive, it is too late.
That same little girl confided all of this to me in 1989 when she was in her 90s. She went on to tell me that shortly after the fire a new house was raised on the old foundation, the house that we now call home.
As far as we know, the first house to be built on our property was owned by the Thompson family. They ran a brickyard, and if you go to some of the old houses in our area, you will often see bricks stamped with the name Thompson. We have them in our hearth, and also scattered around our sidewalks. The earliest brick we could find is dated 1892. It's been a challenge, all of these bricks. Putting in a garden became problematic because any time you dug up dirt, you dug up bricks.
The house has changed somewhat over the years. Earlier residents added a wrap-around porch, a nice touch. We added a sun room. Other than that, though, the house has retained its aura of antiquity. It's old and drafty and charming, and as my designer friend says, "has good bones." My husband and I love the old place and hope to hand it down through the family.
Over the years, a few former residents have stopped by, mostly elderly, wanting to relive the time they spent here. One nice lady remembered helping to plant the birch trees that line our driveway. She said they were about a foot tall when she planted them. Now they exceed 60 feet. Another spent time here as a foster child and regaled us with stories about rebuilding the outhouse!
I sometimes wish the house could talk. Just because of the way it feels, you know there has been both happy and hard living here. It's a certainty that the people we bought the house from many years ago had some hard living to do. We got to know them a little and they explained that they had purchased the place as a horse property for their crazy-about-horses daughter, Janice. She and her father had put up all the fences, built a horse shed and put a lot of time and love into making everything horse-friendly. And then tragedy struck. Janice died suddenly and unexpectedly and since the house and property were so intertwined with their daughter, the family couldn't bear to stay.
I should mention here that my own daughter identified strongly with Janice. The girls were similar in appearance and shared a love of horses. With all the assurance of a 12-year-old, my daughter was also sure the house was haunted. I of course scoffed at that, but we did have a pretty interesting experience one evening while preparing dinner. My daughter was standing with her back to me at a cutting board slicing vegetables. I stood at another counter, reading a recipe. Suddenly everything became deathly still. We both stopped what we were doing and just stood, waiting. And then there was the merest of sounds. Not a whisper, exactly, but a low faint voice that sounded to me like someone saying "Hello." The moment passed. Without looking at my daughter, I asked "Did you hear that?" She said "Yes, mom. She said hello."
So is our old house haunted? I don't know. My daughter is grown up now, and we seldom speak of the incident. It somehow seems wrong to do so. Like a sacrilege. But I do know that she has trouble spending the night here. She tells me she feels a presence. I don't feel it, so who knows? It was a long time ago, and old houses have their secrets.