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Heltzer: Rooms that live in our minds

It was a big mistake to visit the house we lived in for about 25 years in a Minneapolis suburb. 

Last June, when I went to the door with my daughter, the guy who answered the doorbell was cordial. After I said, “We used to live in this house,” he invited us to come right in, and took us on a tour.

The remodeling that’s been done in the last 22 years was stunning. The screen porch had been converted to four-seasons, from the summer porch I knew. The kitchen was remodeled again. I’d had it changed when we lived there, and barely recognized the room where I’d cooked so many meals.

The upstairs where our three daughters had their separate rooms had been transformed with huge closets and two bedrooms. Thank goodness the back yard and deck were pretty much the same. The little goldfish pond that my husband had installed, and loved so dearly, had been replaced with lush hosta. But the screened house where we chatted by candlelight with our friends on warm summer evenings was still there.

I’ve thought of other rooms that live only in memory. The kitchen of Grandma Hilda’s where grandma and mom talked Swedish as they prepared Sunday supper: cold cuts, homemade bread, beet pickles, and peach sauce that grandma had canned, for dessert. We ate around the round dining room table, with a heavy buffet in the corner, where the blue and white “good dishes” were put away after they were washed.

Then there was the farm kitchen of Grandma Ida’s house, with its wood burning cook stove and the two-sided cupboards, one opening to the kitchen, and other opening to the dining room. We went to that grandma’s home for many holidays. I remember the aunts washing Christmas evening dinner dishes while the uncles sat around in the living room, settling the affairs of the church and the township. We kids were impatient, knowing that Santa Claus wouldn’t come to deposit our gifts on the cold porch until after the dishes were done.

Every family has its own holiday traditions, and many rooms live only in memory.

There was the one-room third floor apartment where Jim and I lived the first summer after we were married. The house in southeast Minneapolis may not stand anymore. I can’t even remember the address. I do remember the succession of apartments that came after that, and their rooms, and each room of the little house we finally bought.

The house whose renovations I described above was our second house. I don’t think I’ll ever go back there again. Once was enough. And now, all the houses and rooms of my life live only in memory.

Now, memories can be elusive. While I remember those rooms, their furniture, and even their smells, ask me about the plot of a play, movie or book. I remember some. But not all. The Academy Awards were a challenge because of all those young actors. Thank heaven for Jack Nicholson, Meryl Streep, and Dustin Hoffman. I can tell you about their movies. And “Silver Linings Playbook” is recent, but what’s the name of the young woman who won the award for best actress? Jennifer something. Maybe after her fifth movie, I’ll remember her. And I had to ask the person I was with the name of the old guy: Robert DeNiro. I should have known.

Thank heaven for our brains and the memories that swirl around and can be brought to center stage when we want them. It might take a minute or two. That happens as we age. But the rooms. I remember the rooms. Now let me tell you about the house where I grew up.

Oh never mind. You get the idea. And you have your own treasured rooms, don’t you?

This column was written by Marilyn Heltzer.

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