It was the first time our children, Tucker and Casey, had seen the house Dave and I were close to buying. At ages ten and seven, our kids had lived their lives on a school campus, eating most meals in a cafeteria with other kids and their families, having the run of a gym, playground, and athletic fields, even tubing downstream when the creek became a rushing river during Hurricane Gloria. Life was good.
Still, this house was pretty cool.
We’d toured the interior, and the kids had scoped out the rooms that would be theirs. We’d stood, all four of us, in the vast fireplace that had been the heart of this home in the eighteenth century. And then, we’d headed outside to explore the woods-encircled yard.
Dave and I studied the roof, which we knew we’d have to replace. An unwelcome expense, but then we’d be set for the next twenty-five years. A lifetime! The kids raced around, checking out the barn, playhouse, old well, and the shed built around a gnarled apple tree.
When Tuck spotted a low-hanging dogwood branch, he leapt up and grabbed it to swing. With a startling snap, the branch split. Tuck landed on his feet, rattled but unhurt, as Dave and I looked at each other wide-eyed. We hadn’t bought the place yet and already we were breaking things.
Dave found a strong, straight cedar limb near the edge of the woods. We propped the sagging branch back into position and sheepishly headed to the car.
Twenty-seven years later, that cracked branch is still sprouting a few limp leaves come spring. Twenty-seven years later, and we’ve re-shingled the roof again. Twenty-seven years later, Tucker is 37, and Casey, 34: both are married, and Tucker has a son. Both recently purchased their own homes. It’s not like I wonder where the time has gone: so many stories, milestones, and memories have filled those twenty-seven years… Still... Yeah. Where has the time gone?
The other night, the phone rang around 10:00, late for a phone call. Luckily, I didn’t glance at the clock or I would have panicked. An accident? A death? No, thank god. It was Casey, running another load of bins and boxes from her apartment to the new house. “Mom. I just had a thought. You were only a few years older than me when you bought the house in Easton. And you already had two kids! That is crazy pants!”
It is crazy pants. Casey and Tucker are such grown-ups, more than I am it seems sometimes. But it is amazing to think of all the years, all the living, all the change that has brought me from Casey’s age to 64, that has brought my kids from those scampering little ones to the wonderful adults they have become.
After bringing over four carloads of boxes on Casey and PJ’s second night in their new house, we sat on the rug on the floor (no furniture yet) in the newly painted “NYPD Blue” living room sipping celebratory Proseccos. It was easy to conjure myself at their age, standing in our foyer when we were moving in 1990, gazing at bare walls... and our future. My thirty-eight year old self felt an empathetic tug of nostalgia for the former owner as I pictured him standing where I was, giving a sweeping look into the empty rooms before closing the door behind him for the last time. He had lived in the house with his wife and daughter for forty-five years.
Every so often, I broach the idea of selling our house to move into something smaller, something within walking distance to town and biking distance to a beach. I’m trying to be practical. A number of friends have told me, “you want to move out by the time you’re 70, when you still have the energy.” 70! And yet, incredibly, that’s not so far off.
I love the idea of a walking, biking life, but I wish I could take this house with me. With its porches, huge fireplace, and decrepit, finally dying, dogwood, it is home. I don’t want to abandon it. What if someone who doesn’t appreciate its history buys it? Someone who sees it as old, rather than venerable? Someone who thinks it would be fine to rip up the wide-plank floors and wrench out the massive beams? Omigod. I can't stand to think of it. This house is more than a building; it’s an embracing friend, and we have been its charges as well as its stewards. Over its 235 years, it has been infused with spirit: ours, those who have gone before us, its own. Fact is, it actually is home to some spirits, but that’s another story.
For now, moving is off the table. Last time I mentioned the idea to Dave, he shook his head and said, “Have to tell you, Lea, I can’t see myself leaving this house anytime soon. I’m only leaving this place in a box.” Oh. That’s pretty clear. Good. I can settle in, love my house, and for now, not worry about being practical. This house is perfect for visits from grandchildren, the perfect place for grandchildren to remember…