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

 

 

 

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8 Things To Be Thankful For

1. I’m thankful that I didn’t kill my teeny lemon tree so now it’s a small lemon tree.

And it actually has lemons.

2. I’m thankful for mammogram technicians with warm hands.

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3. That Christmas is coming and with it the requirement that my sons appear in a photo with me.

4. I am thankful that this snapping turtle didn’t eat my dog.

5. Extraordinarily thankful for Bowl-sized margaritas.

6. That I get to live in a place that looks like this. . .

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. . .and this.

 

7.  That my dog is an excellent reader with exquisite taste. Also, that she is a feminist.

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8. Finally, I am thankful that I am married to this man, who helped me raise those three sons, makes a mean margarita, and lets the dog sleep on the bed.

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Whatever Sprinkles Your Donuts

 

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Gigi has a hangover.

New Year’s Day, 2017! You: New! Improved! Ugh.

After a late night (early morning) of celebrating, I snuggled with Gigi on the sofa and turned on the TV. In about ten seconds the “lose weight” ads started. I’m so over it.

Christmastime media tells women to bake it, New Year’s Day media tells us not to eat it.

At this very moment I am eating a Deluxe Hershey’s Kiss. I peeled back the gold foil wrapper and enjoyed. I don’t feel guilty about it and I don’t wish it was sugar-free. As a mother, I have enough guilt to fill a Hershey’s factory, so I certainly don’t want to eat my guilt. I’d rather look it square in the eyes of my three sons (have I doled out love equally?) and the garden I planned on whipping into shape but ended up neglecting as other things took priority. Like sleeping.

You know, you’ve just got to do what makes you happy. And things that make us happy change. So this year, instead of seeing flaws, I’m seeing possibilities for happiness. If I’m going to eat a donut, it better be slathered in sprinkles, as if it were covered in all the stars in the sky.

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You’re SO Lucky

Lately, several of my girlfriends who have daughters my son’s age have been proclaiming me to be “very lucky.” This statement is often followed by a sigh, a quick text on a cell phone and a long gulp of wine. I have been assured that their teenage daughters are wearing them down. Top of the list: boyfriends, college picks, wardrobe, eye rolling and as a separate category from wardrobe; prom dresses.

Me, lucky? Are they kidding? “Ladies”, I tell my friends, “you have no idea how good you have it!”

I hadn’t planned on getting married, never mind have children. On the rare occasion I thought of kids, I pictured chestnut haired, green-eyed beauties who I would raise to be awareness heightened third generation feminists with book smarts accompanied by decent fashion sense that led to the purchase of multiple season leather boots. Imagine my surprise when, eight months pregnant I find myself in the hospital with an ultrasound technician, my obstetrician and husband. My baby is breech. Therefore my OBGYN attempts a VERY painful on-top-of-the-belly manual manipulation to turn the darling girl I am carrying to a head down position instead of the current butt down position. The technician says “This baby is REFUSING to be turned. In fact, the more we attempt to move the baby to the PREFERRED position, YOUR baby wiggles his/her butt more firmly into your cervix. (We both sigh) Are you sure you don’t want to know what the sex is?” My husband and I had decided to get the surprise at the end (8 months of my Italian lady coworkers with hands on my belly-“Oh it’s a girl!”) Since the manual manipulation was a failure, I give in, succumb to something joyful. “Yes! Tell me about my little girl!” I say. “Well, first of all the baby is a boy.” My heartbeat slows. Beat One: The OBYGN and my husband Hi-Five each other. Beat Two my body goes slack and I feel a little dizzy “A what?” “Oh yes, he is DEFINITELY a boy. Look at that, he is showing us his penis.” She directs my gaze to the ultrasound monitor.
Excellent. I was not just having a boy, but an stubborn exhibitionist.
Goodbye pink hair ribbons, hello drum set.

I come from a family of mostly women. I enjoyed a girl-centric childhood full of dance recitals, “Little House on the Prairie” books and the illusion that I was Samantha from Charlie’s Angels. None of those prepared me to be the mother of boys. For one thing, they don’t really care for dance recitals. They prefer to beat each other up in the yard with sticks. They also like to leave balled up socks around the house, empty the kitchen of food like locusts every 48 hours, aim to the left of the toilet, loudly share fart jokes and keep their social lives secure from prying Mom eyes. My seventeen year old could teach the NSA about containment.

In defense of boys, there is very little drama and no prom dress decision stress. However there is a Zero Tolerance Policy for Mom-hugging (Instead, I have perfected a “I’m not his Mom in public” stance: chew gum and scroll cell phone for messages. I am there yet NOT there.) I also will never talk to my daughter about her first date, hear her giggle with girlfriends or watch my husband walk her down the aisle. My friends touch my hand and say “Ooh! But boys are GREAT in OTHER ways, right?”

Last weekend my seventeen year old and I jumped in my car for the mall. Zipping down the road, he turned on Pandora and said he was about to school me in good music. Once upon a time I made mixed-tapes from the radio and consider myself well versed in classic rock. “Have you heard this one, Mom”? Suddenly Cake filled the sound waves and “Short Skirt, Long Jacket” immediately became my new favorite song. I looked over at him, so comfortable in his skin, relaxing and simply enjoying the day. Mom and son singing together.

Not a rolling eye in sight.

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