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If these walls could talk

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Christopher Farry was rushing out the front door of his home on Edgewood Drive on Charleston's West Side when he stopped to get the mail. He saw a plain white envelope, neatly addressed in strict cursive to "whoever lives at 1121 Edgewood Drive."

"I realized this was something different, so I stopped and took a few minutes to read it," he said.

What unfolded on four pieces of paper were the memories of a young girl who lived in the home from 1940 to 1945 with her father and grandparents.

"It was wartime. And we had black-out curtains to close at night when the air raid sirens went off," Barbara Edgar, 75, of Chico, Calif., recalled in her handwritten letter. "As far as I know, they were always false alarms, but it seems like we practiced a lot!"

Even though she was just 3 when she moved into the home in 1940, Edgar remembers sitting at a small table on the front porch in nice weather, looking over the Edgewood Country Club golf course, where she would eat her lunch and "have tea parties with my dolls."

Farry, 35, and his wife, Khadija Ahmed, 29, pored over the letter, absorbing Edgar's story.

"I don't even really know what to think. You just dwell on it," Farry said. "You picture a little girl at a round table outside. The airport is basically a mile over that hill, so the sirens would have been loud during wartime. It's hard to fathom.

"Now we have this little safe community here on the hill with the golf course, so it's kind of hard to think about how things would have been back when this area was booming and it was a possible bomb target area because of the airport" and chemical industry, Farry said.

The house, which was built in 1940, has remained largely unchanged since Edgar lived there. All the floors, walls and many of the accoutrements, including the crown molding, are original.

"You always think of your home as your own, but there are people who have built their own lives in a place, too," Ahmed said. "Our house has almost original everything -- hardwood floors, the walls ... it's cool to think that someone else walked the same floors, looked out of the same windows, and in our case walked up the same stairs."

"She lived here," Ahmed said, gesturing around the couple's dining room. "It's not like it's been remodeled. These were her floors at one time. These were her windows."

In fact, the original windows with a weighted pulley system are still in the front of the home. Over the years, a downstairs living space and a small sunroom have been added, but the original floor plan remains largely the same.

Her letter has changed the way the young couple, who bought the home in 2009 after it sat vacant for almost two years, thinks about their first home.

"It adds to the character that the house brings," Ahmed said.

Edgar wrote that she got the idea for the letter after being "a little nostalgic," and thought it would be fun.

Outside, Edgar's grandmother had a victory garden.

"She had a big 'V' made out of stones in the middle that she painted red, white and blue. The backyard was not level, it had quite a slope to it."

Ahmed, who also grew up with her grandmother, said the garden is "long gone," but the couple thinks they have seen remnants of the original stones.

"There is a big barrel that looks like it was used for flowers, and a lot of smooth stones, about the size of a basketball, in one corner of the hill," along with what used to be a sidewalk, Farry said.

Being one of the homes on Edgewood hill, a sloped backyard, or a steep climb from the street, is the norm.

"To a child," she wrote, "it seemed like a lot of steps from the street to the porch."

But the hills on the West Side are good for some things. "There was a golf course across the street and in the winter, I would sled down the hill to the golf course below," Edgar wrote.

Take a drive through the neighborhood on a snowy day and you will still see kids sledding down the Cato Park golf course hill.

"Even though we have gotten away from handwriting letters, some things are timeless and never change," Farry said.

Edgar went to school at J.E. Robins Elementary, which opened in 1930 on Charleston's West Side.

"I know I walked to school and though the [sidewalks] were shoveled, it seemed to me that the snow was higher than my head in the winter," she wrote.

Her father worked as a glassblower for Carey Neon Sign Co., but during the war, he also worked for Westvaco, now MeadWestvaco.

Edgar lived in the home for five years, but after the war, she was "sent to live with my mother and stepfather in Oakland, Ca. I stayed in California, went to college, married at 19, had two sons and have lived in Chico for the past 52 years."

She has never been back to Charleston and only saw a picture of her childhood home again after she had one of her sons locate it on Google Maps.

Ahmed is thankful Edgar sent the letter when she did. "If she had sent this letter a few years ago, it would have just sat there."

The young couple hasn't yet contacted Edgar -- who made a note in her letter that she has neither Facebook nor e-mail -- but they plan to write her their own handwritten letter and send pictures of the home.

Farry said connecting with Edgar has been an eye-opening experience for the couple.

"Nine times out of 10 you associate with someone within 20 years of your age. You don't really think beyond what your time has consisted of or even your parents' time," Farry said.

Edgar, who wrote she hoped her letter "gave you a smile or two to know that your house made many memories for a little girl," has given more than that to the young couple.

"You feel connected," Farry said.

"There is a little piece of everyone that lived in your house," Ahmed said. "It's both weird and fascinating at the same time."

Reach Kathryn Gregory at kathryng@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5119.


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