Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Dream House

To your right, three enormous catalpa trees shade the driveway. A bayberry towers over you on the left. A sandy path winds through the grass to the door. The gentle breeze bears the scents of scrub-pine and salt marsh. A wood thrush begins its peculiar song. Day-lilies glow against the weathered shingles. Approach the door. Notice the mat on the step before you: Go Away. Open the door and enter. A tiny wind chime jingles as the screen door bangs shut behind you. Look around. Come see my dream house.

Its main frame was raised sometime during the Madison administration. Sturdy timbers neatly joined, held in place by wooden pegs that my grandfather would tap back in now and then. They creaked reassuringly at night like a safely moored ship. Its pine-wood planking is unthinkably wide. Follow the progress of the knots across both roof and floors and know that these planks were cut from a single massive tree, when such trees were still to be found here. A thick central chimney firmly anchors the house to earth.

Once this was a simple Cape. Perhaps a flintlock hung over the main fireplace. Over the years it has been extended again and again. Now, it sprawls along one side of its double-lot. It is big, but it somehow seems even bigger from the inside, like something from Alice's wonderland. No right angles or plumb lines here. It is not poor craftsmanship, though. Just time, lots of time, and the ever-shifting soil of Cape Cod.

Every doorway is hung with a thin wooden "Christian door". Each door has two small glass panes at the top of the cross and a black iron latch. No doorknobs here. The bedrooms are tiny. Just big enough for a bed and, perhaps, a desk or chest. A few closets seem to have been added as an afterthought. Not so. Many old Capes are like this. Once, closets were taxed as extra rooms.

See the never-used front dining room. Year-round, it stood ready for the formal dinners that were never held here. Pewter chargers and china arranged in neat rows on the hutch. Three pristine birch logs on the fire-grate. A marble-topped side table with a Tiffany lamp. Eight caned ladderback chairs around a drop-leaf table. No ghosts linger in this museum. A spiral staircase beckons you up.

On a table to your right, an antique dollhouse sits before a lace-curtained window. Through an open doorway, you see a white iron hospital bed under the bare rafters. The ghost of a little boy peers through a tiny window overlooking the yard. A brass frame on the night-stand holds an illuminated quotation:

God made me to know Him, to love Him, to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next. - Baltimore Catechism, Lesson 1.

Long ago, this was my room. The quotation was placed there by my grandfather. It was the first thing I saw in the morning; the last thing I saw at night. I still have it but I no longer need it. It is written on my heart.

All around there is wood, some bare, some painted white. Thin wooden walls, thin wooden doors. From the bed you can look up and see the rafters, the roof above, in some places the shingles. Somehow it does not leak. When the rains come the room resonates like a drum, but it is dry, if not always warm. This part of the house is unheated, but it seems like enough.

In the next room the ceiling and rafters are finished: a white wooden ceiling and finished beams. A four-poster bed with a nubbly cotton spread. Another tiny window. The windows here are the oldest. They have no mechanisms. You open one and place a stick in it. More modern windows have buttons that pop out at varying heights. Windows more modern still have levers that turn down. Only a few of the newest windows have pulleys and weights. No double-glazing here. It seems like enough.

A hallway leads through another bedroom, the attic proper, and still another bedroom. Stairs lead down to the old kitchen. Everywhere it seems there is another window. You breathe clean salt air in white Cape light. The old kitchen is white wood and blue glass. Braided rugs and wide pine floors. A pot-belly stove. Copper pans hang above the sink. More windows look out on the sun-porch.

The sun-porch smiles at its own little joke. It is nailed right on to the side of the house. Step down into it and turn around. There is the old front door, the doorbell, the mail-slot, the stairs. Three windows look out from the old clapboards left intact. Seven windows with bamboo shades surround you with light. To the left, my grandfather's favorite chair. To the right, my grandmother's writing desk. Built-in bookshelves invite you to browse. Sofas and chairs invite you to stay. Friendly ghosts linger here. This is where their voices echo.

At the very back stands the work kitchen. Another add-on, Southern-style, to keep the heat out in summer. An ancient Hotpoint stove. An elderly Frigidaire. A small but sufficient countertop. Two wooden stools. The ghosts of a woman and a little boy watch from the corner. A single French door leads to the old kitchen. Cookware hangs from the rafters. A wind chime tinkles in the breeze. The screen door looks out at the barn. No stainless steel appliances here, no granite counters. Somehow it still seems like enough. This tiny kitchen was once my grandmother's alone. In time, it became ours. Just one voice echoes here.

Who loves you, baby? Your Nana, that's who.


I dislike home-improvement shows. Something about them saddens me. It is always more, more, more. Stainless steel appliances and black granite counters, Andersen windows and energy efficiency, houses with more bathrooms than bedrooms, Sub-Zero and Jenn-Air and all the rest. If you like that sort of thing, that's fine. I don't hold it against you. I just don't see the point, myself.

My dream house had a single, tiny bathroom with a cast-iron tub, a tiny kitchen with old-but-working appliances. Tiny bedrooms and no closet space. It was cold in the winter and hot in the summer. Its only concessions to modern living were gas, electricity, and running water. The house is still there. It looks like it has been thoroughly modernized. Honestly, the new owners did a nice job. It's still a beautiful house, but I could never live there.

Only in my dreams.

Respectfully Yours,



Zuzana said...

Thank you so much for stopping by my place and for your very poignant comment.

Land of shimp said...

It's funny Cricket, my husband and I were just discussing this very subject this weekend. Current trends have us embracing "Neutrality" anything too "taste specific" is considered bad.

Make sure you don't furnish your home in the things you like best, or the colors that delight you. Not everyone will like it. It's too bold a choice, it hurts resale, blah blah blah "Conform to what we tell you is acceptable".

But that's not what stands out in our memories. Neutral just blends. Lacks personality. Lacks what a home is supposed to be.

My favorite kitchen growing up was a place that we lived with turquoise counter tops, a pink and black bathroom, and wallpaper cluttered with birds.

What will people remember looking back to this time period? Interchangeable images of tan, and caramel? I doubt it. They'll remember what they loved.

Thanks for sharing your memory. It made me smile and it was easy to tell how much you loved your own, oddly poky, place that you felt most loved and at home.

Me? I paint my walls whatever I darn well like, and am constantly told I make "bold choices" (said with a disapproving tone). Make your own choices, don't let the people -- who through no invitation whatsoever have deemed themselves fit to tell me how I should live -- have a say.

I will never understand the push to have a home that others will deem ...bland enough to blend, really.

Your dream home sounds lovely to me.

Suldog said...

And now I more readily understand your love affair with The Cape. I knew that you thoroughly enjoyed the beaches and the pace of life, but didn't quite know where and when that was inculcated. Now I know.

I watch such shows as "House Hunters" with MY WIFE. Whenever they show an older kitchen, one with perfectly marvelous porcelain and older wooden cabinets - perhaps some odd sort of tiling on the floor - and the shoppers remark, "Oh, this will have to be updated", I try to hold my tongue. MY WIFE knows all too well what I'd like to say: "You idiots! It's beautiful, warm, embracing, functional, full of love and memories! If I were there, I'd chop your hands off before I'd let you demolish it!", so I try to remain quiet. Sometimes I succeed, other times I let it out and she takes it like the good woman she is :-)

Lovely piece of reminiscense.

Linda said...

You've described one of my favorite types of houses as well. I live in a cape built @ 1820 and we have sticks lying along the sills, ready to hold the windows open. I love each individual room, (not one "great room" space) including one with a rounded wall, to fit a doorway in the corner.

The memories just enhance the beauty of your house.

Hilary said...

It sounds like a perfect setting to me. Though modern appliances, counters and floors are easier to clean (that's probably the draw for many), I like the idea of the lived-in comfort. And it sure would be nice to have that sun-porch.

Cricket said...

Protege - You're very welcome.

Shimp - "Bland enough to blend." You have a gift for the perfect turn of phrase.

Suldog - I love the Cape so much I never want to go there again, if you know what I mean.

Linda - The memories are all I have. The house is still there, but that which I loved in it is gone.

Hilary - Aside from oven cleaning, a job I loathe, I have not found modern appliances, counters, and floors noticeably easier to clean. This could be because I don't have any. I don't know. The sun-porch was a special place. I wish I had a picture. My description is inadequate, but the best I can do.

lime said...

ah, thank you for the tour. it's a place with it's own soul, something the current mcmansion trophy houses will never quite acquire.