Recently, I saw a small sign poked in the ground at the corner of Laurel Springs and Trenholm roads – OPEN HOUSE.
I grew up in the 1960s on Laurel Springs Road, in what was then considered the scrub-oaked hinterlands of the Columbia community. Split-level homes with open-air carports and gravel driveways popped out of the earth like spring onions. It was a young place, finding its way like a gangly adolescent at a formal dance.
So I wondered what house might be on the market. What home might be open for strangers to wander through – critiquing décor and considering the size of closets?
To my great surprise, the house for sale was one that I grew up in. No, not 333 Laurel Springs Road, where my family lived. But 339 Laurel Springs Road. Right next door, where I spent many hours with an older couple by the name of Bill and Eileen Elliott.
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The house hardly looked like the same place I knew as a little girl with long pigtails. But I knocked on the front door anyway. A pleasant woman let me in. I explained myself and she welcomed me to look around. Which I did.
Beginning in the basement, where I spent most of my time with Bill and Eileen. By late afternoon, the couple – much my parents’ seniors – had made their way downstairs to a long, paneled room where Bill sat in a handsome leather chair and Eileen on a curiously modish sofa.
If it was fall or wintertime, Bill would let me light the fire in the fireplace. He had long matches and taught me how to touch the flame to the newspaper and kindling at the back before moving to the front. Then I was allowed to use his tooled leather bellows to push air into the nascent flames.
In that comfortable room, Eileen taught me things too. How to play Solitaire and Hearts. We played many games together. She also helped me learn to read. I remember nestling against her as we explored books together. I can even recall the scent of her perfume, though its name escapes me.
And no matter if I was busy lighting the fire with Bill or playing cards with Eileen, I was drinking a Coca-Cola in a short green bottle. The sweet drinks were kept chilled within an inch of their liquid lives in a squat red refrigerator in a small kitchen in the basement. I was always offered one despite it being before suppertime.
And I always waited eagerly for the Elliotts to return home from any fancy trip that they took because they always brought me a special present. Two in particular I adored. A rug that looked like the skin of a brown bear. I attached it to my bicycle seat and pretended I was riding a horse. And a buttery-colored leather cowboy jacket with fringes and brass snaps. It fit perfectly.
Funny, though, I can never remember Bill and Eileen not answering the door when I rang the bell. And I cannot remember them ever having a cross word for me, even when I ran through their rose bushes at the end of their driveway on a pair of skates.
But I can remember Eileen coming to my aid when I foolishly lit a sparkler underneath a magnolia tree in our front yard and set the tree on fire. I ran to Eileen to get help. She hooked up a hose from her house and dragged it to mine.
And I can remember Bill, coming home from work at his old-Columbia law practice, tooting the horn of his creamy Chrysler Imperial when he saw me.
I’m pretty sure Bill and Eileen are buried in Elmwood Cemetery. I should look them up. Tell them about the Sunday OPEN HOUSE. Tell them how much I loved that their house was always open to me.
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