It seems if you ask most anyone in Havre de Grace, they'll tell you I live in Ms. Evelyn's house.
I take care of the minuscule tasks like paying the mortgage, but, for all intents and purposes, this place still belongs to my predecessor, a spry woman who died in 2009 at the age of 90.
I heard stories about Ms. Evelyn long before buying or moving into the cozy little brick one-story.
It took me about 25 seconds to learn that all who knew her, said Evelyn Rodia was not an average woman.
I guess it began when the real estate agent who listed the house (and who considered himself a friend of Ms. Evelyn) recalled how she cared for her flower beds and the landscaping, as we walked the perimeter of the property.
He knew her children, who were all older than my parents, and that she was an active member of St. Patrick's Church.
In retrospect, I suppose it wasn't coincidence that the gorgeous rose bushes and azaleas were one of the things that drew me to the house to begin with.
On one of the days I stopped by to look at the house before I decided to buy it, the next-door neighbors greeted me in the lawn. They were happy to see someone may be interested, but also quick to tell me about the former owner, Ms. Evelyn. She was like a grandmother to their children, they said. They also really wanted to be sure someone who would love and care for the place would buy it.
In my gut, I knew that person was me.
On settlement day, I would finally meet Ms. Evelyn's daughter, and the handler of her estate. She was a sweet woman who cried as she handed me her mother's house keys. As she hugged me, she said her mom loved the place and if she was still alive, would be happy that another independent feisty woman was taking over the place.
I felt an enormous responsibility to care for the home her mother loved so much.
When I unlocked the door for the first time, I knew that for as long as I lived here I was really only a guest of someone much cooler than me.
I couldn't have been more right.
It's been nearly a year, and I've renovated nearly the entire place. Plenty of things have changed and plenty of things have stayed the same.
My neighbors still recount stories of Ms. Evelyn often.
For instance in the fall when I was complaining about the enormous tree in the front lawn that dropped a dump truck load of leaves each night, they laughed and told me Ms. Evelyn had the same trouble.
Obviously a more seasoned homeowner, and likely more energetic, Ms. Evelyn would rake up the dead foliage herself each day.
Another neighbor chuckled as he told me about how she hosted a social hour with a handful of older men from the community each week on her screened-in porch. He recalled her quick wit and sense of humor that would make you double over in laughter.
Other folks in the community would tell me Ms. Evelyn was a member of the Havre de Grace Elks Lodge (serving as President of Elks Ladies Club at some point), was known for hosting a morning coffee klatch, and had some mean cooking skills that I know I could never face-off with.
During an early-spring yard sale this year, my girlfriends and I sat huddled in the front lawn drinking coffee. Nearly everyone who stopped by said they had been wondering who was living in Ms. Evelyn's house. My girlfriends laughed, as I had predicted that may happen.
One lady stayed long enough to tell me that her husband used to work for Ms. Evelyn's husband, Stanley. She said he owned a barbershop downtown and both he and Ms. Evelyn were wonderful friends to them.
As she told me how much she and her husband loved the woman who used to live in my house, I assured her they weren't alone.
And then just last week I called a local heating and air company for maintenance on the central air unit.
While on the phone, I gave them my address, and the lady on the other end of the line happily said, "Oh, OK Evelyn, we'll be right out."
I didn't have time to correct her before she hung up.
Minutes later, I answered the door, and the service man was taken aback: "Hi there, I've been coming out here servicing this house for the past 10 years, and you're certainly not…"
I smiled and cut him off before he could finish: "Yeah, I know, I'm not Ms. Evelyn."
I paused to think about how to explain this without letting him down.
"I'm just housesitting," I said.
And in many ways, I guess that's true.