I never thought the day would come when our family home on North Post street would sit vacant. But that day has arrived.
The Valentines called North Post street home for nearly five decades. Yet, when our parents passed away, none of the 14 children wanted to buy a 90-year-old house in desperate need of renovation. So it was sold.
Sadly, the people to whom we deeded our memories ran into financial trouble and defaulted on the mortgage. So the house now stands empty, a big red reminder of a million and one tears, laughs, failures, and successes.
I stopped by the house on North Post this summer while visiting friends and family in Spokane. The place was run-down. Last winter’s ice storm sheared half the limbs on the magnificent 100-foot fir tree. The grass in the back yard, which never stood a chance of taking root during our childhood, had grown to a foot in height.
Garbage was piled in the carport where beat-up Chevys, Dodges, and Fords had once leaked oil. The trees that Mom lovingly planted two decades ago were in desperate need of trimming. And the weeds that I so often avoided pulling had finally conquered the flower beds.
Lou Valentine and Grace Candee were like most Spokanites who came of age during the Great Depression and World War II. They arrived in Spokane as teenagers looking for a better life — he from Potlach, Idaho and she from a farm outside Libby, Mont. In storybook fashion, they met in the St. Francis of Assisi church choir, fell in love, married and lived all but the war years in Spokane.
Life on North Post street was never easy. This was mainly due to the endless stream of children starting with Marcia in 1943 and ending with Barbara in 1964. Feeding 14 mouths on a working man’s salary taxed even Mom’s brilliant mind, but we always had food, clothes, education, religion and fun. Lots and lots of fun.
The house itself was entertaining. Originally a one-and-a-half story home with only two bedrooms and a tiny alcove upstairs, an addition was built in the early 1960s to ease crowding. Thus, as a younger child in the family, I missed the really tough times when five or six kids crammed into one bedroom.
Worse, there was only one full bath for a household of 11 women and five men. It is a wonder we made it to school at all, let alone on time.
For us children, the house was an adventure of squeaky wood floorboards, piggy-back rides upstairs to bed and hunting for treasure in the dark and dirty crawl spaces. Imagine our glee when we first discovered Dad’s WWI-era baseball glove, a time when no webbing was strung between the fingers.
My brother Fred and I, the 10th and 11th offspring, were especially fortunate. Mom and Dad had by then lost their religious zealousness which meant we did not have to enter St. Francis Seminary near Portland at 14 like our two older brothers.
We were thus free to live and breathe baseball, football, and basketball. In summer, the neighborhood gang gathered at Willard School on North Wall. With splintered Louisville Sluggers, soon-to-be hideless baseballs, and our Whitey Ford signature gloves, we measured games by days rather than innings.
When autumn arrived we moved to the school’s narrow but grassy front lawn to play football, always careful to avoid the concrete steps when going long for a touchdown pass.
When snow fell Fred and I joined our cousins, the Krafts, to play basketball in the gym at St. Francis of Assisi School. Brother Conrad, the keeper of the key, never could say no to our collection of pleading faces. The result was marathon games of basketball.
Change came quickly to North Post street. Willard School was torn down and replaced by a modern facility. The Diocese closed St. Francis of Assisi School; its gym was razed for church parking. By then Fred and I played our sports at Gonzaga Prep. Dad died suddenly a few years after we graduated from college and the house became eerily quiet.
The basement, long filled with the sounds of pianos, violins, and cellos, was silent. The dining room, once the site of many heated games of cutthroat, Allelujah! and Monopoly, was still. And the family room, or as our Baby Boomer family called it, “the TV room,” witnessed precious few reruns of Bing Crosby movies.
Mom continued to live on North Post street. But it was not the same. She died seven years later, in 1992, providing cause for one last great gathering. Lou and Grace’s 14 children reunited at her funeral to reminisce about childhoods, events, and people, as well as the less magical moments like the time I cut the heel of my sister Colette as I chased her down with a rotary lawn mower.
By the time Mom died I had moved to Washington, D.C. where I remain today. It embarrasses me to admit that the thought of buying our family home never crossed my mind. But my adult eyes saw the neighborhood for what it is, an incredibly modest area with small and aging homes. Dad, in fact, had committed the cardinal real estate sin of building the biggest and most expensive home on the street. And what did a single guy want with a white elephant?
I have since married and my wife and I are expecting our first child. The occasion has given me pause to re-evaluate where we live. While moving back to Spokane makes sense for our child, and us, it remains a dream.
One reason is our professions. My wife is an attorney and the Lilac City already has too many. I am even worse off for I help universities build relationships with businesses. With only a few four-year colleges in Spokane, there are precious few opportunities.
Another factor is my wife’s family. They live in Yonkers, N.Y. Moving to Spokane is asking a lot from an Italian-American whose family members bear striking similarities to characters in “The Godfather.”
Even so, all it would take to change our minds is one too many close brushes with random violence.
I pray, however, that if we ever move back to Spokane, the house on North Post street is not available. It desperately needs a family right now.
MEMO: Patrick Valentine, 37, graduated from St. Francis of Assisi and Gonzaga Prep and earned degrees from Gonzaga University, EWU and George Mason University. Of the 14 Valentine children, his brother Fred and sister Mary are the only ones who still live in Spokane.
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