Jen Gienapp: End Of An Era At 4901

Saturday, March 1, 2014 - by Jen Gienapp

Fourteen years ago, we bought this beloved house, which is over 100 years old, in St. Elmo when we had only three kids and a dog. In the last few days, we sold it, with mixed feelings. Owning a home 1,300 miles away gets tiresome, even though we had a bunch of guys who were great renters living there. After we moved, it was named Chateau Bro, aptly enough. But it’s time for a new and younger family to enjoy it.

Those 14 years at 4901 sure hold a lot of memories. 

In the early years, we renovated like nobody’s business. Every room’s walls were stripped of multiple layers of paneling, wallpaper and paint, down to the original plaster. We took out dropped ceilings to expose 11-foot ceilings. We filled several dumpsters with carpet, paneling, and junk left in the garage. All of the woodwork and floors were refinished or repainted. We added a bedroom and extra storage space downstairs, and built a staircase. That’s no small feat, when you have to figure out the measurements of treads and risers in a very short space. We took out five closets, added a couple more, renovated a bathroom, and moved another one, to enclose one of four (yes, four) porches. We opened up doorways, to make rooms more welcoming, and we closed off others for privacy. We updated plumbing and electric, and the kitchen got a makeover, although it's still a work in progress. We learned a lot about remodeling, and are about over it at this point in our lives.

We spent years, perched at the top of 10-foot ladders with a paint scraper, brush, hammer, screwdriver or pliers. We crawled on the basement dirt floors on our stomachs with only a flashlight to install electricity or plumbing. We operated sanders, heat guns, sawzalls, drills, and a jackhammer to get rid of needless sidewalks. My husband carted in hundreds of pounds of wet cement to a basement room to make a floor, which has the handprints and names of our five kiddos. But I now understand my aunt’s comment, when we were buying it, “Man, it has a lot of potential, but I’m glad it’s you, and not me.” We lived in a lot of drywall and coal dust and fumes, for sure. I like to credit that to my kids’ good immune systems. 

We survived two deployments at 4901. Within those walls, many tears were shed and fearful, sleepless nights and late-night video chats through them, but then so much excitement, joy and celebration was shared when they were over.

Our twins were babies in that house, and our big kids did a lot of growing up through those years. They had much-loved friends next door and across the street, and spent hundreds of hours outside in the yard, on the trampoline, in pools, and in each other’s homes. I wish I had a dime for every Popsicle or roasted marshmallow eaten in that back yard. 

We had holidays and birthday parties, sometimes by ourselves, and other times with big family gatherings. Whether it was pizza and coke, or Thanksgiving fare with wine, there were many good times.

We celebrated good grades, and helped with the bad ones. Many late nights were had, with teenagers staying up doing homework. 

We nursed a lot of sicknesses, injuries, and post-surgeries in those rooms. One of our sons even got stitches in his chin on a table, in the midst of a power outage with some of us shining flashlights.

We enjoyed the seasons at 4901. Whether it was piles of coats and boots in the winter inside our back door, or kids running around in bathing suits or shorts with no shirts in the sweltering summers, we loved them. Fall and spring brought amazing colors and new life to our back yard. 

We did so much gardening, yard up-keep, and planting. I hope the new owners will get as much joy out of my hydrangeas, crepe myrtle and irises that I did. Maybe they’ll pull the red bud out, because I planted it too close to the house. But those dogwoods and the walnut tree, damaged by the tornadoes, but still living in the back yard should provide joy for years, even with the dropped not-so-good walnuts, every other year.

We enjoyed late nights, on our back porch or in the back yard, around a fire pit with friends, laughing, commiserating about parenting, counseling each other during rough times or life changes, and intense political or theological discussions. 

Our wonderful dog Knox, who had welcomed all of our five babies as only a sweet mutt can, was put to sleep there. Our new puppies, Luther and Katie, started their lives at 4901. There are several hamsters, a lizard, a hermit crab, a fish, and Knox buried in the back yard.

Through those years there was cleaning, repairing, baking, playing, preparing for children’s performances, changing of diapers, singing, long phone calls on a land line, and dealing with finances and discipline. 

After we moved to Wyoming, our dining room at 4901 was turned into one of the first offices for Fancy Rhino. They’ve since moved out, to bigger and better offices, but I like to think (or pretend) their great success is partly because of where they started out.

If the 4901 walls could talk, they would tell of so much laughter, many tears, good conversations and debates, fights among siblings and even spouses, great love between everyone, raucous good times and many hard times. 

Yes, we will always have such fond memories of our 4901. But it’s time to end that era, and let someone else start a new one. Maybe they’ll find the time capsule we put inside the tile shelf of one of the bathrooms, years ago.

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