Saturday, July 16, 2005

A House Isn't Just a House

An SUV slowly drove by while Dave and I watered some of our flowers. A slow vehicle is not unusual on our street because it is a dead end and people enjoy looking at the views of Puget Sound. The car turned around in the cul de sac at the top and eased down in front of our house. By this time, I had gone inside and I noticed Dave was talking to the people in the SUV. Apolo started crying with jeolousy because he saw his Daddy petting their little white poodle through the car window. I didn't recognize these folks so according to my Seattleite attitude, I figured I didn't need to be friendly and Dave was better at giving directions anyway.

Our house was kind of messy. I was anticipating two parties for the upcoming weekend and I wasn't about to be wasting my time picking up the house too early. Nevertheless, I hear voices at the front door; what? Dave was inviting these strangers into my house?? Yikes! Two attractive women were standing in my entry way. One was about my age and the other about Lucas's age. My husband has always had a weak spot for good looking women so part of the mystery was solved--he would have asked them in for a drink of water. Me, I would have let them use the hose outside.

"Janet, this woman and her daughter used to live here--in this house," announced my husband.

"I told your husband we didn't need to come inside--that you would probably not be too excited about unexpected guests. We REALLY do not want to intrude. I'd just die if it was me."

She reminded me of me immediately in an odd sort of way. She knew exactly what I was thinking. And then she said the magic words: "Oh, what a cute Golden Retriever. We have two at home. That 'little' dog in the car is my sister's."

As it turned out, this woman was visiting from California where she now lives. Her daughter was 18 and the last time she saw this house, she was only eight years old. The daughter actually simply wanted to take a few photos with her cell phone from the outside but the man watering wouldn't go away. Consequently, they decided to stop and ask watering man for permission to snap a few pictures. My husband being who he is welcomed them and asked them to see the inside. I couldn't believe it. This is our third house in the Seattle area but the first house we have owned that wasn't brand new when we moved in.

Every summer when we return to Helena, I drive by the little white and yellow house I grew up in and always I wish I could see inside. I drive by the front and then I drive down the alley behind to see the yard I played in from the time I was seven until I was 18. The small house was originally a log cabin, barn or outbuilding for a Victorian mansion so the walls were about two feet thick, the ceiling was low and the roof flat. Over the years, someone wisely added a pitched roof so they would not have to shovel wet heavy snow like I remember my Dad having to do sometimes. But, the gigantic granite block my Dad dug out of the garden, presumably part of the remains of a burned Victorian mansion, is still the step at the back door. My dreams still take me back to this tiny home on a regular basis. No, houses are not merely buildings. They are filled with all of the energy of life from the souls of the occupants.

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1966--Victorian houses behind; my Mom in the driveway

And my dreams often include my Grandma's house. When my English immigrant grandparents left the wilderness of Stevens Pass, Washington for civilization, they settled in Deer Lodge, Montana which was a sizeable railroad community shortly after the turn of the century. Whether they found a cabin or shack to turn into a house, I do not know, but the result was basically a home built almost entirely by my Grandpa. I can vividly picture the white house with green trim inside and out at this very moment. No longer does this structure exist but years ago when my children were little, we ventured to Deer Lodge to see my Grandma's house before it was totally gone. I ignored the "No Trespassing" signs to climb into the crumbling skeleton. The furnace was still in the "front room". Fighting tears, I explained to my children how my Grandma would put her mince meat pasties to warm right on the top.

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1966--My Dad always clowning--on the wooden walkway to the garage at my Grandma's

Quietly, my thoughts carried me back through the years. "Right beyond the furnace is my Grandma's bedroom. She loves purple and has a shiny purple satin comforter on her bed. Grandma really hated it the day my Golden Retriever, Laddie, jumped on her bed. Oh, and this is the room where my brother and I would sleep. See the big dark armoire? After my Grandpa died, I worried his ghost was in there.

And out here is the rest of the front room. Grandma puts her violets right under that window with her crocheted doilies. And see all of her china tea cups above the couch? There is her desk. The pencil erasers are always too old to work right. Oh, the bathroom has a strange bathtub with feet on it. Through the door by the bathroom is the kitchen.

Grandma's apple cookie jar is right there by the deep sink but she always has raisin cookies and not chocolate chip; I don't like raisins. See that space? There used to an ice box and I remember when a brand new refrigerator was put there. The back door comes right into the kitchen. Nobody ever uses the front door. A wooden walkway leads from the back door and is really bumpity when you ride a trike on it. And there is her garden where she lets me eat strawberries. Where's Grandma? Is she in her chair by the furnace? She keeps candy next to her chair and she keeps a little card there Grandpa wrote to her on their anniversary......"

"Janet, we should go. The roof could cave in even more." My husband's voice drew me back.

"It's gone, all of it is just gone." I whispered.

So here I was last Thursday evening face to face with a young woman who had spent her early childhood in my house. And I was faced with an older woman who had nurtured her young family in my house. Not only that but they were Golden Retriever people! Immediately, I wanted to hug them but I didn't and suddenly, I didn't care that things were kind of a mess.

"Oh, come in the kitchen," I said. They were the first family to live in the house when it was new 15 years ago and they moved out 10 years ago. "Was this tile on the floor or was it carpet?"

"Berber carpet was in this room and the countertops did not have that granite but the floor in the laundry room is the same. I love how you expanded the front deck. You know, I really miss this house. When my husband was transferred, I didn't want to leave. I didn't want to move out of this house." Her daughter was quiet and disturbed, I think, that we had cut the gigantic trees in her back yard. I explained they were endangering the house.

We talked and talked for quite a while discussing neighbors who still lived on the street. I think they were pleased with the family now living in their home. I was pleased to meet my home's birth family. When we moved in two and a half years ago, I had the feeling that this house had just been waiting for us. The colors were right; my furniture fit and we felt at home. We had waited 25 years for a view of Puget Sound.

As the two women were leaving, the Mom mentioned she was going to cry. "I always loved these views."

Yes, indeed. Houses are magical and full of souls and memories of times too quickly gone.

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