never really gave the window sill much thought, chalking
it up to one of those idiosyncrasies of an old house,
like lumpy floors and crooked doorways. The color of a
bright school bus, the frame around the window in our
back bathroom had somehow escaped the wrath of our remodeling
Although we could find no particular rhyme or reason for
it, we liked the way it fairly lit up the room, making
it seem as if the light was on when it wasn’t, so
we kept it. Besides, with a house that old, there are
bigger problems to worry about – like roofs, siding
When we bought the house 2 years ago, it was the typical
fixer-upper, with a clouded past and various alterations
added over the years. Upon moving in, all we had was a
short-term history: remodeled sometime in the early ’90s;
had served as a college flop house ever since. One thing
we did know – it was in dire need of a thorough
gutting. But, as we ripped away at walls, floors and cabinets,
we had no idea that we would uncover more than the home’s
bare bones – we would get a glimpse into its soul.
Over the years, we had various people stop by, giving
us their recollections of the house. It was in this way
that we gradually pieced together a rough sketch of the
home’s structural history: it was built in 1917;
the back door was once the front door; the office, master
bedroom and mud room were all new additions; the former
upstairs consisted of one large room and a bathroom; the
kitchen sink with built-in drainboards had been around
for decades; and somewhere deep beneath the subfloor were
original hardwood floors, warped beyond salvation by years
But it was details of the house’s original occupants
that had remained the unknown – until last weekend.
It was only 5 o’clock on Saturday, but already dark
when we heard a knock at the front door. It was more of
an informal, courtesy knock, seeing as how the door was
half open. We had been going in and out all day between
the miter saw, which was outside, and the flooring project
we had undertaken inside.
The visitor poked his head in and introduced himself.
Trujillo was the name. He was passing by and couldn’t
help but notice the proliferation of power tools and construction
debris littering the front yard. Wanted to see what we
had done with the old place. His grandmother had lived
– and died at the ripe age of 106 – in the
house, where he had taken care of her in her old age.
He asked if he could take a look around, and I obliged
– grateful that I had the forethought that morning
to pull the covers over the bed. When he finished his
self-guided tour, he returned with his memories of the
house and his grandmother. She spent her time sewing on
an antique Singer, the kind built into its own table;
working in her garden; and tending to the numerous outdoor
cats that seemed to congregate around the house.
“I don’t know what she was feeding them, but
it must have been something good,” he said.
And although most signs of her were all but gone –
her bedroom was now a sunroom and the cats had all moved
on – there was one lasting reminder: a small swatch
of bright yellow-orange paint on the back window sill.
“She loved that color,” he told us. “Everyone
knew her house.”
Apparently, when the old woman passed away, most signs
of her went with – including the paint job. Her
children were hasty in ridding the home of her belongings,
the grandson said. Being an underling, he watched silently
as her entire life was thrown into the dumpster. However,
he did manage to sneak back to reclaim a few precious
items, which proved in the end to have far more than sentimental
The first salvaged item was a set of floral throw pillows.
When he removed the covers to wash them, he found $5,000
tightly rolled up in a rubber band amid the stuffing.
The second item, an old trunk, revealed a hidden compartment
where she had stashed piles of $20 bills. They had been
there so long, they were disintegrating into dust by the
time he found them, he said.
And this may very well have been only the beginning, he
“She was always digging in the yard, but we don’t
know what she was doing out there,” he said, suggesting
that we get a Rototiller and see if we, too, can dig up
part of old Mrs. Trujillo’s treasure.
Of course, as we bid adieu, I realized much of what he
said was meant to be taken with a grain of salt. And treasure
or no treasure, no amount of money in the world was going
to get me to rip up the front yard, which I had painstakingly
transformed from an eyesore to a botanical work in progress.
Besides, the lore of old lady Trujillo was riches enough.
The way I see it, her secrets should remain buried, revealing
themselves when fate dictates. In the meantime, I am content
letting myself believe she is somehow responsible for
my bumper tomato crop, perhaps tending to it from the
afterlife. Maybe she also has a hand in the constant and
inexplicable battle with burned-out light bulbs, using
it as a way to send us signs from the great beyond.
And although the neighborhood has changed since Mrs. Trujillo
tilled the soil below the sunny orange eaves of her modest
home, there will always be that lasting reminder of her,
tucked away at the back of the house – a memento
that is far more than a coincidence. And who knows, maybe
one day, when we get around to tackling the exterior,
the bright yellow-orange once again will fly proud.