When is home not really home

I’ve been in a lot of houses. As a kid we moved a bit. 6 different ones before I was a teenager. Don’t remember enough of my childhood to know if any of them felt like home. Some I remember glimmers of in a fond manner, others I get a more cold feeling when I try to capture any fleeting memories of them. As I grew up I have stepped foot in a lot of different places. Two different property searches unlocked a lot of doors, all accompanied by a smiling and babbling real estate agent. It never ceased to amaze me how fast my gut reacted to each. At face value there was always the curb appeal, though that isn’t really what I am talking about. This is more of an instinctual response to a property. Did it feel “right”? or did it feel “wrong”. Much like you know instantly if you accidentally put your foot in the wrong shoe. You don’t have to look at the shoe to know that information. Your foot tells your brain it doesn’t fit and that the shoe is really destined to be on the opposite limb. It is very much the same when it comes to houses. We live in this rambling old farm house now and despite 10 years of occupation and much work it still isn’t home. Not on that deep connected level. I didn’t have a great reaction to this house. From the very first moment. The property is lovely, but there was that piece that was missing. By the time we closed on this farm we had seen maybe 15 to 20 other properties. I was always polite and did a walk thru (or maybe that is my curious side). I never refused outright and drove away. I let the broker carry on and point out the painfully obvious while brushing over the faults. I happen to love architecture and old homes. Yes, a glutton for punishment since old houses truly are trying. I love to see the bones of an old home. Sadly most have been butchered along the way in the name of enlarging the space. It is often a mess, and rarely involved the thought of keeping the house’s integrity intact. Our home is very much in that category, as was our last one. Add a wing here, a roof there, and odd size window or two and you come to see what the house is today. It takes a hard look to see what remains of the old skeleton that came to life in the 1800’s. Our last home was an enormous old colonial revival. The front dressed in massive windows that went from nearly the hardwood floor to the hand pulled plaster crown molding. It was exquisite once. Even with the additions added on each side, and the rear. But they kept some sense of balance and it did still look lovely. The first day we saw the house it was winter. It stood vacant in the grey harsh light and cold drizzle. Those beautiful windows half open and water pooled on the floors beneath the skylights. I knew it the moment I saw it. I loved it. From the toile black and white print wallpaper sporting naked women that adorned the kitchen to the avocado green linoleum counters circa 1970. It was as if someone had dressed up the grand old dame in the worst drag they could find, but her bones were refined. I could see beyond the costume. I saw what she would become. I saw it there on the walls next to the pink trim and teal walls. They became invisible to my eyes. I saw the 16′ ceilings, and the crown moulding. I saw the fireplace tucked beneath a 1900 mantle. Thus began my love affair with that house. She would never become what she could have been. I did not control the money. She came close though. It was blood, sweat and tears. All the demo work was done with our hands. I lay the tile when the contractor didn’t show up. That house gave us so many tools that we needed for this farm. I didn’t know it back then. On the day we closed and I said goodbye to that majestic colonial I cried. I don’t mean a tear or two. I broke down sobbing as if I lost a family member. I still think of her. Not as much as I once did, but I do miss her. It is different now. I never fell for this house, or this property. Doesn’t matter how much trim from Lowe’s we adorn it in, or what color the siding and shutters are. It doesn’t matter what color the walls are, or how lovely and bright my studio is. No, none of that matters because there was no spark. No attraction. It isn’t home in the same way the last house was.
As Beatrice and I sat talking about homes I thought about my path here. Where I lost my way. I gave in and said yes, when in reality I could have just waited for another property to come along. But I gave in, as I often did when my father made a decision. And so started the life that has been here. It was as if the house knew I did not love it. It put up a fight. From the very first day. The move was a disaster. As if on cue every major system broke, from septic to well to roof. It was epic. Didn’t help me like it anymore when the kitchen sink was spewing sewage, or the power went out for 7 days due to a leak into the electrical panel from the outside wall. I was out of sorts, lost up here. I had nothing to ground me and it started a shift that went from bad to worse. I can vividly remember standing on the deck of the house with Virgil at the other end of the line. Clear as day I can see that. I think I had left her a message on her machine. Something I don’t often do. I knew I was in trouble and I think she knew it too. I can’t blame it all on this house. A move is stressful and difficult even if you love where you are going. I just think it was compounded by the realities of this place.

It really is amazing though how we know when it is right. I remember years ago, before we bought the last house. We were on the hunt. Well into it actually. I believe we had seen 15 or 16 houses that point. Our broker was a lovely older lady who was happy to just keep wandering with us. We drove out of Nyack along the river toward Piermont. It is a winding road flanked by steep hill on one side and a drop to the river on the other side. Midway between the two towns we followed the broker up a very steep wooded driveway. It suddenly opened to lawn and swept around in front of a colonial with a wide porch and columns. She looked a bit threadbare in her old faded and chipping paint but my god she was beautiful. We parked and started toward the side entrance. It was almost comical since there was not even a staircase left to the side door. Inside it was an open floor plan. A single huge old Garland range was all that remained of the kitchen. A table with some mismatched chairs. Now mind you people actually lived there. The saying land rich and cash poor truly applied. As we wandered thru the massive house with wallpaper hanging off the walls in pooling strips I fell in love. But it was the moment I stepped out that front door onto the porch with foot wide chestnut planks that it became something bordering on smitten. I sat down on the steps and stared down at the blue Hudson river thousands of feet below it just clicked. I do believe in past lives, and man was this house speaking to me. I think I sat on that porch long enough to make both the poor residents and our laid back broker quite uncomfortable. I won’t ever forget that home. She was magnificent even with the shabby unkempt dress on. In a way I am glad we chose wisely and walked away from that one. It was well beyond our means, especially considering it was nothing more than a shell of a house and a prime piece of acreage. I doubt it still stands. The land it sat on was worth so much more than those old bones of a house. I can only hope someone came along and loved it enough to rebuild her.

Ah enough about old houses. Guess I’m feeling a bit sentimental today. 39 years old today. What a journey it has been houses and all. Maybe another blog post later since this really isn’t exactly a birthday post.


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