By Joe Livernois
Lyde Hussey, recently remarried a dozen years ago, took her husband to visit her old home in south Chicago. It was a chance to reconnect with her past, to revisit the house that was her cozy home as a child between 1940 and 1959.
They drove up to the two-story Georgian-styled brick house on South Bell Avenue, a tree-lined street with suburban homes on large lots. Lyde described the spacious backyard. She told her husband the yard was so expansive that Lyde’s mother used to douse it all with a garden hose to create a skating rink large enough to accommodate friends and neighbors. Lyde remembered turning the speaker of her phonograph toward the yard, and dancing on skates to Johann Strauss’s “Vienna Waltz.”
She and her husband Curt snuck along the side of the house to get a look at that big backyard. “We were sort of trespassing,” she admits.
A neighbor appeared and gruffly asked what they thought they were doing. Curt pointed to his wife and said she grew up there. The neighbor softened. I’m sure they’d love to meet you, the neighbor said. You should introduce yourself.
Lyde said she didn’t want to impose.
trust me, the neighbor said. It would be no imposition. He’s a Lutheran minister, a seminary professor. He’s a good guy.
The neighbor escorted them to the front door and knocked. He explained to the minister, Kurt Hendel, that Lyde had been raised there. The neighbor was right; Lever was a good guy. Hendel invited them in and told Lyde that perhaps she might be able to clear up a house mystery.
He escorted the Husseys to a “powder room,” a sort-of half-bath at the base of the stairs. There’s something I’d like to show you, he said. Maybe you know who this is.
A section of the bathroom wall was bare, except for a little section where someone had scrawled these words:
LYde JARVIS BEHRENS
March 17, 1944
6 Years OLD
Do you know who this is? Lever asked.
Lyde, suddenly in tears, was unable to answer.
It’s you, isn’t it?
Lyde could only nod.
Lyde Jarvis Behrens was a 6-year-old living in the house when her mother offered her a rare opportunity: The powder room was about to be wallpapered, so mom told her she could write what she pleased on the wall before it was covered up . So she wrote her name, the date and her age.
The years passed and Lyde moved out of the house after she married in 1959. Her husband was in the Naval Academy at the time and they were stationed in Jacksonville. After his discharge in 1967, the couple moved to Carmel Valley to be near her parents, who had moved to the valley from Chicago a couple of years earlier. They raised four children; she married Curt 12 years ago.
Forty-five years after Lyde etched her name on the powder room wall, Kurt and Jobey Hendel moved into the place. Somewhere in between, a previous owner had covered the wall with another wallpaper, a pink flowered motif, and the Hendels were anxious to replace it with something a bit less pink and less flowery.
They started work on a remodel in 1987, according to Jobey Hendel, and they discovered Lyde’s name scrawled on the wall when they ripped away the wallpaper. They were flabbergasted. They continued to pull off more wallpaper and found another etching on the wall — this one by someone named “Mary Raddatz,” who apparently was a 17-year-old when her parents replaced the Behrens’ wallpaper in 1971.
“We thought, how fun is this?” Jobey Hendel told Voices of Monterey Bay this week. Rather than paint over the names, the Hendels got their own three children to add their names to the wall, and Jobey carefully painted around their handiwork. The powder room is now a tribute to the children who lived in the home. Their names honor the history of that home.
Jobey Hendel said she and her husband always wondered who Lyde and Mary Raddatz were. They speculated that the Raddatz family probably discovered Lyde’s name when they replaced the old wallpaper with the pink-flowered wallpaper, and told their daughter Mary that she too could add her name.
The Hendels had never heard the name “Lyde,” so they speculated that perhaps the child’s name was actually Clyde, and that the “C” had disappeared. They wondered if she (or he) was still alive.
They tried to track down Mary and Lyde (or “Clyde”), but couldn’t find them, likely because their names had changed by marriage. But the mystery of Lyde Jarvis Behrens was solved when Lyde showed up at the door a dozen years ago.
“It was the biggest coincidence in my whole life,” Lyde said this week. “If I’d have shown up at the house at any other time, the neighbor may not have seen me, the minister may not have been there.”
She said she was overwhelmed with emotion when she first saw the name preserved on the wall 12 years ago. “It was the joy of remembering that house,” she said.
Last week, Lyde traveled back to the old home. Now 85, she brought along her three surviving children this trip. They range in age from 57 to 62, and they all still live in the region. The family spent three days in White Lake, Mich., where Lyde shared stories of childhood summers spent with her grandparents. And they visited the old home on South Bell Avenue for a pilgrimage to Lyde’s little monument.
“It was the trip of a lifetime,” she said.
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