A Ranch Original

In the rancher next door to the painted house lives Mrs. L.  She and Mr. L built the house in 1954, and she lives there still.  She is 90 years old and a good neighbor from another era.  She bakes cake for new neighbors and bakes for those of us on the street for Christmas. 

Mrs. L agreed to a morning on her back patio to let me ask questions about the 50+ years she has spent in her home.  When she and Mr. L moved in 56 years ago, theirs was the only house on the street.  They had moved from the other side of town from a traditional two-story home.  Mr. L gravitated to this contemporary, new style of ranch homes.  While Mrs. L preferred a more traditional look, she looked forward to one-level living with small children.  The new ranch was in “the country” and had no phone lines.  But they did enjoy milk delivery in the morning until about 1956 when service stopped.

With the new house came the need for new furniture.  Mrs. L picked out new living room and dining room furniture–all of which remains in her house unchanged to this day.  When I asked her what she thought about people today who want to change their furniture at each new trend or at the onset of boredom, she replied, “I’ve always been contented.  I’ve always liked it so why change it?”  Some things had to change, however, because they were old or “weatherworn and beaten,” like some beloved window treatments.  Over these, she lamented, “Lord, I loved those drapes.”

Most of the floors are covered in carpet, but, indeed, there are hardwood floors underneath.  According to Mrs. L, waxing and maintaining the wood floors was back-breaking work.  When everyone started putting down carpet in the late 50s, she decided she needed carpet, too.

There was always plenty of work to do around the house with 3 boys.  Mrs. L starched and ironed all the clothes, underwear, sheets, and pillowcases.  Dinners for the family were homemade–beans, pork chops, dressing, cobbler pies, hamburgers and steaks by the outdoor fire pit.  Sundays were special with one of her jello molds.  She calls herself “just an old country cook.”  She had to make her own chicken broth since it was not available in a can, and she had to buy a whole chicken fryer to cut up herself.

“We ladies today have it easy, don’t we?” I asked her.

She replied, “Oh, honey, Lordy, Lordy!”

Being a wife and mother is hard, she acknowledged, any time–but in a different way.  Women today have help from their husbands, she explained, and they can send their children to kindergarten-which wasn’t the norm when she was younger.  She praises her husband for working years and years daylight to dark to provide generously for his family, but he never diapered one of his boys.

“So he didn’t help out around the house?”

“No, ma’am!” Mrs. L said with a hearty laugh.

As her sons grew older, Mrs. L spent her time volunteering at their school and at the hospital.  She worked in a snack bar where she served homemade food.  Bridge was also a favorite pastime; although she oftentimes felt guilty for playing with cards, considered a sinful item by her father.  And she felt she should be more constructive with her time.

Mrs. L also enjoyed gardening and participating in the local Garden Club.  She has developed her own impressive boxwood garden in her backyard.  Consisting of over 150 boxwoods, the garden is the culmination of over 40 years of rooting the boxwoods from cuttings.  Every single boxwood started as a cutting in her side rooting garden until she could transfer it over to the formal garden.

The bathrooms still have the original tile that Mrs. L picked out in 1954.  Maroon, pink, and grey.  “I don’t know why–I hate grey,” she told me, reassuring me that we all have our decorating missteps.  When I told her that grey is so popular right now, she said, “Lord, here I was wanting to get rid of it!”

When her boys left home, she felt the loneliness of the empty nest.  She worked at a campsite where she “worked like a man.”  And, later, she sought employment in the hardware department of the local Sears.  Mrs. L was a regular customer there and another salesperson encouraged management, “You ought to hire this woman–she owns about every tool we sell.”  Hired!  And she worked for the Sears hardware department for 18 years and “enjoyed every minute of it.”  She continued, “I always got good reviews, and it’s because I worked hard.”

These days Mrs. L enjoys the company of lots of visitors to the house she has made home for 56 years.  She usually has a loaf of banana bread, corn bread, or one of her delicious pound cakes fresh from the oven.  Once I stopped by to give her some homemade cookies and I came back home with warm banana bread.  She is so generous and always has a smile.  I sometimes ask her, “Oh, are my kids too loud outside when they are playing?”  And she always responds, “I love it–it reminds me of the sounds of my boys playing when they were young.”

I loved getting the stamp of approval from Mrs. L when we did our exterior redo.  I had hoped that she wasn’t too attached to the way our house looked over the years.  Turns out, she never liked the color of the siding with the red brick on the side of the house.  She likes it much better now that it is all grey.  It has been so interesting also hearing about the way our house has evolved over the years.  She recounts all the previous owners and when and what renovations they did to the house.

Many thanks to Mrs. L for sharing her history and home with me and the readers here.  I wish I could serve up to each one of you a slice of her pound cake with this post–for just a taste of how sweet she is.

Comments

  1. steve says:

    I stumbled across your blog via a link about vintage travel trailers. But then i read this article and just wanted to say how beautiful and thoughtful it was. What an amazing time capsule Mrs. L’s is! Your respect and affection for her are obvious from your writing and pictures. We’re lucky enough to have very nice original owners as neighbors next door to our 1959 ranch…suddenly I want to ask them a million questions!

  2. How very sweet!! Thank you for a view into such a sweet life!

  3. I love, love, love this post! I love talking and sharing with the older generation…they have so much to share and such wisdom about life. I love her house! You can tell that it is well-loved and well-kept. It gives me pause to think of how much of a ‘buying’ culture we have these days….when previous generations were content with the things they acquired that were useful and functional and not thrown away on whim. I love how you give her such respect and reverence with this post! Angie xo

  4. Many thanks to Mrs. L and to the Painted House for the interview. My mom would have been 99 in November, my dad 101. I grew up in a household like Mr. & Mrs. L’s.

  5. Karen Tyner says:

    Your sweet neighbor must have loved your attentive interest to her life. Made me sad when she said she loved the sound of your children as it reminded her of her own. Tonight one of the gals from our study group apologetically asked if she could put a load of laundry in our dryer and I told her it reminded me of when our kids were in college and would bring home laundry and it brought back happy memories!

  6. What a sweet tribute! You brought tears to my eyes over all the “Mrs. L”s I’ve been privileged to know and who have since passed on. Our culture is so quick to dismiss age and experience — thank you for the reminder to slow down long enough to cherish the elders in my life.

  7. Laura says:

    What a wonderful post. Thanks for all the great photographs and lovely story.

  8. I found your blog several weeks ago and have loved reading every post. I love what you are doing to your home. What a precious story about Mrs. L. She and her home remind me of my mom, who is also 90 years old. Last year about this time we had to move her from her home of 40 years to assisted living. It was a very emotional time for myself and my sister. Seeing Mrs. L’s home reminded me so much of my mother and how her home was decorated. God bless Mrs. L!

    Judy

  9. Wow – loved this post. Sounds like my mother and MIL talking! I love the fact the she is content with everything in her house since its beginning. What a lesson! Linda

  10. What a wonderful post!

  11. Such a fun read. Brings back some good memories of my grandparents. We always tend to think those were simpler times and in some ways they were, but they struggled with the same challenges we do today…time, money and love. Your post made me realize I should be happy with what I have. Why do I want to switch up my decor so much!

  12. I love this post. It reminds me of my grandmother and how their house was kept exactly the way it had been since the 50’s where my mom grew up. She sounds like such a sweet woman, and a wonderful neighbor.

  13. I loved the post, too! And her lack of changing anything reminds me of both my grandmothers’ homes, one in Charleston, SC and one in the mountains, which are untouched (decorating-wise) for decades, but so lovely in their own right and not particularly dated in any glaring way. Plus I love that contentment–buy things you love, if you are contented, you will always love them!

  14. Thanks for sharing Mrs. L’s wonderful history. I love hearing stories about how neighborhoods and houses evolve from elderly neighbors – most of our neighbors have lived in their houses on our street since the houses were built. They tell us that they bought the house as their “starter home”, but then loved it so much that they never left. They all look after each other – they’ve lived on the same street with the same neighbors for years and years, and even have monthly neighborhood luncheons, which we are happy to be invited to. It is interesting to hear about how our own house evolved over the years from their talk – for me, it is both confirming of my suspicions of various abuses our house suffered (through discoveries we made during renovations), and also disheartening to hear accounts of what the house and the neighbors had to suffer through with the various tenants that lived here. Some of it is downright scary. A robbery at our house? A shooting on the front lawn? Wild Parties in the basement? I’m amazed that our neighbors didn’t move during all that – amazed and glad. They constantly tell us how happy they are that we bought the house, they bring us fresh homegrown tomatoes and leave little gifts on our doorstep, and even plow our drive in the winter. We are so lucky to have found this great group of neighbors – they truely are wonderful. Thanks so much for writing this post – it’s wonderfully written, and while it reminds me of my parents’ neighbor growing up, it also makes me want to go ask our current neighbors about their house and history (instead of always talking about our own houses’ history).

    ~Chelsea

  15. Melanie Scott says:

    I am new to your blog ~ and this post confirms why I visit it everyday! Thank you so much for sharing it and please thank your lovely neighbor for sharing her lovely home!

  16. 1) She sounds like a wonderful, wonderful person…a blessing to know her!

    2) I love her beautiful home! It’s perfect, actually.

    3) YOU are an amazing person for giving her the chance to share her life with you!

  17. This is so cool! I love it that you visit and learn so much from the elderly… there’s Mrs. L and I remember you also interviewing an elderly man who was an author (or something like that). It truly is really neat to sit and talk to those who have been around so many years. Makes you realize how hard they worked, how wonderful they are, how the world was different back then and how blessed we are to have the short experiences with them. Thanks for the post. I enjoyed every minute of it!

  18. This is so great….if only we could all be so generous, patient with noisy neighbors :P, and content. Now that’s a better life!

  19. Thanks SO much for sharing Mrs. L with us. We can learn a lot from elderly people like her. We just need to listen. Thanks for sharing!

  20. Oh, I love hearing from Mrs. L. I’m from Atlanta, have lived on one of those ranches and loved meeting all of the original owners still in the neighborhood. They are of a different generation, and have so much wisdom to share.

  21. Deidre says:

    I loved this post sooo much! It felt like I was walking through my grandparents house before they moved to an assisted living home. I miss all the little things that they got rid of when they “downsized”. I hope that I can find that place of contentment that Mrs. L has found. I pray that I do and that my children will cherish those things the way I do.:)

  22. I’ve been thinking about this all day. I can just smell the inside of the house. There is something so familiar about the immaculate-ness…reminds me of my great-Grandma. Enjoy your lovely neighbor, and tell her hi from all of us!

  23. What a lovely post! I hope she never gets rid of that original gray and maroon tile. I think it suits the house.

    Now pass me a slice of that pound cake, wouldja?

  24. Peggy says:

    How interesting! The bathroom tile looks so familiar. Guess I’m showing my age. How neat to have such a neighbor. Be sure to tell her I enjoyed her tour down memory lane.

  25. I LOVE this post!! Thank you so much for taking the time to sit down with sweet Mrs. L. Thank you for caring about her, and the history of her home and your neighborhood. I have a neighbor who is very similar…now I’m feeling convicted that I need to sit down and have a real visit with her…more than just the passing chat on the sidewalk!

  26. Because of this post, I will walk over to my neighbors house tommorrow for a long overdue visit. Thanks for sharing ~

  27. Thank you for sharing Mrs. L’s beautiful home. She sounds like an amazing woman and you are lucky to have her in your life!

  28. Thank you again Angela….what a lovely tribute….it is no coincidence that you are neighbors…<3

  29. Cynthia Q. says:

    Love this post! Older people are such a treasure! Love Mrs. L’s reminiscing and contentedness. She has lovely timeless taste as well.

  30. pilar says:

    Thank you for writing this post and for Mrs. L for sharing her house with us. It was just beautiful and reminded me of my grandmother. What a treasure Mrs. L is! I wish she was my neighbor…and as I write that last line, I am beginning to think of where our “neighborhood historians” live and how I can reach out to them. I think a warm baked something or another and a knock on the door will do the trick!

    And…As a teacher, I say…what an AMAZING history lesson you have provided to your homeschooled children!

  31. Vivian says:

    I love this post! Thoroughly enjoyable. Mrs. L has a very beautiful, sparkling clean home and so perfectly decorated, too!
    How blessed you are to have Mrs. L for a neighbor and vice versa.
    Thanks for telling a little of her sweet story.

  32. Elaine says:

    She is one special lady, with many talents. She is so good to family; I’m glad she has a good neighbor. Thank you for sharing!

  33. What a sweet doll-baby!! Bless her heart! I love getting a peek into what life used to be like. Thanks for sharing!

  34. This post was a sweet joy to read. I live in a ranch and used to have a Mrs. L in her 90’s for a neighbor too. I was so very fond of her and miss visiting her now that she has past. Mr. L now lives in the next state over and this past summer we went to his 99th birthday party. He is a retired general and decorated hero and I miss looking out my office window to see him working in the yard. My Mrs. L was an avid gardener too. A developer bought their 1954 ranch house, practically crushed it and built something tasteless. It still hasn’t sold. I kept thinking, What kind of person will buy that? and They will never be as good as my former neighbors! Your post has reminded me to be prepared to be a good neighbor and to bake a cake.

  35. What a great post! I think it’s awesome you have recorded her memories and her house for her and her family. I bet they will be glad to have this!

  36. I lived across the street from Mrs. L my whole childhood and I can vouch for everything you said. I used to go over to her house to just hang out with her and Mr. L (who was always teasing me). I have such fond memories of seeing her through the slats of the back door by the kitchen and waiting for her to let me in. She was always cooking and we always sat down at the kitchen table (with the lazy Susan) to have a snack. I now live in an apartment building in Seattle and I have a neighbor who is in her 60’s. My son is getting to know her and my one of my greatest hopes is that he will grow up with as special a neighbor as Mrs. L.

  37. precious story and lady……thanks for sharing her beautiful home and story!

  38. This post is so heartwarming, loved reading it and seeing Mrs. L’s wonderful home! You are a good neighbor. I’m new here so I’m off to find your ranch remodel, I’m sure its fabulous!

    Londen

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