It started out innocently enough.
Just one of those tales told at the dinner table -- or perhaps in the parlor.
Family and friends settled around the fireplace after devouring the Christmas standing rib roast and all the trimmings.
It was time for reminiscing, and Alison Easton led the way.
Easton had grown up in the neighborhood.
But the house she recalled -- the one in which Easton and her family had lived in during the 1960s -- was a few blocks away from the comfortable gray-stucco abode in which all of them sat on this day.
"I'm not sure exactly what year it was when we moved in there," Easton said, "but I was in the fifth grade.
"We were renting. Our rent was $125 a month. We lived there a little over a year before we moved to San Francisco."
You lived in that house?
Yes, Easton told them, it was true.
"Funny thing is," she said, "when we moved back after about a year and a half in San Francisco, we moved right back into that very same house."
So, what made that house so different? So memorable? So unusual?
It's location, of course.
Right smack dab in the middle of Sycamore Avenue in Modesto.
It's still there today.
"When we lived there," Easton said, "there was no stone fence around it like there is today."
The yard surrounding the home extended to the edge of the street. That would be Griswold Avenue outside the front door, which faces south.
And Sycamore Avenue on either side of the two-story home, as well as to the rear.
So, how did a house come to be situated in the middle of a residential street?
"My grandfather told us, that, a long time ago, it had been a dairy. He said it was surrounded by dairy farms.
"There was a dirt road that led from the house all the way into Modesto. But I don't know. It was just a story he told us, a long time ago."
Today, it's hard to imagine cows grazing there -- in a well-established neighborhood filled with well-kept and nicely landscaped older homes.
But there's more than a little truth to Easton's story.
Linda Boston, who heads the Modesto Redevelopment Agency, was able to confirm -- with some help from Ellen LaCoste at the McHenry Museum -- that the home does indeed sit on what had been a dairy.
Boston consulted historic city documents, including separate subdivision maps -- the first filed in 1911 and a second in 1928. Those maps indicate that the dairy and home originally were owned by W.H. Carter.
Carter's homesite was part of an area originally known as the Coldwell Olivewood Tract.
By 1928, the area was known as the M and G-Olivewood Tract.
Other landowners included Merle Mensinger, the father-in-law of the late Peggy Mensinger, a former Modesto mayor; and Louis R. Gallegos.
The 1911 subdivision map shows no home at the location.
It does show, however, Sycamore Avenue -- just a dirt road at the time -- dead-ending at Griswold.
Also of note is nearby Carter Avenue. It, too, dead-ended at Griswold.
Today, Carter Avenue is known as Magnolia Avenue -- a change first noted on the 1928 subdivision map.
Additionally, individual parcels delineated on the 1911 map are oriented on a north-south axis.
Just 17 years later, however, things had changed.
The Carter home is clearly visible on the 1928 map; as is an extended Sycamore Avenue skirting around it on both the east and west sides.
The briefly divided Sycamore is reunited at a point behind the Carter home -- just as it is today.
And one more thing.
All those north-south facing parcels had been rearranged. They faced east-west -- leaving their front doors opening onto the extended Sycamore.
Even the Carter house, whose address on the 1928 map is listed as 724 Sycamore Ave.
Today, the home's front door faces Griswold.
So, the Carter house -- which property records indicate was built in 1913 -- has been an island surrounded by a roadway for 80 years.
Such planning quirks, said Boston, were commonplace in those days.
Said Boston: "I can assure you that wouldn't be allowed today."
Easton remembers the old house as spacious and beautiful -- with a large living room, formal dining room and three upstairs bedrooms.
The home's most recent property report indicates a total of eight bedrooms and 4,187 square feet of living space.
Since Easton lived there, a swimming pool has been added to the site, along with that stone wall -- a structure that might have come in handy back in the 1960s.
"One night," said Easton, "we heard this thud. A car had missed the stop sign. It flew up an embankment and into our front yard."
The embankment was steep enough, Easton said, to keep the vehicle from crashing into the house.
"Another car," she said, "ended up on the side of the house; stuck between two trees. She must have been going pretty fast to do that.
"But no one ever hit the house while we were living there."
Mike Mooney's column appears every Friday in Local News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2384.