The Big Brick House

The Big Brick House

A Story by Shelley Warner
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A story about loss, a story about love.

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“John, could we look for the streets of 37th and Grant?” I asked as we drove around downtown Vancouver, Washington after an outing to Vancouver Lake. “I lived in a big brick house on that corner when I was a teenager.”

“Sure,” he answered and pulled over to enter GPS directions into his phone. The directions would have taken us to the 4700 block, which would have been too far, but we followed them partway. Soon, we were driving up Kauffman Ave. with the cross streets reading 33rd, 34th, and bigger. “Let’s turn right on 37th and see where it takes us,” John suggested. Zach, my fourteen year old grandson in the back seat, agreed and so did I.

And suddenly, there it was, rising from a hillside, just as I remembered it. “Oh John!  Thank you for finding it! This is so emotional!” I disembarked from John’s red ford truck and took a picture of the house.  Then I crossed the street and took a picture of the street signs: “37th and Grant”.

“See the overhanging window on the top floor?” I said, climbing back into the truck, “that was a sewing room for my mom. My room is to the right of it. My brother Stan had a little room of his own on that top floor and there was a big room for the rest of my siblings. Stan and I slept outside on the veranda sometimes.”

“And see those windows to the right on the main floor?”

“Yes,” John answered as Zach, in the back seat, played video games on his phone.

“That was the dining room. “The wall in the dining room had a panel that you could slide and enter into a secret passageway. We thought that was so cool.”

“I was Zach’s age when we moved from Mount Lake Terrace,” I added. My mind traveled back through the years. Mount Lake Terrace was a suburb of Seattle. John had lived in nearby Everett and we had met at a church that had youth group activities. Our romance had lasted a few months and soon after, my family had moved to Vancouver and the big brick house.

 “Your sister Nora came to visit me there once after we moved.” Nora and I were good friends and had kept in touch for several years before losing contact with each other. But just a few years ago, we reconnected on Facebook. John was widowed. I was widowed. Nora brought us back together. So much had happened since I left Mount Lake Terrace and moved to this big brick house. I was glad that my life had circled back around to John

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“And down below, you can see the basement,” I reminisced some more. We had a laundry room and a big freezer, not the stand-up kind.”

“A chest freezer?” John prompted.

“Yes, my dad worked for Alpenrose Dairy and he’d bring home big tubs of specialty ice cream.”

“What kind?” Zach asked from the back seat.

“Banana Split,” I replied, “with big swirls of chocolate and banana flavored ice cream and sweet cherries.”

“My dad had an office in the basement,” I added. In my mind, I could see myself coming down to the basement one time and hearing him practice songs for a church where he was the music director. One song in particular repeated the refrain:

 It will be worth it all when we see Jesus.

Life’s trials will seem so small when we see Christ.

One glimpse of his dear face, all sorrow will erase.

So bravely run the race till we see Christ.

(Written by Esther Kerr Rusthol, copyright 1941 by New Spring)

“My sister was just a baby when we moved there,” I continued. “My youngest brother was born when we lived there.” I felt a moment of sadness for Jeff; he had passed away in his sleep from diabetic complications when he was in his forties. I thought of another brother who departed from this life a year after that from cancer. They were gone. My dad was long gone too. So many memories this house held.

And then there was Harvey. I hesitated to talk about a long ago love, but his story was a part of this house. “You remember me mentioning Harvey, don’t you?” I asked.

“Yes, I do,” John replied tenderly.

 “The last time I ever saw him was at this house,” I recalled. “He used to hitchhike from Orchards (twenty miles away) to see me. On this day, he was home on leave from the Army and he came with a friend to see me. Sitting beside him on the couch, I saw that he had a heart shaped tattoo on his arm with the name Shelley printed on a banner. He tried to tell me it was not for me. It was for someone else named Shelley. Fat chance. I knew he was trying to get me to forget about him because he was afraid he was going to die in Viet Nam. And he sure enough did.”

What a traumatic loss that had been. He was only nineteen when he received shrapnel to the chest. I was seventeen. I got the call from Linda, a mutual friend who went to his former high school. My dad came home from work and saw me grieving on the couch. I had made plans to attend a basketball game at the Boys Academy, where some of our church youth lived and attended. Dad offered to take me to the game and we sat in the bleachers for the event.  I’d been seeing a boy named Cecil since Harvey had dumped me. He tried to hold my hand, but I pulled it away. He was not Harvey, whose hand had always smelled of Old Spice. In the weeks to come, I got sick with a bad cold. My hand shook one day when I reached for a package of candy in a neighborhood grocery store. I stopped doing a good job on my assignments in Business English at Fort Vancouver High School. “Are you ok?” my teacher asked me.

“I’m fine,” I replied, almost defiantly.  I should have opened up to her. I needed someone to talk to. I didn’t resolve my grief. It would take some disturbing dreams and an understanding husband, who was leading a grief recovery group in our church, to help me finally find some closure sixteen years later.

Much life had happened in that big brick house. And so much life had happened in the sixty years since my family moved there. “Thanks so much John,” I said, “I’ve always wanted to see this house again.”

“All you had to do was ask,” he replied.

What a dear man. And what a treasure of memories from my time in the big brick house.