Conversations With My House

Conversations With My House

Maybe the walls can talk.

I may be a bit crazy, but whenever my husband and I would drive away for a long vacation, I would look back at our house and say, “Be good, House. ” And this, out loud. Funny, I didn’t really greet the house when I returned, but was always happy to have the garage door go up and find things the way I left them. Houses are the warm womb we like to get back to: the pillow on the bed that is just right, the views that are old but warm the heart with their familiarity. And the feel of the doorknobs and how the stove works–it’s smooth and easy, like the worn slippers that comfort the feet. And no matter how big or small, well decorated or pared down–it’s that place that is ours.

WALLS MIGHT TALK, BUT THEY ALSO ADAPT  

But consider this. Houses hold the conversations of families and as the famous saying goes IF THE WALLS COULD TALK… well, maybe they can. Did my big house in Iowa slump with sadness when I left it? No. But maybe it’s plaster walls started to experience infinitesimal cracks because three little girls moved in and I’m sure they’re a lot noisier than my husband and me–the house’s last occupants.

We called this house, the House in the Trees, because we had 17 oak trees on our property. They were lovely, but tons of work. I created a plaque with that name and when we drove away–I left it for the new owners with a note, saying I hoped they would love the house as much as I did. But this is my pattern. These are the conversations with my house and the people who live in them. But will the new owners feel like I do?

YOU CAN’T GO HOME AGAIN

Our first house was a tract house, built on a piece of land with no trees. We had to put in a lawn and garden, attempt to create a “place” that was ours. It was wonderful to have our own walls, and this was the house where our first child began to walk and talk. But after awhile we left it, seeking a really old house that opened its arms to us and we lived there for seventeen years. Our two other children were born during that time.

There was a day when the doorbell rang and a young man stood on the porch. He told me he had been raised in the house, was back in town and just wanted to take a look. I warmly welcomed him. After he quietly walked around for a while, certainly trying to blot out our furniture and photographs so that the place he had loved would open its arms to him, he asked to see his bedroom. I took him up to see it. I think this was the end for him–the bright blue walls were now melon-colored and there were no trucks or trains or sports equipment–whatever had signified that this was his space. And so he thanked me and abruptly left. I understood. We had painted over the marks on the woodwork that traced his growth. Now our children’s names were there–for the while.

Something similar happened with the next home we bought and totally remodeled. The daughter came back and as she walked through–her mouth dropping open–she couldn’t believe the changes we had made. We had given the house the love that it needed, but I could not ask her which she preferred–the old shabby way or our new refreshed hardwood floors and remodeled kitchen. She probably liked it the old way–because that was what welcomed her home each night.

HAUNTED HOUSES 

In that remodeled house, my daughter whose bedroom was on the third floor, a room cut out of the attic, actually believed that a female ghost lived in the house. How the spirit dealt with the remodeling I don’t know, but one night my daughter was certain she saw the woman in a pink bathrobe standing outside her door. It’s possible. A woman had died in the house. The closest I have ever come to feeling a house is haunted is the sounds that it makes–the things you become familiar with like the top step of the basement stairs in the Iowa house–I can still hear it creak. Or the plumbing in the walls of that house that would clank when the water was heating up. This is how houses talk back, let owners know their personalties.

And they fight you. A remodel or a minor change gleams in your mind and when you or the people you have hired arrive to make it happen–the house resists. “Well, your plan won’t work because there isn’t a weight-bearing wall here…” “You electric will need a total upgrade..” etc etc. It ALWAYS HAPPENS.

HOUSES: An Ode to One’s Life 

When I miss some of the places where I have lived, I look at photographs and think about the joyous times–the births of our children, the Thanksgivings, summer barbecues with games on the lawn, the graduation parties, the visits from my family. And I think about the simple days: rising, breakfast, the newspaper on the front porch, the leaves to be raked in the back yard, the sun going down while we sit sharing our dinner with some flowers from my garden on the table. Houses are a gift. Though houses do need upkeep–I have often joked that the rather old and practical cars that we drive to help balance the budget should have a license plate that proclaims YOU SHOULD SEE MY NEW FURNACE!!

But it’s the warmth and safety that matters, that sticks. Virginia Woolf celebrates similar feelings in her short story THE HAUNTED HOUSE. Here is an excerpt, the ghosts (people like me who have left, though these are true dead spirits) coming back to remember what living there was, what memories pulse in the place. I think the walls are talking.

“Here we slept,” she says. And he adds, “Kisses without number.” “Waking in the morning—” “Silver between the trees—” “Upstairs—” “In the garden—” “When summer came—” “In winter snowtime—” The doors go shutting far in the distance, gently knocking like the pulse of a heart.

If you have to sweep a walkway or paint a room, remodel a kitchen or start a garden–rejoice. Your house will thank you for your tender care and your memories will linger even longer–because this is your domain, and as you work have that conversation. The walls might not talk, but they hear what you are saying. So even after struggling to install that new furnace–step back, enjoy the view and tell the house: THANK YOU.

Conversations With My House

Our House in the Trees. .

18 thoughts on “Conversations With My House

  1. What a pretty house! I feel that way about my house too. I talk to it all the time, especially when I’ve been gone a few days. But it really does feel like a friend.

  2. Dear Beth, Once again you pulled on my heart strings with your ‘house stories’. My dear husband always pulled up to our house after being away and said “Home Again”…and I often said as we pulled away, “We will be back soon”…crazy no…just sentimental because there is no place like home. You took me back to so many homes, so many memories long past. The sights I remember of old porches, the sound of the screen door, the creaks on the stairs, the sound, smell and feel of the heat rising from the old register as I stood over it to melt away the snow crusted leggings… When my husband found our first rental home it was on Okinawa, and I remember it had green and purple walls, another one where we were stationed in Ohio he dubbed “The Sorry House” because it just was sad looking… Today I am dreaming of watching for hummingbirds in my garden, sitting out on our front porch listening to the birds, swinging on the glider, reading a book, and remembering all the good times this 100 plus year old home gave Ken and I, how many more will I have…a day at a time I know they all will be so precious. Your home is so beautiful, thank you for sharing all of your memories…I agree, if walls could talk how much more we would know and for whoever comes next.

    • Carol, It is always lovely to get your messages. Yes, you must have so many memories of different homes as you traveled with your husband when he was in the Armed Services. The connection to HOME must be even more profound when you are not living in the U.S. I do hope you have some hummingbird visitors today. I’ll be thinking of you when I check on my feeder. Thanks for your support, Beth

  3. Lovely! I think our house talks too. The walls just vibrate the memories in them. I understand the un-sexiness but necessary issue of a furnace. I have a roof on order.

    • Ah yes roofs!! We have put on three of the four houses that we owned. But a roof is certainly a metaphor for safety and coziness. Thanks for reading. I love your phrase VIBRATE with MEMORIES. They do. Beth

  4. My house is like my friend, too. I always yearn to go home to it at the end of the day or a trip. I think my house talks to me too. It comforts me, the walls feel like a big hug when I need one.

    • Love your words, Ellen. Thanks for sharing them with me. I think I prefer house cleaning to cooking, because again I am caring for the walls that care for me–and of course everything they hold. Beth

  5. This is a fun BOOMER HIGHWAY. I particularly find that the address number sinks deep into one’s memory. 10055 Wood St. Never will forget that one. And 4613 Morse also has a good ring to it. But walking through those front doors and feeling the house welcoming you home is truly special………7810 West 79th is becoming more magical with everyday. Love this!!!!! Bill

  6. Nicely done, Beth! I think we have all talked to “things” that we cherished, and they talk back in their own way. I chat with the plants in my gardens the whole time I’m working with them, and they respond with their beauty! Thanks.

    • Love this, Jean. Though I struggle a bit to learn how to garden in California, I love digging in the dirt. I feel a strong connection when planting and I just went and purchased some begonias and impatiences. But I shouldn’t say anything–as you just had lots of snow in Denver. Well, that turns to water and you are all ahead of us in that area. Thanks, Beth

    • THANKS, ADELA. I do feel blessed with the things that surround me. Comfort is a big thing with me, and you don’t need to find an inordinate amount of money to find it. Beth

  7. As we speak people are looking at my house and I’m murmuring be good, house! Don’t mind them. I hate this. Oh, I know how you feel about your house! Yup. I definitely do!

  8. Home is where your story begins……..
    Your homes were always warm & inviting!!! A cozy cottage feel to them!
    1057 Central Pk, Flossmoor was our Home for 38 years! Putting it up for sale last June was not as hard as I thought it would be. I guess we were ready! Buying the townhouse 11 months before we actually moved in, gave us the time to slowly move “stuff” out, put it in the basement while the upstairs was being renovated,
    A great transition! I always felt that when we found a new home, and I was excited about it, moving out of our house would not be so hard. And our prayers were answered! We’re only 10min away from our old home, closer to my mom’s, and about the same distance to Elissa’s & our grandchild, Avery! I think our subdivision is the best kept secreat in the south suburbs!!!
    I just recently had to go to our old house to pick up a package that was mailed there. I’ve passed by many times, so sad to see the lack of interest the new owners have for the garden…I went away wondering if they would appreciate a little help with trimming the old dead stuff off the perennials! Should I???? We’re already doing my mom’s, Elissa’s & Tom’s nieces yards, not to mention planting new perennials in our yard at the townhouse to make this House & yard our own!
    Where our new story begins……😘❤️

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