My House, Our House
I cannot write this blog in the first person. It has to be ‘we.’ Us: my wife, the children and me. Our house in Columbia, MD. We have lived in it for the last 30 years.
It took us a long time to find it, but when we did, it was love at first sight. And like it is with all love stories, our feelings towards our house have changed, matured, and deepened. The idea of moving doesn’t appeal to us, not even a little. We like everything about this house: the layout, the furniture, the artwork, our lush, wooded backyard and our neighbors.
The house is contemporary in style, a great place to entertain and throw a big party. It has cathedral ceilings and skylights and it is full of light. The main level has an open floor plan. It flows from one space to the next in a complete circle around the stairway to the second floor. The living room, with its high slanted ceiling and bay window, opens to the dining area which connects to the kitchen which leads to the breakfast room, the family room with the fireplace and the sliding doors leading to the deck on the back of the property. After surgery, many years ago, when I had to walk as part of my therapy, on rainy days I would take circular tours through the main floor of the house, first in one direction and then the other. My apricot poodle would follow me faithfully.
The bedrooms are upstairs: a large one for mom and dad, a den and two rooms for the children. All rooms have windows to the back of the house, facing the woods and the setting sun peeking through the leaves.
There are about ten feet between the rail of the deck and the edge of the forest, graced by old poplars, dogwoods, a redbud and crepe myrtles. Middle Patuxent River shimmers through the tree trunks in the valley. Our plot slopes gently from street level to the forest, so that the basement has a walkout with a sliding double door and two windows.
We had the deck built after we purchased the house,. It was late spring and our son, nine at the time, memorialized the occasion by stepping barefoot onto a long nail lost by the carpenters. Blood, panic and a trip to a clinic for a tetanus shot followed. On a corner of the deck, years ago, I lined up bottles for a vodka tasting event with our dear friends from New England.
Every corner of the house whispers with memories.
This is the garage door that my mother smashed when she ran her car into it by nervously pushing the accelerator instead of the brake. Here is the part of the roof where the huge poplar tree landed during the storm, miraculously without damaging anything. The tree trunk left in the ground and now covered by pachysandra is all that is left of the fir tree planted by our daughter when she was little. As they grew, together, the tree leaned precariously towards the house, in its pursuit of the sun and away from the ever-encroaching forest. We cut it down the year our daughter left for college and planted another one, which is now leaning also.
This is the basement where the Ping-Pong table stood when our son was little. It became his domain later, complete with a large bedroom, the great room and the sliding door exit. How many teenage indiscretions those walls witnessed, we, the parents, can only fathom. When he moved out to college and his sister graduated and came home for a short period of time, we converted a part of it into an artist’s studio. It now proudly displays her work: an eight foot long grasshopper made of sticks, wire, and papier mache hanging from the ceiling, its front tentacle broken and left unrepaired, a full size twisted wire woman in a barbed wire cage symbolizing universal female repression, and half a dozen abstract paintings with large, powerful swirls of red, gold, blue and brown acrylic. Lately, we placed two treadmills and a stationary bike in that room for our physical wellbeing. A built-in bookcase with hundreds of books, including some leather bound classics inherited from our grandparents, adds a dose of soft nostalgia.
At this Ikea table in the breakfast room, we used to play bridge most Saturday nights with my mother and father. In the dining room, this Danish oak table, surrounded by family and friends, carried chocolate, always chocolate, birthday cakes, New Year’s Eve buffets, Thanksgiving turkeys, Passover Seder plates and colorful Easter eggs. And good wine.
And here, in my wife’s den that for years had doubled as a guest bedroom, her parents had slept for months at a time when they visited us from Israel. The red convertible sofa we had brought over when we returned from Denmark.
Our doorbell rang one late, late night and when I opened the door, I saw a policeman and our twelve years old daughter standing on the porch. He had found her in the street, where she had gone to meet her friends in order to ‘do something spontaneous.’
We grew tomatoes on the right side of the house, which gets the sun all day, and here is the spot where I ran over a turtle with the lawn mower. When I felt the bump and realized what I did, I saw the turtle’s hard shell bleeding. Years later, we met again in the grass, the turtle’s back scared and uneven. This basketball hoop I installed with my own two hands for my children.
We’ve been kind to our house over the years. We painted the siding and the interior, tended the flowerbeds and mowed the grass; we fixed the roof, redid the bathrooms and kitchen and replaced the water heater. Now, in the time of the pandemic, it is the house that takes care of us. We need it more than ever and we feel repaid by it in many ways. We socialize with our neighbors from the safe distance of our backyard decks, glasses of wine raised, celebrating the moment. We meet friends for afternoon social distancing sessions, eight feet apart, in the open. We see our children now only on FaceTime and Zoom and we show them the magnolias, the blooming dogwoods and the peonies. We go walking in our beautiful neighborhood surrounded by nature. We live calmly in the middle of a storm, in the comfortable space of our house full of memories and things we love, isolated and yet emotionally connected with what has been, is and will come.
We are home.
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