In October, Connie Stephens received a letter in the mail that made her burst into tears.
The letter was addressed to: “To the Owner of my Grandparent’s House.” In the letter, a woman from College Station explained to the Stephenses how her mother, now 80 and suffering from Alzheimer’s, had grown up in the house.
Stephens and her husband, John, who bought the house for its old-fashioned charm, were happy and astounded to hear from someone about their home of 15 years.
“John and I have always loved older homes. There’s something about the history of older houses,” Connie says. “One of our favorite shows is ‘If These Walls Could Talk’ on HGTV. And every time we’d watch that show, John would say: ‘I wish these walls could talk.’ We just had so many questions.”
Questions about the two old chairs, in good condition but left in the attic. Or the garage, which at some point had been fitted with plumbing, making the Stephenses wonder who had lived out there. Then there were the wooden stakes behind the garage.
“John said they looked kind of like something you would tie a horse to,” Stephens says. “So we always wondered — who lived here? Was there a horse? What was going on?”
So extreme was their curiosity about their old house that they’d contacted good friend and area Realtor Kay Weeks in the couple of weeks before receiving the letter, asking for her suggestions in researching its history.
That made the timing of the letter’s arrival perfect, Stephens says.
“It was the most bizarre thing, and I immediately broke into tears,” she says. “Anyone who’s not into old homes probably wouldn’t understand that, but it was just such a special moment.”
For Mary Jean Bassett, the letter’s author, finding such a willing connection was unlikely. She’d driven by the house numerous times during her trips to Dallas, even writing down its address with intentions to write the letter.
But it was after her mother, Evlyn Record, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s that she finally decided to get serious.
The house was built in the mid-1930s by Record’s parents, Evlyn and Boude Storey (Boude, who was a key player in the early days of Dallas public schools, now has a DISD middle school named after him). At that time, it was the farthest north house in Dallas , surrounded by dirt roads and open land, and Record had many fond memories of having spent part of her childhood there.
Bassett knew her mom wanted to see the house at least one more time.
“It was really important for me that mother get there, and I was hoping to hear back,” she says. “But in this day and age, you just never know.”
To encourage the home’s owners to respond, she sent pictures and references — “so they would know I was legit,” Bassett says.
Stephens, of course, needed no such encouragement. She almost immediately called Bassett, leaving her a message.
“I listened to it,” Bassett says, “but a lot of it was broken up and cut off.”
Part of the way through, she heard the numbers of the home’s address.
“I screamed,” she say. “And fortunately, we have caller ID. So I called her back, and Connie and I sat there and cried on the phone for a while.”
During that conversation, they arranged for Bassett to visit with her mom and other family members on Evlyn’s 80th birthday in late November.
“They let all of us come in,” Bassett says. “John kind of took some of them around, and the rest of us went with Connie.
“It was just really cool. She was real sensitive to mother — she didn’t want her to be upset because things had changed too much. It was very fun and good for all of us to be there. We each had different memories and were able to fill in information for each other and that kind of thing.”
For Connie and John, it was a window into their home’s former life.
“She was amazing,” Connie says of Evlyn. “She remembered everything so well. She walked around saying: ‘Oh, this door was here,’ and, ‘We played in this closet.’”
One of Evlyn’s most poignant memories that day was of her wedding reception in 1947.
“She stood by the stairs and said: ‘Oh, I remember when I was standing at the top of those stairs and threw my bouquet down them,’” Stephens recalls. “She immediately got tears in her eyes.”
The Stephenses also heard the story about the attic chairs — the attic doorway had been narrowed, making it impossible to remove the chairs — and the garage’s occupant, who turned out to be the Storey’s maid.
And the wooden stakes behind the garage?
“The maid’s husband would come pick her up at the end of the week and take her home for the weekend,” Stephens says. “He would tie his horse that was connected to his buggy up there.
“They just told us some fascinating stories,” she says.
For their part, Bassett’s family, and especially her mother, are just happy the home has an owner who appreciates it, especially in a neighborhood where older homes often are torn down.
“They love it very much, and that’s just so nice,” Bassett says, who adds that she and Stephens now keep in touch and she and her mother have been back for additional visits.
For her part, Stephens says knowing the home’s history has made it all the more important to her family, which includes sons Holt, 13, and Carson and Coleman, 11.
“We feel a little bit different about the house, and it’s become even more special,” she says. “When they all visited, the mother [Evlyn] hugged me and said, ‘Thank you for loving my house like I did.’
“You just can’t get that in a brand new house.”
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