For those of you who have read The Reverse Commute you know about the squirrels in Sophie’s bathroom. For those of you who know me well, you are aware of the fact that little story is advice taken from Hemingway. Write what you know.
Yes it is true, one morning while sitting on the toilet seat cover waiting for the water to warm in the shower, I watched three squirrels playfully run along the rafters of the addition we were building off the back of our old house.
There were so many stories about that house at the end of a dead end road along the Squamscott River. The property was beautiful, the sunsets were breathtaking. It was a lovely place to raise children. We never locked the doors and at the closing we had no keys to give the new owners. When my younger daughter moved into her dorm room, she struggled to open her door and with panic in her voice yelled, “How come you never taught me how to use a key?”
Tolstoy once wrote in Anna Karenina, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” This could be said about houses today, all those happy cookie cutter McMansions built on what was once farmland. All perfect with their granite countertops and shiny new appliances. A theme on the same style architecture, painted in approved shades of taupe, sage, and slate. Nothing like an old house with slanted floors, drafty windows, and ghosts.
Yes, we had a ghost. A peanut butter ghost. A little girl who died in the late 1800’s and now stole spoonfuls of peanut butter late at night.
It is true peanut butter would disappear but I suspect it was my husband spreading it on top of his chocolate chip cookies.
We lived among the Northern white pines, a tree that self prunes, littering the yard with fallen branches each winter. They can’t handle the weight of heavy wet snow or ice, begging the question why did they settle here in the frigid Northeast? It wasn’t just branches in our yard, it was entire trees. Tall trees that can grow to be 150 feet. In just one winter storm we had three of them fall with a thundering crash.
The yard was a small arboretum. Blue spruce, lilac, apple, pear, and larch trees. It was a quaking aspen that took out my van during a violent summer thunderstorm, minutes after the entire family made a run for the house.
When I moved to Florida, people asked, “Aren’t you worried about hurricanes?” I replied, “No, should I be?”
At least with a hurricane you have advance warning.
There were so many stories. Mice in the kitchen, bats in the bedroom, a Mama raccoon and her babies in the chimney. Then there was the weekend I went to Rhode Island with my oldest daughter who was just beginning to walk. We were concerned about lead paint so Rich was left behind to redo the window trim.
Three days later, I arrived home to discover a mess in my living room. Instead of painting window trim he had taken the ceiling down.
“She’s not going to chew on the ceiling,” I screamed when I saw the mess in the living room.
I eventually did forgive him when I saw he had exposed the original beams from 1728, the year the house was built.
Then there was the infamous day it rained in my kitchen. It was another weekend when I headed to Rhode Island to visit friends and family, this time with two babies in tow. I forget what Rich was supposed to do that weekend, the projects were endless.
My cousin Kathy loved telling the story of that Sunday afternoon when she stopped by to drop something or other off, let herself in through the kitchen door (remember – there were no locks), and was blinded by sunlight. Rich was outside on a ladder, looking in from above the kitchen table. Kathy gazed up at the blue sky, and asked, “Does Sheila know about this?”
No, Sheila did not know about this. The kitchen was an addition built in the 1960’s and apparently Rich always had a vision of a cathedral ceiling with exposed beams, he just never mentioned it to me. The project took longer than anticipated, as these projects always do, but he assured me the forecast called for good weather all week. He covered the unfinished roof with a bright blue tarp to match the sky that day.
Let me remind you of something here. The house was in New Hampshire where 75% of the time the weatherman is wrong. The next evening I was in the kitchen cooking dinner when another summer storm came out of the west, picking up steam as it barreled down the Squamscott River and into our backyard, blowing the sky blue tarp off the roof and exposing the forbidding dark clouds that began to pour rain on my old linoleum faux red brick floor. I don’t remember what I thought as I looked up at the sky and felt the rain soak my face.
“I would like to kill my husband” might have flashed through my mind.
Luckily he was close by. He ran up the ladder and secured the tarp to the exposed beams as lightening ripped across the yard. I was reminded of the time the giant larch was struck by lightening, leaving a corkscrew scar along the trunk of the tree, and covering the yard with bark mulch, a shattered old redwood lounge chair nearby.
We survived the storm. I washed the kitchen floor and the cabinet doors. It seemed like the perfect time to do it. I think we ordered takeout pizza after the storm passed.
It is amazing how time shapes memory. We look back fondly on those twenty two years in the old house with the unlocked doors by the river. The day I drove out the driveway for the very last time was bittersweet. I knew I would miss the years we spent there but would I miss the house itself? No, I was ready to say goodbye.
Happy Holidays from my old house to yours.