Elegy For A Family Home

The doorway was thick. The layers of paint throughout the years had inflated the doorway so that the door constantly got stuck in the humid months.

The door was a gorgeous oak - resealed over the years, but still the original wood from when the house was built in 1880. There were a few scratches here and there on the back side from the family dogs: Bingo (1887-1902), Clark (1920-1936), Chief (1942-1960) and BoBo (2002-).

The floors had been redone at least five times. Once in 1903 to restore some termite damage, then again in 1938 after a small fire. In 1958 the original hardwood was covered with linoleum and carpeting, which was replaced in 1973 this time with linoleum and shag carpeting. This was done at the insistence of Mrs. Mary Hart Wilson (1926-2008) who read in Ladies’ Home Journal that shag carpet was here to stay.

By the time the floors were redone a final time in 1999 to remove the linoleum and shag carpeting (thankfully), Mrs. Mary Wilson’s fashionable shag carpet had half a dozen stains and bare spots, all with a different story. A large spot of red wine stain never came out after Uncle Joe Robbins (1922-2001) knocked over a bottle of wine Aunt Suzette (1930-2010) had just opened, while playing a game of charades. Uncle Joe was animated in his impression of Mickey Rooney. The red wine stain soaked through to the hardwood underneath where it became a plaque to game nights past.

The huge crystal chandelier Mr. Joseph Paul Wilson Jr. (1856-1938) had installed in the dining room in the fall of 1906, still caught the light of the huge bay windows, casting stars of tiny rainbows across the walls. If you listened closely you could hear the walls echoing the jokes and tales and tiffs of Wilson family gatherings from the past 150 years.

If the walls of the kitchen could talk, they would tell you about the lemon tart Mrs. Jane Powell Wilson (1860-1945) created on July 4th, 1895 which she would pass on to all three of her daughters: Janet Wilson McDougall (1905-1990), Suzanne Wilson Cummings (1908-1995), and Paulette Wilson (1910-2000), which they would then pass on to their daughters and on and on. The kitchen walls would also tell you about the time Timothy Wilson (1923-) broke two windows while playing hockey out in the yard. And the time Timothy’s sister Rose Wilson Jackson (1932-) was caught by their father Jacob Wilson (1903-1984) kissing her first boyfriend on the stoop.

On the Kitchen door jamb were hundreds of markings where growing Wilson children had measured themselves against the doorway.

There were cigarette burns in floors from days gone by; pinholes in walls where once hung family portraits keeping watch over the generations which came after; a larger hole in the parlor wall where Jack Wilson (1955-present) swatted a fly too aggressively, and if you chipped away at two layers of paint in the first bedroom on the left, you would still find traces of a fresco by Caroline Wilson (1958-1988) colored on the wall with crayon (circa 1963).

Throughout the old house, in every crack and crevice there were memories and stories. Ghosts of gatherings haunted every room on the first floor, reliving the moments when they were warmest on this cold earth. Past laughter floated on the breeze which blew threw the drafts. Tears of loss and heartbreak reverberated throughout the bedrooms on painful anniversaries. There was Wilson Family soaked into the grain of the house at 14 Birch Lane, Detroit, MI.

But, no longer.

14 Birch Lane was now no longer fit for dwelling and condemned by city officials. The last of the Wilsons had left in 2006, shortly after Mrs. Mary Hart Wilson was moved out of the renovated basement and into a nursing home. Greg Wilson (1963-present) had decided to sell the Wilson house after he had been laid off from work. The tenets who purchased the home abandoned the Wilson home in 2008.

Greg Wilson currently lives in Seattle, Washington with BoBo, the dog. They have lived there since the death of Mary Hart Wilson in 2008. For holidays and special occasions, Greg makes the lemon tart created by his great grandmother in 1895 in the kitchen at 14 Birch Lane.

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