Monday, July 04, 2005

The Life of a House

Have you ever wondered who was in your house previously? What happened? The story the walls could tell? I recently passed the house that my grandparents lived in, before he died and she was put into a nursing home. Due to family breakups, I haven't seen my grandmother in nearly 15 years. I have never forgotten her, or the house I came to associate with the strange warmth she tried to offer. I can still remember, to this day, the smell of the house when you walked in....it was the thick, dense smell of book glue and varnish, a tribute to the shelves upon shelves of books, organized neatly into every nook and crany. The antique desk and cabinets, the fancy finishings....all bespoke a house built when substance was more important that size. The moldings were decorative, and wood bookcases were built into the walls in the study and living room. There was actually a TV room, the only TV in the house was there. It had a year-round card table, where people really played cards. And the kitchen....every part of the house was neat and presentable, except the kitchen table. It was an old table, from the 1940's, with metal, spoke legs and a marbalized formica top. The one end sat against the wall, and from there, an explosion of papers, pictures, salt and pepper shakers, bottles of saccarine and medicine.....they were all leaking their way into the middle of the table. My grandmother could find anything there, though. It was where she and my grandfather would sit for the better part of the night, reading the newspaper and talking. They each had a light on either side of the table, wall sconces that huddled against the wall-papered wall until called on. My grandfather smoked, and while he wasn't allowed to smoke throughout the house, he was, ironically, allowed to smoke in the kitchen. His ashtray sat proudly in the middle of all the debris, proclaiming its permission to be there. I'll never forget that house, the layout, the deep closets that had to lead to another realm that I could almost reach if I hid long enough inside. The dark, four-poster beds, twin-size every last one of them, with two beds in each room. My grandmother's bed, forever propped at one end, making it seem like a fluffy slide to my girlish memory. The long mirrors on every door, the intricate glass on each piece of dining room furniture....there were long canvases on some of the walls, with water birds - some tall, black and white sort I never knew the name of - woven into the fabric. They were grand pieces, made of torn up dress shirts that were dyed and woven. He taught himself to weave, my grandfather - oral surgeon, colonel in the army, and then, finally, an artistic drunk, talented with wisdom and foolishness vieing for dominance. In the end, foolishness won out, and as his mind rotted away, I can still remember the stories he would remember about his military days....he couldn't remember the day, the time, or those that loved him, but he could detail the memories of his former life when his uniform spoke more of who he was, than his possessions. When I passed the house a couple of weeks ago, there was a man mowing the grass. The outside has been fitted with modern frills, new siding, and beautiful landscaping, much prettier than anything my grandparents would have ever done. The man was in his mid-forties, and watched me as I passed slowly. I was tempted to stop and explain my curiosity, but then decided against it. It was a different house now, with new stories and a foreign present that I would never know. I will always remember what it was to the child that hid in its shadowed corners, believing with all her heart that there had to be a better world beyond these cold surfaces. All the mystery it contained relieved a childhood that lacked joy and innocence. I am thankful for that house, and hope that those that reside there will be blessed by it, as I once was.