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Woster: The doorway and house that led to a lifetime of memories

The house seemed as solid as it did that day back in March of 1961 when I squared my shoulders, climbed the wide front steps, crossed the porch between the stately columns and rang the doorbell to announce that I had arrived to take the Gusts’ only daughter to a movie.

Terry Woster
Terry Woster
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When I walked into the west porch of the home my in-laws once owned in Chamberlain, I scanned the ceiling and the edges of the windows for wasps.

The enclosed porch has been updated, but I still checked for wasps. Those critters always seemed to buzz around out there when Paul and Lorene Gust owned the place.

The house was open for a tour last Thursday evening. Billed as the Whitbeck Home (if I recall the small sign correctly), it was built in 1902. It’s an imposing, magnificent fortress of a place — two full stories with a walk-up attic and a full basement. The foundation, 15 to 18 inches thick, is made of small boulders set into concrete. The floors are solid wood, the doors are thick and heavy and the ceiling beams in the living room look as if they could support a mountain.

As we toured, I inspected walls and ceilings on every floor for signs of cracking and shifting, indications that the century-plus old foundation was weakening. I saw none. It seemed as solid as it did that day back in March of 1961 when I squared my shoulders, climbed the wide front steps, crossed the porch between the stately columns and rang the doorbell to announce that I had arrived to take the Gusts’ only daughter to a movie. In the years since, through dates and college breaks, weddings and anniversaries, funerals and more visits home than I can count, I never approached the front door without remembering the first time.

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Courtesy photo

I recalled it last Thursday evening when we took the tour. The local PEO arranged for home and garden tours of four Chamberlain homes. Current owners Kirby and Adrian Laney graciously opened their home to guests. The opportunity to walk through the big corner house on Stearns drew our only daughter from Brookings to join us. She knew the old castle well. She and her younger brothers spent countless hours at the place, both on visits with Nancy and me and on their own, staying with the grandparents for a week or more at a time during summers. They knew every quirk on every floor and every imagined spirit in every corner. They made up stories about features they didn’t understand, and sometimes they begged me to go to the attic with them. Alone, it was a mysterious, hot and dusty place of shadows. It wasn’t much better with me. I hung near the top of the stairs, just in case.

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The attic wasn’t open for the tour. Fine with me. Like the west porch, it sometimes was a haven for wasps. I saw none on the west porch, but I didn’t relax until we had returned to the living room and the porch doors had latched behind us.

The furniture arrangements are different in the living room, but I could picture the big couch where I sometimes sat on a Sunday evening with Nancy and her dad, watching the adventures of the Cartwright family on “Bonanza.’’ If Paul decided to sit in a rocker or recliner, Nancy’s baby brother, Tim, squeezed his way between me and his sister. It took me a long while to like that kid.

The kitchen has been enlarged, taking in a former unheated porch where Lorene sometimes stored pies and other baked goods and where she stashed the huge roaster pan of left-over Thanksgiving turkey, out of the way but handy for snacking. When Gusts lived in the house, the kitchen, though smaller, was a social focal point. We crowded around a small table to talk and over-eat and play loud games of cards.

Upstairs, I stepped into the spacious, southwest bedroom and recalled rushing there one evening when our older son, then 4 or so, hollered that he had caught his fingers in the window. He’d been playing tricks to avoid going to bed. I thought this might be another one, but, nope. He really smashed them.

As we left, I looked back and saw the spot under a shade tree near the west porch where Nancy and I first kissed. That wasn’t on the tour, but it was there.

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A few more folks scattered here and there would be nice, though, enough to support a café or two, a general store, a corner grocery and so on.

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