It's hard to let the old house go

By Steve Sell
March 20, 2014

• (Editor’s Note — Sometimes it’s good to take a break from sports and just comment on life’s events. More often than not it has to do with family and the old hometown).

I just can’t help it. I guess it’s like a moth being addicted to a flame.

You’d think by now with all my travels to my hometown of Independence — the Kansas variety, not the one in Missouri —  that I wouldn’t drive by to see the house where the Sell family called home for 57 years.

But here I was this week with my sister, during our trip to see my Dad, driving by the old homestead located at 622 W. Beech.

I don’t know the people who bought our house. All I know is that it was a family with kids.

But it didn’t take long for them to make changes. The beautiful shrubs that my Dad used to make sure were perfectly manicured were ripped out shortly after we sold the house and it makes the place look bare. The new family makes more use of the front porch than we ever did. In fact, other than when I was young, that porch never got any use.

There’s rock that’s been put down next to the driveway so another vehicle can be parked. It’s obviously a family that enjoys the outdoors as I’ve seen a boat in the yard at times. In the backyard, where my Dad kept his small boat, are numerous toys as it looks almost like an amusement park.

My Dad used to take great pride in our yard. Either he or my sister would do the mowing, while I always found an excuse to get out of it. My theory was it was just too hot, but I’d push the mower in a pinch.

I guess when I drive by that I’m hoping to see somebody in the yard, just to satisfy my own curiosity. I so much want to know what they did with the inside, though when a house is only about 1,200 square feet with three small bedrooms there’s not much you can do.

There really wasn’t much to our house, but it was home. You walked immediately into the family room, where I’m sure they have ripped out an old bookcase that housed encyclopedias from the 1960s that were never replaced. It’s a small room, with a step that goes up into the living room. It was that step that led to Dad moving into assisted living, because he just couldn’t make it anymore and sometimes would fall, which wasn’t good for an 83-year-old man living by himself.

The living room housed two pianos, one of them electric. Music was always part of that room as both my Dad and sister were expert pianists. Me? I thought all they did was gather dust, but Dad did spend at least an hour a day playing and I still know all his songs by heart.

The kitchen, which doubled as our eating area, was small and the washing machine was right next to the table. Remember, we didn’t live in a house with a lot of square footage.

There was a full bath and a half-bath and it always seemed like there was a problem with the toilet handles. My sister’s bedroom and mine were pretty small, but at least we had our own. Mom and Dad’s bedroom would be a small bedroom for most people, but they never complained.

Our backyard was all about sports. I used to play a one-man whiffle ball game, talking to myself as though I was Harry Caray calling play-by-play. I was a loyal St. Louis Cardinals fan (and still am) and listened to KMOX every night because its signal was so strong. I would fall asleep and Dad would have to come in and turn off the radio.

I also had a grass basketball court and my Dad dreaded that season because his gorgeous, lush green grass would become dirt. I used to spend countless hours shooting, imagining that I was taking a game-winning shot for the 76ers to beat the Celtics, the cream of the NBA crop back in those days of Wilt and Russell. I used to bank a lot of shots, because my backboard had a dead spot and I knew just precisely where to hit it and it would go in every time. When it rained, the net would shrink up and I would have to shake the basket to get the ball to drop until it warmed back up and loosened the net.

It will take the new family a long time to create the memories that I made there. I can’t imagine how many hundreds and thousands of shots I took or how many times Dad and I played catch, even though he didn’t like baseball at all. I used to try my Luis Tiant spin-motion when I was pitching to him, just hoping that someday I would be called on to pitch in a Little League game. That finally occurred in my final year in an extra-inning game against Sinclair and I was so nervous that I didn’t use my El Tiante move and just threw the ball with my knees knocking together. I did record one out in the inning that I finished out in relief, though I didn’t get the win.

I’m sure when I go back to Independence the next time, I’ll head over to West Beech. I keep saying “just one more look,” but I’m not sure if there will ever be a last one.