by MILLIE BAKER RAGOSTA
Vince and I, perpetually one jump ahead of the stork, have lived in a lot of houses during our marriage. Each of them was necessarily bigger than its predecessor until we bought a twelve-bedroom, four-bathroom Victorian with a two-story brick Carriage House on a quarter-acre lot.
By then, several of the kids were already married, had become parents, or were in graduate school. However, we still needed that behemoth of a house if we wanted the kids and grandkids to visit us … which we certainly did.
Inevitably, however, the “in residence” number of our kids decreased to four. We realized at long last, we could look for a house that didn’t require the attention of a staff to do the cleaning, cooking, weeding and mowing, most of which was me. Vince did help with the cooking, though, and Tony and Bill did all the mowing. Nevertheless, maintaining the big, beautiful mansion which had once been a summer home for a wealthy Philadelphian, was wearing us both out. So, with only four still in residence, we began to plan our next (and hopefully) last move.
A one-story house on a small lot, with enough bedrooms for overnight visitors was a must for me. As I told my friend and neighbor, Norma, “I couldn’t bear not having my kids and grandkids visit.”
She grinned and said, “Then you’d better buy a ranch-house next to a motel.”
That was not an option; motels sat on the edges of towns beside noisy highways. I liked living in a small town where I could walk to the library.
“Maybe we ought to consider building a house,” Vince said.
“I like living in a house where other people have lived. I feel them … brides … and kids playing cowboy in the yard.”
“No, Vince,” I said. “I like living in a house where other people have lived. I feel them … the brides … the kids playing cowboy in the yard. Vince, do you realize there are actually baby-teeth marks on the casement windows near the floor on the first-floor landing of this house? Some little child once stood there watching for his daddy to come home from work—”
Vince sighed. “You constantly let your writer’s imagination run away with you.”
“It is not my imagination. The grandkids love that spot; it’s their favorite in the whole house. I think they feel those other little kids’ spirits, too. There has been so much living and loving in this house!” I told him. Jan Beatty (roughly my age), told me when they lived here, one of the boys “ran away” to the carriage house when he was ten and stayed there for a week. She said their mother knew very well where he was hanging out and that neighbor Jean Green up the street was sneaking food to him.
“He finally got tired and ‘came home,’” I told my husband. Her mother just smiled when he did.
“I suppose you think she haunts the house, too.”
“I’m sure she does. I get vibes all the time. The Beatty kids used to lay wagers on the day the ginko tree behind the house would drop all its leaves with one gigantic whoosh, too. And the Vonados who lived here subsequent to the Beattys used to flood the really flat part of the yard in the winter for an ice-skating rink. Vince, I tell you, when the house is quiet, I can actually feel them here … all those nice—”
“Okay, okay, I get it. We’ll find a smaller, easier to care for house with history!”
“I just hope there is such a place,” I sighed.
We had nearly decided there wasn’t when we found it.
It’s a one-story cross between an English country cottage from an Agatha Christie novel and a ranch house. It was built by Mr. Edy Kofman in 1940 spanning a fifty-foot lot between a stately brick Arts and Crafts house and a picturesque Victorian.
Mr. Kofman wheedled the owner of the Victorian to sell him the 50 x 250-foot lot in Bellefonte’s loveliest neighborhood so he could build a house with all the wonderful materials he acquired when he won the contract to raze the ruins of the 1911 high school building two blocks away.
This phoenix of a house reminds me of a brash teen-ager who’s invaded a retirement home; it measures almost 2000 square foot, stretching far back on the lot. The “country cottage” contains a spacious living room with a red-stone fire-place, built-in book-cases, enormous wood beams (also salvaged, but from an old Pennsylvania barn). Both the living room and the adjoining den, with its entire wall of built-in storage cabinets, are paneled with real knotty pine. There is also an eat-in kitchen, dining room, sun porch, three large bedrooms, and two baths. We’ve fenced in part of the yard for the puppy we promised Rosie, and built a wall to divide the deep, dry basement room into a temporary bedroom for the boys who either live here or visit between school terms.
The real-estate lady who showed it to us apologized because only a few of the house’s owners had children. “You indicated you were looking for a house with ‘history,’” she said. “None of the previous occupants were especially remarkable—”
“Not remarkable!” I said, “Oh, my goodness; just think of Bellefonte’s young people getting crushes on each other when the house was a school … boys inviting girls to proms, buying them Valentines and–”
Vince—who, I admit, is often embarrassed by my enthusiasms—interrupted.
“Millie, you and the house will get along just fine,” he said.
How could we not?
MILLIE BAKER RAGOSTA and her husband have 11 children; she wrote romances for “Doubleday” and “Baker’s Dozen,” a weekly family humor column.