Tuesday, March 2, 2010

When is a house a home ?

As a child, I often wandered thru the nearby woods “exploring” and spending time observing the ongoing saga of minute wildlife and listening in on their “conversations”….It was on one such trek that I discovered a hole in the ground, a depression really, fairly near a deer run. I had often wondered about this small depression in the woods, sitting as it was so close to an old stone wall…what it might have been, what had stood there, what it had been used for…Digging in the dirt within the confines of that depression yielded innumerable treasures, some of which were a puzzle to a child’s mind. The dirt yielded bits of glass, rusted metals and nails, and shards of pottery. The walls of the depression revealed themselves to be just that, walls of stone much like the kind used in old foundations. These walls revealed their age in the number of rooted saplings growing from them, further tearing them down….

And so I imagined…building up this place in my mind and making my own history to go with it. What must these walls have seen in their day? What joys and sadness, what comings and goings, how many seasons had they held it all within? Come with me, if you will, as we go up to the main house from the basement (which is what my imaginations decided this must have been). History says that many old farmhouses that were built on hillsides used the lower story, the ground floor as it were, as the barn area for their animals – protection for their animals from the ‘beasts of prey’ that roamed beyond its walls at night. And without knowing or understanding the science behind it, they used the body heat of their animals so that as the heat rose, the house above could benefit from it. And on this level, the main floor of the house, I stand in the middle of the floor and turn slowly in a circle to examine each corner and direction…I see the entryway to the stairwell, lined with dour-faced portraits of ancestors with their respective children looking equally as dour and stiff, as though upset at losing precious daylight hours of chore time in order to be ‘gussied up for pictures”, and of course all are wearing period clothing of their day….I see the big black corner of the kitchen range (wood-fired of course) peaking through another doorway…. This was the heart of the home in days past. Everyone congregated around the kitchen table to discuss the day’s events and happenings, to break bread together after a long day’s work in the fields, to visit with a neighbor and perhaps share a cup of tea…this was where you would find the matriarch of the clan holding court – this was her domain, and woe to the poor male who dared trod across its clean floor with barn-muddied boots! Here too, was the where the wonderful smells emanated from and permeated every inch of the house with their essence…the scent of warm bread baking and almost ready to eat, vying with the scent of fermenting yeast in a new batch of bread dough that had been set to rise…(yumm…now I want a slice of that heaven!). Turning again to leave the kitchen, I see the fireplace against the far wall in the living room. There is a spinning wheel nearby with cleaned wool waiting to be spun in a basket in front of it. Maman’s chair sits fairly close to the wheel, though I am not sure when she would have had the time to sit…there is another basket by the chair, this one containing an almost completed pair of socks on knitting needles, with almost no yarn left, perhaps waiting for her to spin a bit more in order to finish the sock. Papa’s chair is directly in front of the fireplace… a man’s home is his castle, and of course the king should have the best place to sit… a big comfy chair, one that he can sink into after the hard labors of a typical farm day. A small wooden bench sits nearby, perhaps where the children sat…. a woven or braided rug lies on the floor. Now head upstairs to the sleeping quarters…rather tiny in comparison to the living area downstairs, but functional with a bed, a bureau, a chair, and perhaps a chest for clothing. At the foot of each bed lies a folded quilt, perhaps one the mistress of the house had stitched, made with whatever bits of fabric were available, including those from outgrown or torn clothing… a history if you will….Now I head back down the stairs, again going past the dour countenances lining the wall who almost seem to want to say ‘who are you that you can just walk through my house?’…past the fireplace and spinning wheel that not-so-strangely calls my name…and out the front door before turning back once more to see where I have been…..

Sadly, it is once again a depression in the ground, with moss-covered rocks lining the edge, and stillness in the wood around me…watching, waiting, listening, hoping that someday new life will be breathed into the walls that once stood there….I turn once again and head down the path that will take me out of the woods, promising myself that someday I will come back to this place, some day I will build a house and make a home where once another family called their’s…..what was once old is new again, they say….perhaps here too…..


  1. That was a lovely tour... I enjoyed every moment of following you through the house. I've been reading a novel that takes place in the late 1700s in the "colonies" just prior to the revolution. Already in that mindset, I jumped right into your piece!
    Thanks for posting.

  2. Very descriptive! I definitely felt as though I was seeing all of these things before me :) Just beautiful.

    "Digging in the dirt within the confines of that depression yielded innumerable treasures, some of which were a puzzle to a child’s mind."

    Loved it.

  3. You took me there. I enjoy your style of writing.