Friday, July 29, 2005
Not This Old House — my old house
Everyone warned me that it would seem small. That's the first thing that people generally tell you when you mention that you are about to tour your childhood home, having not set foot in it for the past twenty years: it will seem small.
I was enormously eager to find out for myself: would it seem small? What about familiar, strange, cozy, disappointing, evocative, elusive? I had lived in that house from the age of one until I was going into my junior year in high school: a span of fifteen years. Just how would it feel to walk in the front door again?
When I was in high school, my parents sold their Deck House on Judy Farm Road and moved to a farm across town. Nearly two decades after that, my husband and I built a house next to my parents' farm. Until recently, I gave very little thought to the house in which I'd grown up. Very little conscious thought, that is. When I dreamed, that house was always the backdrop. Even if the dreams included my husband and children, they took place in that house. So odd is that to me that it's become a question I routinely ask other people: in your dreams — not your fantasies but actual nighttime subconscious dreams — where do you live?
A few times in recent years, I've driven past the old house and tried to peer in. But the new owner, Paul, has constructed formidable fencing, and it is hard to catch so much as a glimpse of the house's exterior. Paul is a childless professional about twenty years older than I, so I doubted we'd cross paths socially. And I certainly didn't feel comfortable knocking on the door.
I didn't knock on the door, but opportunity eventually did. Last summer, Paul decided to move to the city for a year, renting his house to a family with three school-aged children. Leaning on my theory that everyone in Carlisle is no more than two degrees of separation removed from each other, I set about letting all of my friends know that I was very interested in meeting these people — and gaining an invitation to their house.
The two-degrees-of-separation theory proved true. It turned out I had several friends who had met Ingrid Klove, the new lady of the house. She was kind enough to give me a call and invite me over. "Yes, I absolutely do want to, and could I bring my mother along?" was my immediate response.
Mom and I headed over on a cold spring morning, and Ingrid was not only gracious but astonishingly patient. After all, it wasn't an ordinary house tour that I wanted. I wouldn't be satisfied with a quick look at the master bedroom and a glance around the dining room. I wanted to use all five senses — or at least four of them, given that I didn't really plan to lick the countertops — to try to bring back the feelings of growing up in that house. I wanted to smell the dankness of the laundry room, hear the squeak on the third stair. I wanted to feel the rough grassiness of the '70s-style wallpaper in the entryway, which my parents were always imploring us not to peel. I wanted to gaze at the ceiling in my old bedroom and see if the constellation of knotholes in the pine boards was just the way I remembered it.
But I was disappointed as we wandered around upstairs. It wasn't familiar at all. The owner had renovated — removal of the grass paper in the entryway was the least of the changes. For all my hoping that entering the house would time-travel me back to childhood, I'd been in other Deck houses in recent years that reminded me far more of my old house than this one did.
But then Ingrid took us downstairs, and the feeling changed completely. Paul had put all of his efforts into the upstairs. The lower level of the house was exactly as I remembered: the thick maroon carpet that transformed the kids' playroom into a teenagers' hangout when I was thirteen, the blue-tiled bathroom whose counters were once lined with 1970s-era toiletries — Tickle deodorant, Body on Tap shampoo, Bonne Belle cosmetics. Standing in the center of my old bedroom, I could almost picture my favorite clothes hanging in the closet and my record albums piled on the floor. "Your kids keep their books just where we used to keep ours!" I told Ingrid, delighted by the familiarity of it all. "Well, yes; it's a built-in bookshelf," she pointed out patiently.
The moment of ultimate transformation came when we stood by the sliding glass door that leads out to the back yard. Peering into the trees, I could remember walking through those woods all the way to friends' houses on Acton Street. Paul had put in a beautiful swimming pool, which I would have loved; but looking at it reminded me of how my friend Julie and I used to venture out into the yard in the middle of the night and scare ourselves with the dark looming shapes of rocks and trees..
"Did you say you have two children?" Ingrid asked politely from behind me. I waited for my mother to say that no, she had three children, and when the silence lasted a moment too long, I realized Ingrid had been talking to me, not Mom. But at that moment I was truly walking through a different decade, and nearly burst out laughing, nearly exclaimed, "How could I have two children? I'm twelve!"
It was certainly thoughtful of Ingrid to put up with my mother and me ferreting through her home. I know my sisters are envious, but soon they'll have the opportunity to do the same thing without inconveniencing anyone. Ingrid and her family liked Carlisle enough that they decided to buy their own home across town. Paul is doing some renovations and then is considering putting the house on the market.
So we'll have the chance to go back for the open house. And hidden among all the prospective buyers, we probably won't even look the least bit strange if we want to sniff the inside of the linen closet.
© 2005 The Carlisle Mosquito