May 27, 2006

Home

Outside my bedroom window is a gigantic pine tree. With the weather warming up, we've been sleeping with the window open and each morning I wake up with a clear view of it's upper limbs. I can see the bright green new growth on it's branches and hear the birds who call it home twittering it about.

The tree was planted close to the house -- too close probably, and when the wind blows we hear the scratching of the branches against the roof and M knows it's time to climb up onto the porch to do some pruning.

Our house was built in 1920 and was first owned by a family who also owned a creamery on the lot behind us. If you look closely, you can still find the old alley that ran between them in the grass.

I often wonder if they are the ones who planted this tree. Maybe they were celebrating the building of their new home. Records tell us they had a son -- maybe they planted it in honor of him. Or maybe such things weren't done in that day and the tree is just a tree.

Usually I just live in our house and don't think about it's history, but sometimes I try to imagine the people who have been here before us. I think about that first family -- a husband, wife and son. I think about the woman -- maybe my age, maybe younger -- sharing that space that is now my bedroom. I wonder if we do things the same way -- if she used to sleep with her baby on her chest when he was tiny, if she used to lay in bed in the morning hoping for just 10 more minutes of sleep before she heard his morning wake up call. Maybe she even gave birth to him in that room, and I picture her groaning in pain and effort, hand on the cast iron radiator for support, looking out the window at what must have then been the very tiny pine tree below.

I wonder which room she chose for the nursery -- the big one across the hall with a window in the closet, just right for playing house? Or the smaller one that almost turns orange in the late afternoon as the sunset fills it with light? Or did she choose the southern bedroom -- the one I chose? The smallest room with the most light and with the little miniature closet with it's little miniature door? I knew this was our nursery the first time I walked into it and it was the second or third room I painted -- a pretty yellow -- and we weren't even married yet.

We know that in the 1950s our house was bought by our former church. For the next 40 years it was used as a parsonage. Looking through church photo albums, I would occasionally come across a picture that looked strangely familiar and realize that it was taken in my home. I wish there were more of those pictures around, so that I could see how it used to be. The decade before we moved in, the church used the house as a rental property, and ten years without someone who loved it left it in decline.

When we bought it, the house was a mess on the surface, though the bones of the house are terrific. It needed new paint, new drywall, new flooring in the kitchen, a new bathroom. As we remodeled and renovated I talked to the house, patting her walls and telling her that she had a family that loved her now and that we would bring her back to life, that we would make her pretty again. She is pretty now, though there's plenty left to do, and we've filled her with light and noise and pets and children and turned her back into a home.

Stripping wallpaper was one of the first things I did, and I soon found that I was the first to do so. Each layer that I uncovered was from a new decade -- blue country flowers from the 80s, loud gold from the 70s, all the way back to large, Victorian florals that wouldn't remove themselves from the plaster no matter how hard I tried. I began to wonder if I should have left them there -- this quiet history -- and left my own mark behind for someone else to find years down the road.

Today I planted my own evergreen tree, a spruce. When we moved in, I ordered ten seedlings from The National Arbor Day Foundation planted them in our backyard. Four survived, and this one was outgrowing it's home by the back fence so I moved it into the yard.

I wonder if it will still be there in 80 more years. This house is well built, but I'm not sure it can stand the test of that much time. Will our neighborhood even still be here? If not, I hope the pine tree and my little spruce still stand tall, lending their shade to the people who occupy this space 100 years from now -- people who might wonder about me, my family, the people who were here before them.

2 Comments:

Blogger Margaret said...

Your house has so much history. I remember when you moved in and we were ripping those layers and layers of wallpaper off the living room wall, or when you found that fountain or waterfall thing in the island. Now your family's love and laughter are adding to the house's history. Everybody leaves an imprint.

May 27, 2006 9:51 PM  
Anonymous janey said...

You are such a beautiful writer. You sound so much in love with your home - you are lucky to live in such a great house. I love the way you appreciate your life; your home, your family. Your positive attitude is a real inspiration to me. Take care. x

May 28, 2006 5:28 PM  

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