I’m not sure if it’s my father in me or the writer in me, but I love houses. I love the stories behind them, in them, of them. It pains me to see homes torn down to make way for new buildings. I know it’s necessary and certainly, a lot of times, warranted. But I can’t help but think of the lives lived within those walls, the phone calls to friends, tears shed over losses, the slam of the door as someone rushes home to celebrate triumphs, the sweat shed pulling weeds or painting bedrooms, the dents in walls caused by overzealous children, the quiet shuffling steps down halls with new born babies.
When we lived in New England (before my dad was transferred to NC when I was five), we were friends with the “O” family. Their daughter, D was my age and we had numerous play dates and family gatherings. When I was in first or second grade, D got on the phone during one of our mothers’ touch base phone calls to ask me to be her pen pal. It was for a school project, ostensibly to practice their handwriting, but we kept it up through high school. I dropped in and saw her one summer when we were in New England visiting family and I was still in college, I think. Thanks to Facebook, we’re back in touch after losing contact somewhere after college. She has two boys, too, and lives on the west coast now.
D recently commented through Facebook on this post. She was apparently preparing for her annual summer trip with her kids back East. I jokingly told her to say hi to the old house for me. She did – by posting a picture of the old homestead on my wall:
After a quick search on Zillow, I realized the house hasn’t changed hands since my parents sold it in 1982. It looks better than it did the last time we drove by, several years ago. And so I have been wondering who bought it? Did they raise children here? Why the recent updates (other Google sleuthing shows a dumpster outside the house during the Street View shots – apparently renovations done relatively recently)?
The house was originally built as a fire station in 1888. And so I have been wondering when did it become a home? How many different families have lived inside its walls? How fleeting of residents we were, compared to its long history.
My first real memories were in this house. I remember big events, of course, like cutting the tip of my finger off during the “sandbox building incident,” dripping blood on the kitchen floor, waiting for my parents to grab the car keys to take me to the ER. A few errant drops permanently stained a few places on the floor by the back door. The time a car took the turn at the corner and a little girl fell from the moving car (always lock your doors and make sure your kids are in their seat belts, people) and my mom rushing to help.
I remember having a conversation with my dad in the back yard one fall while he was doing yard work, concerned that Santa would not be able to fit through the tiny chimney from our wood stove. I remember hiding in the thickness of the blueberry bushes in the backyard, and picking fresh berries for blueberry pancakes. I remember mom cursing the bunnies who kept eating the strawberries we planted. I remember wiffle ball games in the back yard. I remember squishing caterpillars on the blacktop driveway. I remember “men falling from sky” (we could see the parachute exercises from the nearby Army base).
I remember dressing like a clown one Halloween and my mom reminding me to keep my heavily made up face away from the couch and then promptly falling asleep, my rouged cheek staining a spot (oops). I remember following my dad and Uncle B up to the “bell tower” attic (the turret where the bell once hung for the fire department) and my uncle making some joke about bats in the belfry, only I didn’t get the joke and forever was afraid there were actual bats in our house. I remember my bedroom with the red curtains (the first two windows on the second floor on the right hand side), my dad’s closet of a home office with his drafting table crammed in it so that you couldn’t open the door all the way if he was sitting in the chair.
I remember “shaving” with my dad in the home’s one bathroom. I remember painting Snoopy paint-by-number Christmas ornaments with my mom while my infant sister was taking an unprecedented nap. I remember watching “The Wizard of Oz” one night with dad while my mom was working nights. I remember the wide curved wooden stairs. I remember sitting at a window on the stairwell and realizing that my eyes actually moved inside my head, that it wasn’t just my head moving (weird, but revolutionary revelation for a four year old).
If I remember that much about a short time living in a house, I wonder what my kids will remember of this house? Our current house is not our forever house. It’s entirely too small for two young boys as it is, not to mention two raucous school-aged boys and (help me) two teenage boys and their gaggle of friends. We have no plans to leave now, but occasionally, I find myself fingering the dent in the wall a thrown train made or remembering the spot where Peanut took his first steps or realizing how the step on the front porch has been home to waiting for daddy, popsicles and last night’s water bubble contest (might as well put our eldest’s obsession with blowing bubbles through a straw to competitive use, no?). I try to mentally snapshot these memories so that when the boys grow up and say “remember when…” I, too, will fondly remember the first house that they do.
I hope we are doing this house proud. Despite it’s failings and my constant desire to knock down walls or refinish surfaces or add on, it’s more than a house. It’s part of the family. It’s home.