18 April 2021

All this is history now.

This week, we finalised my father's exit from his childhood home. It was a complicated affair. 

This was the house where he grew up in from when he was five years old. After he had walked away from his marriage and with the golden handshake he had received at the end of his career, he moved back there. He lived there with my grandmother for a while, but only until he got her safely removed to a care facility. It also was a complicated affair.

He sold the house about twenty years ago securing what in English is called usufruct, a legal right given by an owner to someone who is not the owner, to use the owner's property for a certain period, usually for the remainder of that person's life. This was in fact not at all a complicated affair. Usufruct has been applied since the Middle Ages, especially in rural Germany.

Here he is, the kid on the right watching his uncles and cousins digging the basement foundations.

And this is what it looked like after completion in front.


And here I am (on the right) with my sister (2nd from left) and cousins on an Easter Sunday visit.

This is what his sitting room looked like before he moved to the care home last summer.  The woman in the painting is my great grandmother.

. . . and here he is, in the same room, maybe six/seven years old, my sister sold the sideboard today. He is with his first model railway on xmas. All through his and our childhood the model railway was set up for the holidays, with many new additions, which meant that he and we spent a good deal of the xmas holidays gluing together models of this and that and by the time I was about 10 years old, it had become an elaborate affair with tunnels and mountains, churches, cities, motorways, light and sound and all the trimmings you can imagine. It lives now in its own room in my oldest nephew's house.


  1. Isn't photography wonderful? The way it can capture a moment in time and let us revisit that moment decades, even centuries later. That's a sweet 'moment in time" of you, your sister and your cousins.

  2. I'm happy to hear the train was kept and has it's own room. I wonder if my daughter will move me out of my home when the time comes? Or will I have the good sense to move out before I am unable to do it myself? So hard to predict these things.

  3. I have never heard of usufruct. What an interesting and useful idea. So much history in that house. Reminds me of Roger's family's beach house that had been in his family for more than 80 years. When the family sold it in 2019, we waved goodbye to a place that held so many stories. The photos are so good to hold on to, pieces of that history.

  4. Complicated. Yes. And quite difficult, too, I feel certain.

  5. What fantastic photos. I had never heard of usufruct - very interesting concept.

  6. So many transitions in your father's life, many of them complicated. Fascinating to see the photographs of him as a boy. Coincidentally (or not), my R, German on his mother's side and a carpenter by trade, built a house very similar in style to the house your father observed being built and in which he lived for so many years. Although others did the plumbing and wiring, R did all the carpentry work, inside and outside. The house that R built is in the midst of a redwood forest on a narrow winding road in the hills south of San Francisco. When one follows the road as far as it goes to the west, one arrives at the Pacific Ocean.

    R's grandmother came from Germany (near Eisenach) as a teenager in the early 1900s. She lived in New York City and married a man who was also from Germany. In her last years, she lived independently in apartment a few blocks from the Pacific Ocean.

    It is occurring to me that we have an arrangement in the U.S. called a "reverse mortgage," which is something like usufruct. If I need money in the last years of my life, I can sell my home to a bank. The bank will allow me to live in it for the rest of my life.

  7. I don't think I have any pictures of the house I grew up in. maybe a few mostly centered around christmas. that house is gone, sold by my parents after all us kids grew up. They had the house built so only one family ever lived in it. the city was encroaching, that part of the neighborhood got sucked up. a 13 story building stands on the site now.

  8. So so interesting -- I wonder how long our photos will last with these new generations of people and their whole lives digital. Do. you ever think about that -- who will hold on to these photos when we are gone?

  9. I like the photos.

    It's hard for parents to leave their homes. It was for my mom too. She put the house up for sale and it sold in 24 hours which she wasn't planning on. That word, usufruct, sounds almost like a reverse mortgage.

    I don't look forward to getting very old. I don't want to give up my garden.

  10. Not easy relocating, parting with our belongings when we're older or for those having to bring about such a change for another. I had to do that for my mother who was cooperative but privately I shed many tears and think of her now so often though she is now long-deceased. I like the usufuct allowing a person to remain in the home until death. Probably such a legal agreement can be setup here in the U.S. whereas a reverse mortgage typically pays the person a set amount against the value of the house, I think.

    Analysts have determined staying in ones home is lest costly than what our government system pays for those who qualify to be in a facility. Would think some day our government will wise up and help people remain in their homes with help there -- problem would be enough workers to help people at home.

    I am practicing this "living in place" concept, staying in my home. It is becoming more challenging as I age, am alone, with no family nearby, especially whenever I'm ill. Changing adaptations with flexibility are required with an increasing need for help complicated recently by this pandemic.

  11. It must be sobering to sell a house with so many family stories.

  12. Those small moments captured in those pictures probably seemed unremarkable at the time the pictures were taken, but how precious those moments become years later.

    The whole usufruct thing is new to me and I read up on it. Since it is such an unfamiliar concept, my question would be what benefit does the actual owner derive from it? Is there payment to the real owner? Does it leave things 'open' for the real owner to return if circumstances allow? When the house is sold years later, is the profits divided up as dictated by the will of the original owner?

    1. Usufruct means that the actual owner, in this case my father, sold the property 20+ years ago and became a rent-free tenant with the right to remain for as long as independently possible or for as long as he wishes. In all these years, My father paid only his running expenses and insurance.
      He could have sold the house for a much higher price on the market at the time but would have to move out and find a new home. He wanted to stay on but did not want to have to be bothered with maintenance, repairs etc.
      The benefit for the new owner, in this case two of my father's oldest friends, was that the purchase price was considerably lower than the market price and that my father would also help with the large garden/orchard.
      Usufruct stipulates that the tenant has to leave once they are unable to live an independent life, so the new owner is under no obligation to look after a feeble elderly tenant.
      It used to be a very popular concept in rural families/communities, less so now - maybe because people tend to live so much longer.