Recounting how the 1930s farmhouse became her home, my friend Annie maintains that the pantry made her do it.
She’d been in the house barely three minutes and had already found herself smitten by possibilities: the bead-board porch walls; the dining room’s built-in china closet; the living room’s varnished French doors.
By the time she reached the kitchen, my pal, the Professional Woman, was starring in her own domestic reverie, imaging herself a 1935 matron, working at the pull-down ironing board, its off-duty presence betrayed only by a small, exquisite glass knob.
The seller’s agent broke the spell: “You can always make the pantry a second bath.” He nodded toward a golden oak door half hiding shelves laden with preserves.
Annie pictured the homey space gone: demolished and replaced with a standard-issue Mc-vanity and Mc-toilet from Home Depot.
“Another bath’d add ten thousand dollars to the place,” the agent observed.
Annie snapped. “Not if I buy this house.” Twenty minutes later, she did.
Annie and I go back as far as hopscotch and ogling boys, so it’s not surprising that we both have come to believe the same thing about houses: houses, at least those with an ounce of integrity about them, have souls.
Houses, we think, get souls as people join themselves to a place and its possibilities; when a loved building becomes less the stuff of brick or wood and more the idea of belonging, of being rooted, of seeing in the house an extension of one’s self.
My childhood home was a Victorian dowager of a place, whose size (eighteen rooms) and condition (deplorable) had underwhelmed every buyer until my father, a Marine Corps colonel who was fazed by absolutely nothing, bought it in an afternoon. My mother told him he was mad and was herself of the same mind-set toward Pop until she, too, fell under the spell of the place.
What was that exactly? I’m not sure. What defines a soul?
But that house sustained our hopes, sympathized with our woes, and was one with our family for twenty-four years until my father died and it had to be sold. Next to my father’s death, losing 22 Inlet Terrace was the worst grief I’ve lived.
In houses like 22, there is a palpable sense of home: of welcome; of acceptance; of where, if you could go anywhere, you’d want to be.
We trust such dwellings, if we are fortunate enough to possess them, to nurture and shelter the dearest components of ourselves. Our children are introduced to the world by the sights from their windows, the aromas from their kitchens, the visitors to their porches.
We bring to the house our grandmother’s favorite tablecloth, our father’s handmade chairs, settle them in the linen closet or against the dining room wall, and feel the connectedness.
The house, then, becomes a habitation, not of one, but of many.
We mistake, today, thinking that the essence of a house is buyable, buildable, displayable.
No, the soul of a house emanates from abiding, of daring to dwell in a place, and in it, being ourselves, warts and all.
We breathe spirit, anima, into houses by living our lives, not maintaining a lifestyle.
I believe this: houses have souls, and once a house loves you, all things are possible.
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