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Side Streets: Going home can be difficult

By: Bill Vogrin, The Gazette
September 25, 2013 Updated: September 25, 2013 at 11:53 am
photo - faye and morris baker
faye and morris baker 

On Sunday, I took an unexpected stroll down memory lane with some friends and neighbors I had never met.

It was pleasant for me and my new old friends. But they stopped short of traveling too far into the past because it can be a disappointing trip. It's a lesson I learned a couple summers ago. More on that in a bit.

First, about my Sunday reunion ... I was standing in my garage watching my son, Ben, working on his lathe when a couple cars full of strangers drove up and parked in front of the old Baker home next door.

Six people climbed out and they began walking around looking at the house, chatting excitedly.

Soon, a couple of them saw us in the garage and headed directly toward us.

It was too late to close the garage door and so I braced myself for a sales pitch or religious solicitation.

"Can I ask you a question?" a woman asked me, thrusting out her hand.

She wanted to know if the house was for rent, pointing to a nearby rental sign.

No, I told her. The house just beyond the sign was for rent. The house where she and her friends had parked was owned and occupied.

She was relieved. She didn't want to think the house where her folks spent their retirement was a rental property now.

What? Her folks lived next door? Yes, she introduced herself as Deb Burdick, the daughter of Morris and Faye Baker.

Well, hello!

The rest of the group included one of her three sisters, Abigail Caruso, their husbands and children. They were in town for a wedding and wanted to see their folks' old neighborhood.

My wife, Cary, joined us and this group of strangers had a reunion on the spot.

What ever happened to Jean Corbin, the widow of Gen. Tom Corbin, they asked. Sadly, she sold her home and moved back to North Carolina in 2002, I said. We still miss her.

And what about Mauna and Keith Proctor, they asked. They can't still be around, can they? Oh yes, I told them, pointing to our beloved neighbors on the other side of our home.

Do Ed and Kathleen still live across the street? Yes, but we had to inform them of Kathleen's poor health. They were impressed, as we have been for years, by Ed's heroic devotion and care for his invalid wife.

What about Hazel and Archie Roe? We bought their home after Archie died. Hazel died a few years later, I told them. Same with Shirley and Bill Lehman around the curve. We stood around for 20 minutes or so reminiscing. We knew that Morris, a retired Army colonel, had died in 2005. But we learned he was buried next to a Civil War soldier who was a member of the first black volunteer regiment memorialized in the 1989 movie "Glory." I believe Morris would love having a spot next to a Civil War vet, given his own long, distinguished career as a decorated combat veteran in World War II and Korea, and his love of military history.

We were tickled to learn Faye, his wife of 66 years, remains fairly healthy for someone 92.

Then we offered to introduce them to Melanie and Bill, who own the old Baker home.

"Oh, no," the sisters agreed. "We don't want to bother them."

When I tried again to take them over and make introductions, it became clear they really didn't want to see the old home. I assured them Melanie and Bill were taking good care of the house. But Deb and Abigail didn't want to disturb their memories of the place.

It's a lesson Cary and I learned the hard way a couple summers ago.

We were back in her hometown of Union Grove, Wis., and we heard the home outside of town where she had grown up was for sale.

We drove out and drove up the lane to take a closer look.

Weeds grew knee-high. The house was in obvious disrepair and abandoned. In fact, it was in foreclosure.

I noticed a door had been kicked in and I went inside. Cary followed.

Big mistake.

This house she loved, where she spent her teenage years, practiced her flute, watched the Green Bay Packers on the TV in the sunroom, played cribbage with her dad, Mike, at the kitchen table, was a disaster. It had been abused and left to rot. Cary cried at the sight. She was embarrassed for me to see the house in such a condition. Her mother, Lois, would be shocked, Cary said, because the family had worked so hard to keep the house and five acres immaculate.

That's what Deb and Abigail didn't want to risk when they made their brief homecoming Sunday. It's why they didn't dare go inside.

They want to remember the place as it exists in their memory.

I don't blame them. It's the same reason I've driven past my old home in Kansas City, Kan., but never stopped to ask for a tour. It is burned in my memory, much bigger and more beautiful than reality could ever match. A bedroom mural I painted no doubt is long gone. And I'd be upset if its wood cabinets were painted or if remodeling had changed it.

In my memory, it has no flaws. That's as it should be.

Deb and Abigail were content to refresh their memories, and not destroy them with reality.

I'm just glad they stopped. It's always fun to reunite with new, old friends - in this case the Baker daughters.


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