It’s 10 in the morning, not that the giant carved clock in the dining room keeps time anymore, and Jean Grafton is sipping hot tea from a slender floral teacup, once part of a set her mother bought each of her daughters decades ago.
She’s sitting with her companion, a dog named Bentley, in her favorite room in the house on Seventh Street in Ocoee — which her father had built in 1926 with three bedrooms and one bath.
Here, Grafton is surrounded by tangible reminders of her large family that once lived, laughed and loved there.
Across from her brown leather chair is an ornate mantel, a beautiful addition to the home just a few years ago — yet the wood is older than the house itself. Above it, two 89-year-old sconces hang on the concrete interior wall; one of them still works.
ROOM FOR EIGHT
The house was already five years old when Mattie Jean Grafton was born in 1931 in the bedroom just off the front room. The baby of six children born to Joe and Mabel, her first bedroom was really a makeshift space on the screened back porch. Eventually, as older siblings left, Grafton occupied one of the beds in the girls’ room.
Grafton was the city clerk of Ocoee for 30 years. Upon retirement in 2004, she could have lived comfortably on the beach or in the mountains, but she chose to go back home.
“I feel safe here,” she said.
After both parents died, a sister, Ruth, who already had been living there with their mother, bought the house in 1986. When Ruth died several years ago, Grafton bought the house from the heirs and started renovations.
She pulled up the kitchen Linoleum and the 50-year-old white wall-to-wall carpet in the other rooms, revealing the original 1926 wood floors, pockmarked with age but still in great shape. She took the plaster walls down to the original bones, added two bathrooms and some closet space and removed the back porch. She also extended the house’s foundation 400 feet.
She had the roof replaced, new double-paned windows installed and the chimney removed; Mama always tired of the birds coming in through the fireplace anyway.
TIES TO THE PAST
It has been a year since Grafton started the renovations. Today, she remembers the times her mother placed a quilt on the floor of the front room for them to nap.
She recalls the sticky concrete floor of the back porch, where the family made honey from Daddy’s beehives, and how as a child she sold quarts of honey to her neighbors for 75 cents. She can still see Mama using a hot knife to cut the wax caps off the honeycomb. When Grafton was cleaning out the cluttered garage a few years ago, she found 50 gallons of honey, still canned and neatly stacked from the last extraction probably 50 years ago. She sold it online.
Her father had the garage built to hold six cars, so as adults, his children had a place to park when they came home to visit with their own families.
There is a cellar, because her dad was raised in West Virginia, where the people he respected all had cellars. Renovators added a hydraulic lift to the door in the floor, though, and it’s too heavy for Grafton to lift. So the room below sits empty, holding only the memories of yesteryear: Daddy and sister Marie making and jugging wine, Marie making root beer.
Grafton found the bottle-capping machine her sister used, along with seven full 20-gallon glass jugs of wine-turned-vinegar.
One of the original bedroom closets had her father’s photography equipment, boxes of film, a camera and two projectors. Memories flooded back of the family going to Silver Glen Springs and Grafton’s father making home movies of his daughters diving into the chilly water.
Grafton can sit in her favorite chair and peer into the dining room at Mama’s table with the claw feet, remembering how her mother cooked three meals a day, every day, for Daddy and the kids.
From this vantage point, she has a view of Mama’s china cabinet and sideboard, which still has the attached mirror. Daddy liked to watch himself chew while he ate.
She can look at the big Black Forest clock and recall the day her father walked into the house with it, proud of his $150 purchase. This goes hand-in-hand with the memory of going shopping in Orlando with her mother earlier that day. She watched her mother try on an expensive outfit but decline to buy it because of the $100 price tag. Upon hearing how much the clock cost, she picked up the telephone, called the department store and asked for the clothing she had tried on to be delivered.
THE PRICE OF MEMORIES
The little gray house on Seventh Street was purchased for $40,000, minus Grafton’s share as heir, and she estimates she has put in close to $200,000. Someone told her the house could have been razed and rebuilt for much less. But that wasn’t the point of moving back.
“We brought to close so many memories going through this stuff,” Grafton said. “We had a lot of fun in this house.”
Contact Amy Quesinberry Rhode at [email protected].