Friday, September 3, 2010
Earlier this week, I got a call from Marschall Runge, of North Carolina, whose mother grew up in the house. He just happened to see the house and wanted to see if there was any way they could walk through it (we rent the house and have a sign in the front yard advertising that fact and telling folks how to reach us).
It just so happened I was in Texas this week. While they were there. Which gave me the magical opportunity to walk through the house with people who knew it "way back when."
The reception was in the room that's now the library/downstairs bedroom. "We didn't want a lot of people," she told me. And I laughed, because I said the same thing when I got married. I think the reason that a lot of brides and grooms are nervous is because they don't know half the people in the room.
Mrs. Runge's father, George Herrmann, sounds like quite a card, as they used to say. He called the house "The Herrmanntage", like Andrew Jackson's Hermitage in Nashville.
George was married to a woman named Anna. I didn't know Anna, of course, but in 1981, when the house was on Galveston's Tour of Homes, Anna was quoted in the tour's guide book: "The house is home to my children," she said (one of those children was my new friend Gretchen!). "At Christmas they were laughing about the time I came home to find them sliding down the steps on my cookie sheets. I sat down on the last step and used my shoe on them...it was a happy home."
I have a copy of the guide book in our kitchen, so that guests can see the "before" pictures of the house (it was the Renovation in Progress in 1981, then was back on the tour in 1999 as a finished piece). I've always showed visitors that quote because it cracks me up.
Gretchen was a lady who paid attention to details. Here are just some of the other things she remembered about the house:
Her family bought the house in 1933 from Mabel and Violet Keiller, the daughters of the previous owner, Dr. Keillor, who passed away in 1931. There is a state historical marker in front of the house about Dr. Keillor, even though Gretchen's sons--Marshall and Val, who accompanied her on the trip this week, along with additional family members--said they always thought that Gretchen's father, Dr. Herrmann, was a more impressive doctor. (Dr. Herrmann was a cardiologist at UTMB, and was a pioneer in the field. He stayed at UTMB--and at 1409 Market Street--until 1973, when he entered private practice with his son in Del Rio).
While I'm on a doctor's visit: a quick note about Dr. Keillor: Gretchen says he had tuberculosis (there is no mention of that on the historical marker, so that was news to me. Note to self: wash hands). The doc had an incinerator in the house that he used to burn things that he touched. Gretchen's parents finally took it out a few years after they moved in.
There was a back staircase that led from a small covered downstairs porch (now part of our kitchen) to the upstairs bathroom. It was for the help to use. Gretchen says her family always had one or two people working for them, coming in every day except Saturday to help her mother with the meals and cleaning. She says that during the Depression she suspected that they came more for the free food than for the small amount of money her family paid them.
She says she was particularly close to an African American woman named Serena, who was just a tiny thing (she held her open palm about shoulder height as she told me that). I should point out here that Gretchen wasn't that tall herself.
Gretchen told me that in the forty years her parents owned the house, they never had water in it. That makes me feel good, and makes me hopeful that Ike truly was a 100 year storm. Of course, they did have water from above: after a strong storm, the ceilings in the living room and library collapsed. They had been incredibly ornate ceilings, made of Italian plaster.
The ceilings may not have lasted, but a lot of the other details have. And that's something of a miracle in itself. Much of the woodwork in the home is intact, and a lot of it is rare curly pine. When we bought the house, one of the Realtors told us that another couple had looked at it (allegedly--I seldom believe anything that Realtors say) and the wife said she would lighten the place up by painting the woodwork. He said he escorted them out of the house right then (allegedly).
Anyway, according to Gretchen, a lot of the house is intact. And that made me happy.
I know a lot of times my blogs go to the snarky side. There is no snark here--other than the references to the bookcase bozo--and it's because I truly felt lucky that I was in town on the right day so that I could meet this wonderful, story-filled woman.
Thank you, Gretchen! It was wonderful talking to you!!!
(Shown in the photo: Gretchen Herrmann Runge, on the right. Then, from the right, it's Val (who works at UTMB), John Runge (Gretchen's Grandson, who was on his way to college in Austin) Marschall and Susan Runge (Gretchen's son and daughter-in-law).