Letting go of things, not memories

Photos by Marlena Sloss/The Herald
Gloria "Jeanie" Huff unloads her dishwasher at her Wagon Works Apartment in Huntingburg on Monday. Jeanie moved into the apartment complex in mid-August and it is the first time in her life she has owned a dishwasher, which she now loves.

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

HUNTINGBURG — About a year ago, Gloria “Jeanie” Huff was living alone in a house with three floors.

It was the home she and her late husband, Elbert “Buck” Huff, lived in for almost 50 years. They raised three children there. They made memories there.

But being in a big house was no longer feasible for Jeanie. She knew it was time to downsize.

“I’m a widow, and I have this big old house, three stories,” she said. “I just couldn't take care of it anymore, physically and financially.

“So I just moved a block away.”

That new home is a one-bedroom at Wagon Works Apartments. Jeanie was the first person to move into the complex.

Wagon Works Apartments is a recently completed, 56-unit complex at the corner of Fifth and Washington streets, the former Wagon Works factory site. The almost $8 million complex has small and large studio apartments, small and large one-bedroom apartments, and two-bedroom apartments. It was developed through a partnership between Tri-Cap and Paragus and used state tax-credit funding as a Stellar Communities project; the city, which was designated as a Stellar Community in 2014, also contributed economic development funding.

“They're nice, they're really nice,” Jeanie said. “I feel like I'm in a hotel.”

Jeanie Huff of Huntingburg walks from her apartment to St. Mary Catholic Church on Wednesday morning. Jeanie walked to church from her old house and wanted her new home to also be within walking distance.

Jeanie had lived on East Fourth Street with Buck. The home has three floors: the main floor, the upstairs, and the finished basement. She continued to stay in the home after Buck died in 2006. But as she got older, she utilized the upper and lower floor less and less.

“I didn't really use the upstairs that much except maybe mostly for storage. And the basement was finished out, but I hardly ever used that either,” she said. “My knees aren't that great. I had to have my knee replaced in November. So it just kind of restricted me.

“It was just silly to have this and just let it sit there.”

Jeanie saw information in the newspaper about the Wagon Works complex about a year ago, and discussed moving with her daughters, Angela Mathies of St. Anthony and Lisa Buschkoetter of Huntingburg. (She also has a son, Chris, who is deceased.)

“My girls agreed I that need something smaller. And we knew they were building the apartments,” she said. “So I was biding my time until they were ready.”

They called and got on the list for an apartment as soon as they could. “The girls and I talked about different places. There were different places available in Huntingburg,” she said. “I decided, ‘No, I'm just gonna wait 'til those apartments are ready.’”

But Jeanie still had a house full of things to contend with

“I had like 50 years of stuff to get rid of,” Jeanie said.

A work shirt that belonged to Jeanie's husband, Elbert "Buck" Huff, made into a pillow, sits on Jeanie's couch in Huntingburg on Monday. The pillow is one of Jeanie's most important belongings and makes her apartment feel like home. "Every time I look at it I think of him," she said. "It's priceless.

So with her family, Jeanie went through the process of choosing what she wanted to keep. That included clothes, furniture and other needed household items, various trinkets and mementos that decorate her new home, and a handmade pillow that is covered by one of her husband’s work shirts.

The things she didn’t keep benefited others. “My kids and grandkids took what they wanted,” she said. “I left a lot of it for the young man that bought the house. We sold some things, and some went to St. Vinny’s. And we pitched a bunch of stuff.”

It was hard to downsize, she admitted.

“It was it was quite a transition. I mean, going from that big home into this one bedroom apartment was quite something else,” she said. “Here, I kinda greet myself coming and going. But it’s OK. It’s all I need.”

The new apartment does have perks.

“I have a dishwasher here,” Jeanie said. “I've never had a dishwasher in my house. We never had one at home when I was a kid. When we were married, I washed them. And then when they were old enough, my kids were my dishwashers.”

It took her a couple of weeks to get used to the appliance. “I’ve been running it about twice a week, something like that. It depends on what I’ve had to eat,” she said. “I might wash dishes once in a while, if I just have a few things.”

One domestic change Jeanie is trying to get used to is the electric stove.

“I’ve cooked on gas all my life, 60-some years,” she said, “and now I've got electric. But it's getting there.”

She loves the location of the complex, which is right down the street from her church, St. Mary’s Catholic Church. “That was my big thing,” Jeanie said. “I try to go to Mass every day. I wanted someplace close to church, so I could walk and didn't have to drive every day.”

Keepsakes, including figurines and her mother's First Communion prayer book, left, sit on a display shelf in Jeanie's apartment in Huntingburg on Monday. Deciding what items to keep was hard for Jeanie. In the end, "I just kept the ones that were closest to my heart," she said.

Jeanie does miss her East Fourth Street home a little. Although going floor to the floor was becoming a challenge, she does miss all the space.

“I have storage here for what I need. But I always used the upstairs at the house for storage. I had one big room up there that had a huge walk-in closet,” she said. “And I kept my things up there — my winter clothes or summer clothes, Christmas [items].”

She also misses the garage there, as well as the clothes lines. “I always hung my clothes out when I could,” she said. “I loved the smell of fresh clothes from hanging outside, especially sheets. So I miss that.

Jeanie has adjusted to her smaller home.

“It’s easier to keep clean, and I like the floors here,” she said. “I had all carpet, and a vinyl in my kitchen. Keeping all that clean was quite a big challenge. And then my knees aren't that great. So going up down them steps wasn’t easy.

“Now I have vinyl everywhere, and then carpet just in the bedroom. So that makes it much easier to keep it clean. Of course I don’t make too big of a mess. It’s just me. I try not to be too messy.”

Overall, Jeanie is glad she made the change. “It’s been a good decision. I needed to get rid of that big old house.”

But she is still getting used to the electric stove. “I’ve burned some pancakes,” she said, laughing, “but no fire alarms. I’ll get used to using it.”




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