Helen of Altoona
I really didn’t expect this. We were going to a few open houses. That was all. We were going to see a few places to get a feel for the neighborhoods as well as what our money would buy. Who knows, maybe even find that exact gem of a house we are looking for.
We saw a large and rambly 4 bedroom rancher from the 50’s. The only significant updates since then were some new appliances (the old ones were still in the garage) and a new roof. The hallways were only a couple inches wider than my shoulders. What could have been a beautiful courtyard was covered in concrete. Still, the asking price was over $200K.
We saw a couple of houses with asking prices in the $80’s which were basically of the form 3 small bedrooms and a single bath upstairs, smallish kitchen, dining room and living room downstairs and dank basements with laundry facilities. Oh, and maybe there’d be a toilet against one wall of the basement looking for all the world as if it was just set there for a moment in transit to somewhere important but some plumber stumbled across it and decided to hook it up.
Then we went to a small house near the campus. It was only a 2 bedroom with a shared garage. A little deck out back. The basement was partially finished and would provide a serviceable office even though I only had to stand up straight to lift a ceiling tile with my head. Even Carolyn couldn’t stand in the attic. We could see Carolyn’s new office building from the back windows though. It was mighty convenient, but ultimately just a little too small for us.
On the way out from the house, we were hailed over by the next door neighbor who asked what was going on. Were we moving in? I’m at a loss to begin to describe Helen and the events that followed. This post has sat in draft form for two days as I’ve been daunted by this very task. I guess the best description would be “Altoona” and you’ll have to infer some meaning from that and from some of the details related below.
She was generous. She invited us into her home. She showed us around. She showed us family pictures. She intimated that we could probably have her coffee table and end tables. She asked us if we knew who that was, pointing at a picture of Jesus — curiously smaller than the picture of her grandchildren. She repeatedly used the Altoid second person plural “yuns” — I have no idea how to spell it, maybe there’s an apostrophe in there somewhere. She asked if yuns were related. I had never thought about my relationship to Carolyn as making us “related” as I think of that as a genetic thing. I was tempted to say “No, we just met at the openhouse next door.” I didn’t, though.
She asked if yuns are Christian. I didn’t care to explain the depths and subtleties of my understanding of the universe at this point, so we answered “Yes.” However, we failed to anticipate the next question, “Which church do yuns go to?” Ooops. Uhh, the one with the chatty guy in front and a bunch of crosses and happy people that love each other. I forget the name. We used our “recent” arrival to town to excuse our not having chosen the appropriate worship venue.
A semi-invitation was offered to share a meal together. Afterward, I thought it had been an invitation in to dinner, and Carolyn thought it an invitation out. Regardless, we nipped that in the bud.
Helen called her son and handed us the phone because he always has a clever answering machine message. It was a flatly delivered poem certainly more original than “Leave your message at the tone.” She called another group of family, I don’t even recall why, but a grandchild answered and either parents weren’t home, or the grandchild successfully screened calls from Helen.
Helen was positive that she knew me from somewhere. This doesn’t surprise me much. I seem to remind people of others they have fuzzy but fond memories of. I was picked up hitchhiking once because the driver thought he was picking up an old army buddy from a war that ended when I was 2 years old. It’s a strange gift, to be sure, but there you have it.
Carolyn and I finally made it out with the excuse of more houses to see, though by now all of the open houses were over, and with empty promises to return. Even as we were preparing to drive off, she complimented my now 11-year-old vehicle.
If nothing else, it makes the mini-entrepreneur in me wonder if there’s not a market for more senior social activities in Altoona. And it adds both to my fondness for, and fear of, this place I now call home.