Today, I had a chance to go inside the house where I spent most of my childhood. It was empty, just as it was the day we moved in. I was 9 years old that June morning. The door opened, and we were in paradise. There were two staircases, three floors, and enough rooms that we could play hide and seek for days and never run out of hiding places. There were mysterious bells that would ring in the kitchen when a button was pressed in the living room. We could shout down a tube in the wall at the top of the house and be heard two floors down. The yard was bigger than a playground.
This time the house was empty for different reasons. It's in foreclosure. No one has lived there for nearly a year. Its last owners--who bought the house from my elderly father 10 years ago--attempted and failed to renovate it properly, leaving behind a mishmash of quick cosmetic fixes and partially completed repairs. They did no permanent harm. But neither did they appreciate the house for what it was. I will save those details for a later blog.
My sister, my niece, and my partner Steve and I walked in this afternoon not knowing what we would find. Outside, shutters are coming loose, and the new yellow paint job is already peeling. But we were very grateful to the local realtor who was able to get us an appointment on short notice. I now live outside Chicago, a thousand miles away from New Jersey, and was only visiting for a few days. I'd driven by the house a couple of times already, and somehow, couldn't bear to leave without knowing what might have happened on the inside...even if I had no specific idea how to help or what to do next.
We wandered through all the rooms. The heat and lights were turned off, the shades were down, paint chips from old, dry ceilings were scattered like confetti. But the house somehow held itself with grace. The parquet floors were intact. The elegant carved woodwork and high ceilings were as beautiful as ever. The house was still the house, square and strong and solid. It's simply waiting.
We took pictures, noted problems, rediscovered details and favorite corners, reminisced, and finally left. The realtor said she'd heard there might be a contract, but it had been in review for a while. There have been other offers over the past year, and all have fallen through. It is not a kind economy for a 14-room Colonial Revival from the beginning of another century--that now needs many thousands of dollars of renovation work to shine again. And another winter is coming.
But I refuse to believe this is the end of the story. So today, I am starting a new chapter. I have never written a blog before, and I am normally a very private person. I don't even have a Facebook page (well, I did, but I never felt comfortable on Facebook, so I closed it). But I want to share the story of my house, because I believe houses frame our lives in such intensely personal and important ways, and that they should not be left to crumble. Houses like mine won't ever be built again, except by a handful of very, very wealthy people. All the beauty inside its walls is still so accessible and restorable. I realized today that writing the story of my house might be the only way to connect with people who can help, before it's too late.
There are actually many bits of the house's history that I don't know and want to find out--like who its original builder and architect were. I will post more details and pictures soon.