Our house turns fifty-four-years-old this year—built by grandparents of my husband’s sister-in-law, it’s supported by a steel beam extending the entire length. They designed our brick and shingle ranch as a rock-solid retirement home—then retired elsewhere. Go figure. Anyway, her grandparents lived here long enough to instill history into the home; many of the stories from that period are familiar to us as a result of our connection.
Beyond the years that those original owners resided here though, a void in what we know about the past of our home exists. We are aware that it changed owners several times, was rented out and turned over often, because periodically, someone who grew up in town will mention to my husband or me: “I used to play in your house when so and so lived there.” The playmate’s name is always different. Recently, I learned that a wedding took place by our living room fireplace—which seems appropriate, given the gift we received in honor of our 25th anniversary last fall, that we placed there because it fit.
The lack of contiguous insight into our home came to mind as I looked out the window to an empty rocking chair swaying on our front porch today. In my imagination, it wasn’t the cold wind moving the seat, but someone from the past, rocking back and forth for a moment and taking stock, smiling at warm memories while contemplating the changes that have occurred under our regime.
There is a saying “if walls could talk,” and looking out to that chair as it shifted in the wind, this morning I wished they could. When you are immersed in the present, it is hard to remember that unless it's brand new, the life of a home doesn’t begin when you move in. That empty chair on the porch made me wonder who sat there before us. How fun it would be to view a movie of all our house has witnessed over the years—a documentary perhaps, beginning in the mid 1950’s when the street was a quiet country road and the three homes across the way didn’t exist.
In my mind, I see grainy films flickering from an old projector, dancing on the screen that used to pull down from the compartment remaining in one of our family room beams. Before the film breaks, (because that’s what always happened) I’d recognize how much more than my own self-centered history has occurred inside these walls, who else loved and lived and grieved and grew in this place, prior to that long ago April when we unpacked our mismatched pile of cardboard boxes.
And while someone scrambles for the tape to splice the film, I’d daydream about a woman somewhere in this world, who from time to time closes her eyes and remembers back to her wedding day. She sees herself fitted in antique lace, standing in kitten-heeled shoes on the polished pine floors of our living room. Positioned sideways to the carved mantel, she grins at the small crowd of friends circled around, and then stares into the eyes of her young man, while the preacher says a blessing.
What do you know about the history of where you live?