Monday, September 23, 2013

Finding Emma's House

A couple of weeks ago while in the Fort Wayne area, Greg and I went on a short side trip.  We were headed back to Bluffton to our campground.  We had spent a good part of the day at the Allen County Library.  Then we visited a couple of cemeteries as we headed south toward Bluffton.  There was a thunder storm brewing to the south, it may have been in Bluffton or it could have been further south, it was hard to tell.  I was looking at the map and noticed that we were approaching Indiana Highway 224, I suggested that we take a little side tour.... While I could not see Greg's eyes because he had them focused on the road and the storm ahead of us, I can imagine that they had the look of “again...another side trip”. 

I told him, “You know, Uniondale is right down Highway 224 just a few short miles.   That where Emma's house is... “I dangled that little tidbit out there for him to contemplate ... 

“Whose Emma? “ Greg asked as if he did not know that she was somehow related to me.

 “She my Great Great Grandmother” I proudly proclaimed.

“It's the house that my Grandpa was born in.  It's the house that I could not find the last time I went looking for it...Remember I told you that some guy named Shane Brown emailed me recently after reading my blog about Emma and John Crites.   Remember...he told me that he owned Emma’s house and that he was restoring it ..Remember?  He found my blog entry, which showed a picture of it with Emma and John standing in front of it...” 

“Don’t you remember, I sent him other pictures of it.   He was so excited to find me...”  

Well, I could tell that he did not remember any of it...

But he said “I think this is Highway 224 so does that mean you want to turn here? “  

“YES” I replied. 

“Which way? “He responded “Ralph or Louie?”  As he always does for “Right or Left” 

“Ralph” I told he slowed the truck and as he did I noticed that there was a farm stand on the corner...

So I said...“Hey, let's stop at the farm stand too.  We can get some corn for dinner!”

We did and after chatting with the people at the farm stand about the thunderstorm. We got some corn, peaches, green beans, zucchini and summer squash. (Hey...I was missing my local farmers market because I was in Indiana and I needed to get my fresh produce somewhere!) After getting back in the truck, Greg said, “Ok, now, ralph to where?” 

“Uniondale” I told him and I am sure he rolled his eyes but I was busy looking west down highway 224. After a few short miles, I saw the sign for Uniondale.  We were nearing Main Street and I advised him to go right...ralph of course!

As we drove north on Main Street, I recognized Emma's church on the right.  Ten years ago when I visited Uniondale, I did not know that was Emma's church. 

Since then my cousin, Helen Jane, gave me a family keepsake which was Emma's. It has been saved and treasured all these years first by her Dad and then her Mom and then Helen Jane.  She wrote me a note when she sent it to me.  She said that, “ this was always in my Mother's china cabinet.”  They always said it was from “Dad's Grandma Crites”  After Mom died, I brought it home and now I am sending it to you”  Helen Jane told me she thought I ought to have it since I was the “keeper” of all the family facts and had done so much work on our family history.
Emma's keepsake from 1917

I told Greg, “Look ....there is no doubt Emma's church.” 

Uniondale United Methodist Church - 2013

“Yes...How do you know that?”  He asked.

I explained, “Remember that paper weight that I got from my cousin, it has a picture of that church on it!”

“Oh, Yeah...”  He replied

I said, “ Hey, wait...slow down...stop!” 

“Now what? “  Greg said, “Why?”  He stopped the truck...

House across the street in 2013

“See that house?  We have pictures of family members and that house is in the background!” I told him.

Emma, Lucille, John, Harold with Cora and Everett standing - Spring 1929 Maybe Easter

“So that means....” as I turned my head to look across the street! “THAT is Emma's house!” 

Shane Brown's house (Emma's) 2013
 And sure enough, it was!  I instantly had goose bumps and have them again now as I write this! The newest owner, Shane Brown was indeed making this house look more like it did when Emma and John owned it.  He had opened up the porch which had been closed in and it was obvious that it was a work in progress!

Emma and John's House

I told Greg, “ I need to get a picture of it!” So I got out of the truck with the camera while he sat in the truck with it idling in the middle of the street!  As I raised the camera, to take the picture, a lady came out the front door.  She had a puzzled look on her face which said, “What are you doing?” I thought to myself...well this is embarrassing...she must think I am nuts taking a picture of her house...

“Oh, I'm SO sorry...Can I take a picture of your house?  My Great Great Grandmother owned it many years ago.  I have old photos of it.”  I asked her.

“She was at first stunned.  Then she said, “I have to call Shane”

So she lite a cigarette and called someone on her cell phone, “Shane, you have to come home now!  It's really important … Come home now!”

And she hung up.  “He'll be home in a minute,” she said. All the while smoking her cigarette with excitement....(only an former smoker would understand that!)   

I protested and said, “Oh I did not mean to interrupt here...I just wanted to see Emma's house and when I recognized it, I thought I would take a picture of it.”

She said, “Oh no, he has to meet you...he has to! You need to talk to him and he needs to meet you!”

So I suggested that Greg parked the truck and we waited on the porch chatting about the house and Emma and John.

After a few minutes, she called Shane again, “Shane, you have to come home now!  There is this lady here and you need to talk to her.... Come home!” and once again she hung up the phone.  After a few minutes more of chatting, all of a sudden this car came speeding down  sleepy Main Street, past the house and entered a drive way to the south of the house.  It was Shane Brown. 

He looked to be about the age of my oldest son.  He looked at his wife, and he looked at me...In the mean time she begins to tell him “ this is the lady, the one you got the email from.  The one from the blog about the house, remember. 

You could see a transformation take place in his face.  He got the biggest grim and you could see the excitement take over his body.  For the next hour, we talked on the porch about Emma and her house which is now proudly his house.  He produced the original county abstract for the property.  Contained within it are all the legal documents which show the history of all the families who purchased this house.  All the legal transactions, the dates and the actual signatures for Emma, John, Cora and Dessie.  All the while as I reading the abstract I can feel Emma looking over my shoulder proudly.  Her presence was all around us. Shane let me scan in copies of the abstract.  It was a day that I could never have dreamed of having all those years ago when I started this journey. 

Shane talked all about the projects that he has started or will need to do in the future to return his little house to what it looked like when Emma owned it.  He had to do foundation work because it had settled badly. He re-opened as much of the porch as he could, he gutted the inside and added drywall walls.   When we talked through email a few weeks ago, I sent him this photo of John and Emma taken in the living room of what is now his home.

He had found the wallpaper that was on the walls in that picture when he took the old walls out. I wanted to see the inside of the house in the worst way but I already felt bad that we had just dropped in on them. So I would not ask.  Eventually, he offered...but his wife was a bit reluctant...She said, “ It isn't really ready for company, I was cleaning!”

I told her, “It was OK, really, that is not important to me.  What is important to me is to stand in Emma living room!”.  So we entered, and I could feel her everywhere.  I stood in the very room that this photo was taken in. I had goose bumps and tears.  Time stood quietly still and it was a bit overwhelming!  I wanted it to last forever.  It was a truly unexpected gift!

I never dreamed all those years ago when I looked at those dusty photos of this couple that this journey would become so special to me.

There is much more to share about this day but I will save it for the next blog.

Happy Hunting,

Jan Smith

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