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Opinion / Analysis / Essays

Suzanne Strempek Shea & Tom Shea

January 20, 2005

PALMER - The house that author Suzanne Strempek Shea shares with her husband, Springfield Republican columnist Tom Shea, and their two dogs was an object of curiosity and even wonder for her when she was growing up just a couple of miles away.

A certain Mrs. Midura occupied the elegantly appointed white cape with trimmed hedges, window boxes, yellow awnings, and potted geraniums on each of the fence posts. One of the few houses in town that stands apart from the residential neighborhoods, it is situated on a small rise overlooking a bend in Route 181 in the Bondsville section. Strempek Shea would peer up past the lawn, which was always well kept and often adorned with seasonal decorations, as she passed in the back of her parents' automobile.

Once she even got to peek inside when her mother, who was serving with Mrs. Midura on a church committee, had her deliver something to the back door. "I wanted to go in further, but I didn't dare ask," remembers Strempek Shea, 46. She caught a glimpse of what seemed like a lot of woodwork.

Many years later, in 1986, a "for sale" sign appeared out front. By that time married and owning a home in the neighboring town of Ware, Strempek Shea and her husband stopped by to have a look-see. Buying was not on their minds, but as they sat on the couch with the realtor it felt like home the sculpted carpets, flocked wallpaper, and ornate touches (like the "little Greek guys holding up the lamps") not withstanding.

The light, the built-in cabinets, "nice touches" like Dutch doors, and a labyrinthine quality attracted them. "The rooms seem to keep on going even though there aren't that many of them," says Strempek Shea. They bought the house fully furnished as part of an estate sale and for many years did very little to it. "It felt very much for a long time like visiting an older aunt," says Strempek Shea. They gave away a white brocade couch when the Warren fire department was collecting furniture for a fund-raiser and in time the fuzzy wallpaper had to go (though Strempek Shea's dad, who helped with the laborious task of scrubbing off the wheat paste, expressed his skepticism by repeatedly asking if they knew "how much a roll of this stuff goes for").

The couple has advanced to major renovation only once, and it wasn't by grand plan: Tom Shea loves music (a wall of his upstairs office is lined with CDs, and Bob Dylan is a favorite), and in 1999, after reading about house concerts, decided to invite one of their favorite musicians, one Willie Nile, to give a show in their modest abode. When the guest list started to balloon, they knocked out the wall between the living room and the sunroom. They also surveyed the infrastructure of their home, which they dubbed "Shea Stadium" for the event, and determined they needed a new downstairs toilet and a new kitchen stove.

Shea, 49, a Yankees fan who covered the Red Sox for five years before starting a column that chronicles little-noticed acts of kindness and grace perpetrated by everyday people, does most of his writing upstairs. From late spring to early fall, Strempek Shea writes in the screened-in patio. "I love the fresh air, to be at work and be outside at the same time," she says.

But when the weather gets cold, she brings her laptop inside to the sunroom, which, she says, feels more a part of the house since they renovated. As she works, she can follow the sunny spots as they creep around the house.

All articles © Eric Goldscheider

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