Saturday, September 09, 2006

A Story About a House, 1

Today is Saturday, 9 September 2006.

Statistics demonstrate that the average American changes residence every 5 years. Something like 20% of Americans moves every year. So, except for the wealthy, which Mr. and Mrs. HH are decidedly not (except compared to most in the Third World, or most humans throughout history), it’s nowadays unusual for a house to stay in one family for 57 years. This is a story about such a house.

As some of HH’s readers know, a year ago last month HH’s father-in-law died, his mother-in-law having died in 2000. Mrs. HH inherited the family home.

The house was built in 1941, in what was then a small incorporated village, Highland Park, outside the city limits of Tulsa, Oklahoma. The area is now, and has been for many years, engulfed by the expansion of the city proper, and the village long dissolved.

Mrs. HH’s parents bought the place in 1949, when they moved here after her Father graduated from MIT, with a second M.Sci. in chemical engineering. (He had been an intelligence officer with an anti-aircraft unit in World War Two, and earned his second Master’s on the GI Bill.) Because this area was mostly pasture land then, they could afford to buy two acres to surround the house. Nowadays, if you wanted to buy two acres in what is now called Midtown Tulsa … well, let’s just say, Mr. and Mrs. HH couldn’t afford it, even if they had a first-born to sell, which they don’t.

Like most of the homes of its vintage in this area, it’s faced with local fieldstone. It originally had a living room with non-working fireplace, den with working fireplace, and three bedrooms. Knotty pine paneling is a theme in certain areas. From 1961-3, Mrs. HH’s father built on a family room, new kitchen and dining rooms, utility room, a fourth bedroom, and a basement. (My father-in-law was born and grew up on a New Hampshire farm in 1915, and that background, plus his engineering skills, gave him the knowledge to be able to do almost all the work himself.)

At the back of the property was originally a small barn, which my father-in-law tore down and replaced with a spacious cinder-block building, where he started, while working for an oil company, a small business, constructing custom, one-off oil field filters. (This is now HH’s library, about which more later.) When the business prospered, he bought a building a few miles away. The filters ranged in size from hot-water-heater size, to ones that required a flat-bed trailer to move them out. He kept designing and building the filters until his second retirement, at the age of 89. He was 90 when he died.

The business consisted of himself and one assistant. He designed and built the filters himself. He was one of the few chemical engineers in the nation who was also a Code-certified welder. He was very proud: of the more than 1,000 filters he built, every one of them passed the Code inspection the first time.

Mrs. HH’s Mother was originally a medical technologist, and met her Father while working in an Army hospital during World War Two. (A medical technologist is not to be confused with a medical technician; the former requires a college degree.) She had a great love for flowers, and made several iris gardens on the property. She was well-known in iris circles for hybridizing Siberian iris. The basement was her greenhouse. It is now part of HH’s responsibilities to care for the plants she left us, as well as ones we’ve bought. Primarily orchids and African violets.

Next: HH is fascinated by the phenomenon of Time.


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