part of the reason i wanted to buy our barrio house, i realize, has to do with that my father’s family house–the Lison house. built in 1901 by my great-great grandfather in green bay, wisconsin, it’s a charming old Victorian, and the closest thing to a family home i’ve ever had, even though i never lived there.


the lison family house.

several years ago, after my father’s sister passed away, i had to face the loss not only of a very dear aunt, but also that of the house. though i’d fantasized about fixing it up and living there, i knew it was an impossibility. i had left green bay years before; my life was no longer there and likely never will be again.

and yet: i couldn’t sell the house. it sat in the midst of a neighborhood that members of my family had lived in for over a century, though one that has been slowly going to seed for decades. many of the homes have been turned into rentals owned by sketchy landlords, several of whom sent me letters to say how eager they were to take the house off my hands.¬†but i couldn’t bear to see it meet that fate.

so i donated it. with the help of the green bay branch of neighborworks–they supplied the labor, while i loaned the funds–the house got a complete renovation. the last word i had, the young couple who eventually bought it had put a wreath on the door, and pumpkins on the stoop for fall. i know it was the best possible ending.

even so, part of me grieves for that house still. one of the most beautiful things to me about our barrio house is that sometimes, when i’m standing inside its walls and looking out its tall, narrow windows–so like the windows in my family house that i never lived in, and couldn’t keep–i get the feeling that i gave up that house so that this new one could come into my life. ¬†though it didn’t know it then, our barrio house was out there–waiting for me to arrive.

some photos of the green bay house, pre-renovation. if they look a little wonky and sad, it’s because that’s how i felt while taking them. and how i still feel, remembering it.



front porch.


looking out the front door.


my dad’s old t.v.


one of my grandparent’s original pieces of furniture, likely bought circa 1920.


one of the old wall-hung porcelain sinks in the house.


my grandmother’s old singer sewing machine.


photo of my dad’s family on the family piano. my aunt’s handbag is on top.


my grandmother’s metal bedstead.


the back hall.


one of grandma’s peonies, nearly ready to bloom the spring my aunt died.