Redemption

IT’S JUST A BATHROOM, BUT IT WAS BAD

 I offer these photos of design redemption as testimony: good will persevere. My husband and I have taken eleven bad bathrooms and helped them see the light. This upstairs hall bath, shared by three bedrooms was, by far, the worst.

(No, I am not exaggerating. Click HERE)

THIS IS OUR FOURTH WHOLE-HOUSE REMODEL

Always at the top of my design plan was playing it safe: never a brave paint color, never personality, and NEVER, EVER wallpaper–so that the houses Greg and I worked so hard to bring up to date would sell quickly. But we love it here: the house’s character, the once-farmed land, the barn, the 1830’s stone foundation (OK, maybe I’m the only one who loves that), the profusion of spring and summer flowers that keep me in bouquets for five months straight–I don’t think we’re moving anymore.

BRING ON THE BOLD COLOR

AND SWEET CAFE CURTAINS WITH HAND-SEWN TRIM

BRING ON THE WALLPAPER & WHAT THE HELL, BRING THE PERSONALITY, TOO

JUDGMENT DAY

ANY BUREAU THAT ALLOWS ITSELF TO BE TURNED INTO A BADLY DESIGNED VANITY AND THEN GLUED TO A PLASTER WALL GOES TO  DESIGN HELL

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DESIGN NOTEBOOK:

WALLPAPER IS BY YORK: JOHANNA GAINES COLLECTION: TEA ROSE

ALL PAINT BY BENJAMIN MOORE:

WALL: CHINA RED

FLOOR: WHITE DOVE & NATURAL CREAM

VANITY AND SCONCES: HOME DEPOT

CAFE AND SHOWER CURTAIN: SEWN BY YOURS TRULY

CURTAIN TRIM: CONSO TASSEL FRINGE TRIM IN CINNAMON

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DOG TREATS FOR GOOD BEHAVIOR BY:

OLD MOTHER HUBBARD | PEANUT FLAVOR

Creativity Crown

faded fragments crown etsy

Last month, I visited my good friend, writer Melissa Wyse, in New York City. Our visit coincided with Santa-Con, of all things. On every street, college-aged young people were decked out like Santa Claus doing the pub crawl. It was 10:30 in the morning. Eager to talk to each other about our current writing projects, Melissa and I escaped the inebriated Santa hat wearers by ducking into a posh boutique in the Village.

Decadence surrounded us

Amidst the glitter and splendor, I was pulled toward a table covered in crowns as if they were magnets. Some of the crowns were miniature and some were larger, the size a person could wear. All were bedazzled. Rhinestones and crystals adorned the rusted metal giving off a Byzantine vibe. These weren’t precious antiques but objects of whimsy. Delighted, I applied one jauntily on my head and said to Melissa, “We should wear one of these when we write.” In the moment, I had been joking and returned it to the display. But two days later, at home in the pre-dawn hours of mid-December, frantically making a list of presents I still had yet to buy for my children and husband, I internet-traveled to the affordable decadence portal Etsy and bought myself a crown.

Actually, I bought a few crowns. I was overcome by their majesty and simplicity, and unlike the British Crown jewels, their extreme affordability. I was overtaken by a desire to scatter crowns around my house. They would serve as little, metal reminders that the creative endeavor of writing is an elevated one. Even if I am wearing fuzzy slipper socks and scattering dark chocolate crumbs while I do it.

Some months ago, after having a private, internal war with competition, I had an epiphany. I decided to forgo applying to writing residencies and submitting to writing contests. I chose to hop off the paved patriarchal path in favor of an unpaved feminine one. This does not mean this path is without ambition. This does not mean it is without discipline.

I am the discipline

This means writing what I love instead of wringing myself inside out trying to write what I imagine might sell. Most importantly, I stopped subscribing to the delusion that there is just one winner in creative pursuits. I exchanged defining my writing life by capitalist success for personal joy.

Instead of waiting to be anointed, I anointed myself

The crowns arrived in the mail. The small ones were the size of a thimble, bedazzled and delightful. The larger ones were plain. At my local craft store I purchased rhinestones and metal glue. Listening to Amanda Yates Garcia, the Oracle of Los Angeles, being interviewed on The Witch Wave podcast, I bedazzled my crown. If I wore it, I wouldn’t be able to see it. So, the crown sits on my desk, among a little side-altar of favored objects. They remind me how much stronger my work is when I honor what I write, that for me, the wooded, winding path of discovery with no planned destination is where I must live. My queendom is a place where I do not give my power away. The oxygen is clearer, the sunlight stronger- my work more honest.

My queendom consists of a desk, a sofa, Gigi, my English Springer spaniel, and several towers of books. It’s a small queendom, but it suits me. There is chocolate. There are books. There are rhinestones.

The irony of my newfound approach is that, by focusing ONLY on writing what brings joy to my heart, I had a piece accepted. It was published on Longreads just after Christmas. I am still floating on the experience like a magic carpet.

My jewels might be paste, but I am sparkling

Mama Bird

They’re gone–today. The last two of my children, twins, have left home for college. I have known my youngest boys would grow up and move out for eighteen and a half years. As a concept, it is nothing new. It is not a surprise. But now that it has happened, it feels distinctly new and very much like a surprise.

I have more tools available to cope with this transition than my great-grandmother, my grandmother–even my mother. The internet is full of empty nest resources: blogs, books, and interviews bursting with mother birds detailing their new careers, new husbands, new pets, or new haircuts–things to fill the void. None of it resonates. I don’t want a new career or to leave my husband. I don’t want to get another dog and I don’t want to get bangs.

The plethora of empty nest tools don’t seem useful because I believe I am in shock. I knew, as a concept, that I wouldn’t be hand-washing baby bottles forever, that the children wouldn’t be un-trainable on the potty forever, that I wouldn’t be making sure they didn’t eat sand in the sandbox forever, that I wouldn’t be driving from baseball game to lacrosse game to basketball practice to theater rehearsal–forever. But it damned well seemed like it.

The societal expectation is that I should either be sad, hiding in a corner with a blanket or ecstatically happy, planning a trip around the world. This is so American, as is the phrase, “empty nester.” Since I am an American, I should feel right at home. What I feel is a something I don’t yet have a name for, a something that is describable only as an absence. What will my empty nest be filled with, this new hole punched in the Universe of time? What will I do with our old four-bedroom farmhouse that held generations of children, its rock-dotted lawn which in its one hundred and fifty year history supported horses, dairy cows, and crops of strawberries? This is what I ask myself. Other people ask me too. They ask, because I have a track record of being prepared for everything and having an outfit to match.

Throughout the summer when anyone from my in-laws to relative strangers at yoga class asked how I would fill my time and home once Spencer and Parker left, I shrugged, an unsatisfying gesture that encapsulated my inner turmoil. How could I say that my brain was frantically sifting through solutions to distract myself from their impending absence? I filled the final weeks before dormitory move-in imagining a myriad of solutions. Like turning our back yard into a peony farm, a pear farm, or an art installation comprised of large circles cut into the soil filled with different varieties of moss. I entertained myself with obvious farm names: “Empty Nest Peonies,” “Empty Nest Pears,” and “Oh My God, I’ve Gone Insane and Planted Large Circles of Moss Because My Children Have Moved Out and I Don’t Know Who I Am Anymore.” (The website would be simply, “The Empty Nest Garden.) One particularly bright August morning, after three iced-coffees, I considered opening a bakery selling only Bundt cakes covered in chocolate drizzle. (“Cake Hole.”)

I am not prone to drama. I am prone to planning. But, after raising three sons over twenty-three years, I am also prone to be a little tired. As quickly as the peonies, pears, moss, and cakes hatched, I kicked those empty ideas out of the nest. For the first time in my life, I have no plan. I am a mama bird without eggs, living in a nest un-feathered.

With the arrival of a baby there are, if you are lucky, baby showers and special maternity clothes and at least one person, your mother or a very close friend, who looks past all the baby brouhaha, a very astute person, who looks you deep in the eye, and addresses your unspoken fear and uncertainty by announcing that everything is going to be OK. That yes, the baby (or babies) is going to change things but you’re made of strong stuff and you’ve GOT THIS. Oh, how I loved my cousin taking one look at my exhausted face after birthing the twins and kicking each and every member of our well-wishing, celebratory family out of my hospital room. I recall with great appreciation the comment from our pediatrician at the first post-hospital check-up, “You’re doing a great job!” I glowed. I could really use a version of these now.

Growing up, I would sometimes overhear my mother’s friends proclaiming the wish to live on an island–alone.  Then they would sigh. These were usually women who had little boys. I have had versions of the island–places I could hide. It has been a sun porch, an old leather sofa I tucked under the eaves in my bedroom, and during the preadolescence years, the bathroom where I would organize lipsticks by color in the hope that a small drawer of order would tame the testosterone-fueled chaos on the other side of the locked door. (It didn’t.)

Now that my entire house is essentially my own island, I am in shock. Our house includes a living room and a den. All of our sons are over six feet tall. Besides their bedrooms, while they were here, they also commandeered both the den and living room, sprawling on sofas. Now, there is now just me, my husband, and our dog. The three of us share a bed. The hard truth is that the three of us have been living on our island’s periphery for decades, giving the boys most of the space.

It is tempting to move. Clearly, we only need one room big enough for a bed, a bathroom that can double as a greenhouse for all my potted ferns, a tea kettle, a hot plate, and a washer and dryer. Then again, on an island for three, are clothes really necessary? Pretty soon I’ll be like some of the elderly ladies I see in the grocery store pushing a half-cart. In its basket: one head of lettuce, two peppered chicken breasts, and a quart of Ensure. Great. Besides internalized misogyny, now I have internalized ageism. I’ve leapt from vital to unvital with the purchase of two college food plans.

Absence is frightening. In America, having children is considered a blessing. Not having them, is considered, if not a curse–something close. Especially for women. And yet.

And yet, I wonder if the reason I have repeatedly rejected every bursting-nest idea (did I forget to mention opening a Bed and Breakfast? “Empty Nest Beds”) is because I want to fully embrace the emptiness without feeling like The Invisible Woman: the woman who is not actively mothering. I imagine we un-mothering mothers are like an Olympic track runner who has retired but is still super-fit and sees hurdles everywhere. The impulse to jump must be strong. I want, somehow, to resist the impulse to jump, to over-mother my newly grown children in a huge, tight embrace of protection and love and so I resort to trolling their Instagram feeds. I aim to be the sort of mother who allows mistakes to be made by my newly winged boys and by me. I aim to welcome the absence not as a void to be filled but as a glowing circle that I melt into like a tight muscle yielding beneath a massaging hand.

It’s worth a shot. But check in with me in a year, I’ll probably have a puppy and bangs.

Heat Wave

The weatherman cometh

“Sunday we’re cranking up the heat and humidity AGAIN, with “feels like” temperatures well above 100 degrees. This heat can be dangerous, but only if you’re not taking care of yourself. You know what to do!”

-very stoked Connecticut meteorologist

I know exactly what to do. Pack a bag and hop a plane to Menton, Provence. Which, according to the British newspaper The Telegraph is “the thinking person’s Côte-d’Azur.”

Ooooo. 

“It has the lazy sunshine zest, two vast beaches of sand and shingle, unambiguous light and Alps dropping direct to the sea – but without the airhead assumptions of more ring-a-ding spots farther west. Wintering British nobles long ago set a tone, establishing gardens, good manners and Belle-Epoque elegance.”

Sounds f’ing brilliant. I detest ring-a-ding.

Very expensive house on the coast of France.

Which is why I picked it as my delusion of grandeur.  Like the central theme of Eugene O’Neill’s play The Iceman Cometh (from which I co-opted this post’s title), I need a little self-deception to deal with life. Especially the hot and sticky parts.

I have a fool-proof three-part plan.

1. Remodel entire house to resemble a French chateau

O.K.-remodeling the entire house is not possible. I have twins going to college in 6 weeks. But hanging IKEA tab-top panels on the inside of our side-porch was possible. They flap in the wind just like IKEA tab-top panels on chateau side-porches.

2. Install a pool.

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HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. See: “Twins going to college.” Instead, we tossed our English Springer spaniel Gigi into our car, drove 15 minutes to a lake you’re not supposed to swim in, and engaged in some very warm water frolicking. And while my husband and I were still sweaty and hot, Gigi was happy. But as everyone knows who has a dog, if the dog is happy–everybody is happy.

3. Drink

Dieu merci! A delusion that is possible.

Rosemary Margarita

2 oz your favorite silver tequila

1 oz rosemary infused simple syrup (bring to boil over medium heat 1 cup granulated sugar, 1 cup water, and 6 fresh rosemary sprigs. Simmer and stir until sugar is dissolved. Allow to cool.)

Juice from 1/2 lemon

Combine all in a cocktail shaker

Fill a Collins glass with ice. Garnish, pour and add seltzer to the top.

Voila!

Engage in Delusion of Grandeur. Drink. Repeat.

Bountiful

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It’s May and all I want to do is surround myself with flowers.

In my little corner of the world, there is presently a profusion of plant life. The lilacs are opening one bud at a time. The unmistakable scent of cut grass drifts inside through open windows. Last fall, my husband cleared brush beneath some flowering bushes and now we receive the reward: an explosion of Lily-of-the-Valley.

Perfume is everywhere.

I find that I’d rather stay home and smell the air than do just about anything else.

Anything but Brimfield, that is. The Brimfield Antique Show and Flea Market in southern Massachusetts began in the 1950s and is comprised of thousands of vendors selling everything from pristine antique furniture to broken laundry baskets. It’s amazing.

The vendors are friendly, happy to talk for as long as you like–whether you buy or not–and there are bargains at every step. The show comes to town in May, July and September. I’ve been looking forward to this weekend, the first show of the year. Needing a piece of furniture for the dining room, especially now that my mother has gifted me my great-grandmother’s china, I also hoped to find a pair of folding French bistro chairs for the patio. My list was small, the market, massive. I brought my husband, a giant iced coffee, and a small wad of cash.

Some of the vendors’ tents are decorated as if by set designers. Curated with deft hands, they encourage lingering.

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I don’t move through the vendors with any sort of plan. I move by instinct and it drives my husband bonkers. “We didn’t go down this aisle,” he’ll say. My response is always, “I’m not feeling that one.” Which has about a 10% success ratio.

But it’s fun, and Brimfield is all about fun.

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In fact, the juxtaposition of silver flatware alongside loose Scrabble pieces seems to encourage it.

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I was distracted from my task. I bought flower pots. “Possibly,” I thought, “I will find nothing I came for.” But then, down the last aisle, success. The sideboard was old, but not precious. The price? $100.00. I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t even hesitate to haggle. My iced-coffee was almost gone, and I’d whittled away cash on flower pots. (Flower pots! What was I thinking?!)

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I was thinking I can never have too many flower pots. And I would be correct. On the way to back to the car, we almost tripped over a vendor with a healthy inventory of folding French bistro chairs. $50 each. The car full and wallet empty, we made for home.

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The Reluctant Curator

LOve can make you do crazy things.

LIKE when your mother asks you to come over because she and your father are selling their house and downsizing. Only love can make you ignore the overwhelming feeling of a boa constrictor squeezing the reluctant yes out of your body when she says she has a collection of boxes from the attic with your name on them.

I speak metaphorically. The twenty or so boxes had other names on them. Old names. The names of my dead relatives: I knew what was in those boxes: china teacups and old silver. Formal objects no one uses anymore.

I’m part of the IKEA generation. We’re comfortable breaking things. My favorite mug has a giant chip in it.  My desk is full of scrapes and gouges. I once forgot a stainless steel teapot on the stove and it melted. Just the teapot–but the stove would have been soon to follow but for my late-but-timely skill turning off the burner. When I chip all the mugs or need a new teapot, I take a trek to IKEA: Scandinavian Land of the Allen Wrench where they design the packaging of a dining room table for ten to fit inside a Mini Cooper.

I admit to being seduced by IKEA’s international Marketplace. It’s chock-full of cheap chic dishes and orchids that always make me think I can keep one alive more than a week. IKEA is what our grandmothers called the Five and Ten, but updated and with Swedish meatballs.

But some things just can’t be replaced. Like mothers. There I was, face-to-face with mine in one of two rooms that were my parents’ newly downsized home surrounded by my family tree in boxes. The no I had mentally constructed as a shield on the drive down dissolved into air. She’d seen resistance on my face and was pouting.  I was a good daughter, wasn’t I? Was that a tear in the corner of her eye?

So, I packed my Mini Cooper with all twenty boxes and when I wasn’t looking, my father wedged in an Arts and Crafts chair with a seat in need of re-caning. When I reminded him I had a two hour drive home and now I couldn’t see out the rear window he said, “Don’t go backwards.”

Excavating the boxes’ contents on my dining room table the next day, it hit me that what used to be someone else’s functional object, was now mine, a broken object in need of fixing. Including: a fully crazed set of 1910 bone china, one ton of threadbare linens, forty floral mismatched teacups and saucers, and one doll with a cracked head.

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I won’t tell you what happened to the floral teacups because my mother has spies everywhere. But I kept the mostly unusable crazed china, washed the linens, and made plans to have the chair re-caned. I must have felt really guilty about the floral teacups because I felt a bizarre flush of excitement at the idea of restoring the doll with the cracked head. This was weird because 1. I saved no dolls from my own childhood and 2. dolls can be creepy.

Which is exactly what my 18-year-old twins said when I took her out of the box with my name on it. There she was in her creepy glory: a 117-year-old 14-inch leather-bodied doll with frozen joints. Her head was wrapped in a linen napkin. Peeling away the napkin revealed a yellowed face held together with Scotch tape. Placing her carefully on the table, I reached into the box and pulled out an entire Victorian wardrobe of handmade, doll-sized custom clothes. I was smitten. I reached into the box one last time and unwrapped a velvet hat. If I wasn’t already committed to restoring the doll, the hat did the trick. The size of my palm, it was moss green and accented with jaunty feathers.

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Love can make you do crazy things, like drive to a doll hospital in a downpour. While I drove I imagined the doll hospital lady removing the doll from its bag, cradling its cracked head and saying “How wonderful, she’s worth thousands!” I imagined selling the doll and buying my parents a bigger place where they could keep all their heirlooms.

I was still engaged in my fantasy once I arrived. I snapped photos of the doll hospital lady, a diminutive woman with meaty hands, removing the doll from its bag and zooming in for a close-up—photographic proof for my mother that I am a good daughter—that I was not prepared for what came next. She swiftly grabbed the doll’s face with one hand and cracked it like an egg shooting its eyes out onto the counter as if they were a pair of yolks.

I almost fainted.

While holding my doll’s eyes in her hand, the doll doctor spoke on the phone with her sister in Florida, a collector of antique doll clothes. With her other hand, she held the velvet chapeau up to the light. “You should see the hat. You’d die.” Then my doctor looked at me, the phone attached to her ear with her shoulder and said, “You wouldn’t consider selling the clothes, would you? The doll isn’t worth very much. The head was an early example of plastic–celluloid. She’ll need a new head.”

Then she held the doll’s eyes up to the light and said, “But we can re-use these—they’re hazel, like yours.”

I felt a little nauseous. I swallowed and stared at the broken doll on the counter.

“She was my great-grandmother’s,” I said. Adding the new refrain to my vocabulary since my mother downsized and outsourced her heirlooms, “I want it restored.” Then I said something I never imagined saying for any reason whatsoever:

“I’ll take a new head and I’m keeping the clothes.”

My doctor sighed and hung up the phone and I felt the potential of paying my parents to keep their heirlooms fly out the window.

But because of love, I did as I was told. While the doll was being operated on, I went home and soaked all her clothes for two days in a bucket of hot water and Oxyclean. Afterwards, I air-dried the clothes on a towel and ironed them. But because I’m part of the IKEA generation, first I had to buy a new iron. I paid the $150 doctor’s bill, photographed all the doll’s Victorian clothes, packed them in tissue, and attached the tag the doctor gave me, to the doll’s foot, detailing its age and details of restoration.

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I never showed my mother the eye yolks on the table photos. Just the restored doll herself, with her new head and original eyes, the same color as mine. A long time from now, my sons will just love inheriting her. Because love can make you do crazy things.

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Expert doll repairs by Calling All Dolls in Cobalt, CT

 

Morning Room Makeover

I’m a romantic, I can’t help it.

The sun rising in the morning, peaking through the trees, brings out the poet in me. This small room at the front of the house, I’ve named the “morning room.” Facing east, it enjoys bright sunshine for several hours. In winter, this is where I want to be with my tea, a book, and my dog. Originally, this room had a door and would probably have been referred to as a sitting room or a parlour.

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Three years ago, when we moved in

a hodge-podge of furniture and books from various rooms in our last house ended up here. When Greg or the kids asked me where they should put the small grey chair, or the giant box of photos, or the clocks I’d inherited, I directed them here. Charming as the room was (and is), when dusting and cleaning all the shelves that first week, I discovered an alarming electrical burn the size of a dinner plate where the last owner had plugged in a stereo. This had me wanting to drink something stronger than tea.

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my kids refuse to call it the “morning room”

probably because they think I’m being pretentious and inaccurate, since whenever they are home, regardless of the time of day, this is where they can be found-  playing video games. Hardly the sort of parlour games the Victorians had in mind. Despite my dislike of charging cords and large TVs, we are a 21st century family living in a part 19th century, part 20th century house. Adjustments, such as built-in cabinetry, were made for the sanity of the previous lady of the house and I take full advantage. The boys can play in here, in the afternoon and evening, heads full of computer generated graphics, as long as I don’t have to look at anything but books and the sun when it’s my turn.

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besides the sun, I needed color

All paint is by Benjamin Moore:

Carolina Gull for the trim, bookcases, and cabinetry

Grey Cashmere for the walls and Decorator’s White for the windows

it took a year and a half to paint because. . .

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I painted the whole room myself

like a crazy person. But I find painting to be therapeutic and vaguely hypnotic.

And sometimes, if you’re a mother raising sons, you need to be hynotized.

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greg and our oldest son built the daybed from paneling

and I sewed the roman shades. Purchased at the famed Brimfield Antique Show, the paneling cost less than $100. In a pinch, this room can double as a guest room. I found its original door in the barn and am considering re-installing it.

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Greg got the clocks ticking in near-perfect synchronicity

Both clocks are from my father’s side of the family. The mantel clock is a New Haven Clock Company model owned by my recently immigrated Hungarian relatives in the 1920s. The model on the bottom is older and aptly named after its shape: bullet clock. My father remembers it sitting on a table in his German grandmother’s living room.

(The gentle dual-ticking of the clocks was soothing but the double chiming was a bit over the top.)

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I love formal rooms that can adapt to a casual life.

Everything on the daybed is machine-washable cotton from the down-alternative pillow inserts to the ivory coverlet. Which means that only half of my dog’s hair shows after a morning of her curled beside me in the sun.

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Time Travel

I bought a house, but I also bought an archive

Before installing a new access panel to HV/AC ductwork behind a closet, I found a cache of newspapers and two periodicals from 1951.

Of course, I only thought I was buying a house. To be precise, an old house and a rural house, but just a house- empty of furniture and the lives that once inhabited it.

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The photo above is from Folklore and Firesides of Pomfret, Hampton, and Vicinity, self-published by local resident Susan Jewett Griggs in 1950. Shown from the road, visible is the length of the house’s 1900 Cape Cod design. Not visible is its 1830s original stone foundation.  An awning over the front door protects visitors but the covered porch shelters the family’s most-used entrance which lead to the kitchen. In the back, a shed for a car or tractor and cold storage.

I’ve inhabited eleven houses. Three of those houses were new, built either for my grandparents or my parents. The rest were previously someone else’s, often sold, as houses are, to close an estate after the death of the owner. So, I’m not unconscious of a house holding history. The baton of my present house’s ownership, in what I think of as a relay if not a race, was first handed from the Trowbridge family to the Pecks, followed by the Platts-all farmers- to the Sweets: horse people, and now me and my family. We own no plow, no horse.

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In the cellar, caked with mud, were thirty-odd glass canning jars. Some dated back to the late 1800s.

Despite its age, my house isn’t listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There is no plaque by the barely used front door.  Despite my house being listed in Griggs’ Folklore and Firesides, she lists neither in regard to my house. Historic New England isn’t interested. Obviously, George Washington didn’t sleep here. Beyond my family and friends, no one comes to visit.

But my house’s archive is telling its story anyway.

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I saved a few.  

Last year, my neighbor bought a dog, a very enthusiastic Brittany spaniel named Jasper, who would bark at the window whenever he saw Gigi and I walk past their house on our morning walks. Soon Dave and Jasper were joining us. While Dave and I chatted, the dogs leaped all over each other, sprinting in black, white, and tan streaks through the woods. Dave told me he and his wife had moved back to Pomfret to be with his father in his elder years.

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Jasper and Gigi

On our short walks I learned that Dave’s father’s house is on land once belonging to my house. I learned that Dave is a great-great-grandson of my house’s original Platt family. Dave also told me he was cleaning out his father’s house, going through old papers and letters.

But for those morning walks, Dave and I barely knew each other. He didn’t know, for example, that my husband and I have a tendency to move. That after about four years in one place, I get itchy. Dave also didn’t know that my mother had recently bequeathed to me three generations of maternal china and linens. He didn’t know how heavily the responsibility to protect these objects weighed on me and how that responsibility was in direct opposition to my impulsive desire to take it all to the Goodwill.

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The new main entrance is where the cold storage and shed had been.

Dave only knew what I told him: that I am a writer and I love houses, and I have three sons-one of whom is grown and moved to Newport and the other two nearly eighteen. It seems that was enough. On a walk a few weeks ago, Dave asked if I would like a collection of letters.

“They’re quite old. My father never throws anything out.”

“Yes,” I said quickly without even knowing what they contained. “I’ll take them.”

I said this even though my dining room was unusable due to fifteen boxes of antique china to be unwrapped and no idea where I was going to store the stuff.

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That afternoon, Dave dropped the letters off. They were bundled carefully by year and retained their original envelopes. It is a complete collection of letters from his great-great grandmother to her son Nelson-Dave’s great uncle. The letters reach back as far as 1909. They include farm news: cows born and neighborhood news: babies born. They are full of hope and fear-especially when Nelson left college in Maine during WWI and was stationed overseas. Mostly, they are letters from mother to son and written in my house.

Somehow the odd collection of newspapers I found in the duct-work access in my bedroom, the canning jars in the cellar, the Griggs book left for me by the Sweets on a bookshelf in the morning room,  the letters returned to their place of origin, and even the 35mm film camera I discovered on the top shelf of the laundry room closet last week-have created an impulse for me to stay.  My archive is rich with life and reminds me that my house is a living breathing thing.

The baton has been passed and I hold it tightly.

I feel no itch to move. img_0050