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This is the house that love built

By Janet Sandford Reprinted from The Globe and Mail

Struggling to say goodbye to the home that love built

This is the house we bought as a young couple, full of dreams. We fell in love with the romance of the old place, its spacious rooms, thick wood trim and its many nooks and crannies.

Over the years we wallpapered, unwallpapered, painted, repainted, carpeted, uncarpeted. We planted tulips and shrubs, daffodils and poppies. Like our dreams, some thrived, others faded away.

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This is the house with the little nursery at the top of the stairs. Here, we brought our precious baby girl and read stories, rocked her to sleep and kissed her goodnight. Here she had sweet dreams, a few temper tantrums and the usual happiness and heartache of growing up. She grew up and left this house, as children do and should, but she never outgrew that little room at the top of the stairs.

This is the house where exuberant little nieces and nephews came to visit, play and sleep over. They came for family gatherings, birthdays, lunches. They bounced on the furniture, danced to Michael Jackson tunes and played hide-and-seek. They laughed and teased, told stories and brought life and joy to the old house.

Over the years, four wriggly puppies were brought to this house. First was beautiful, deaf Chelsea. Then came wild and wily Penny. Next was good-as-gold Kira. And finally the incorrigible Kristy. They all peed on the carpets, scratched the doors and dug holes in the backyard. They all left their mark: on the house and on our hearts.

This is the house we came to when we were tired, disappointed, angry, grieving. Its solid presence and quiet rooms offered a measure of comfort and tranquillity. And we came back to this house when we were brimming with good news, happy with the world. Family and friends gathered for birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, promotions – all the minor events and achievements that make up a life.

This is the house that came alive at Christmas. Trimmed with boughs and lights, the old place glowed with Dickensian charm. On Christmas Eve, it was packed with parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren, dogs and regular drop-ins. Food and drinks flowed until late as the evening flew by with “concerts” by the children and much good cheer. The highlight was always, The Twelve Days of Christmas with grandma holding down the anchor position, warbling “five golden rings.” Christmas morning gift-opening took hours as each family member insisted on buying for every individual. Impractical, yes. Excessive, yes. But all given with love.

This is the house that always needed fixing: the old furnace, the leaky roof, the ancient wiring, the wet basement. Roots from the giant lindens buckled the asphalt in the driveway, the generous eaves provided ideal nesting spots for pigeons and the beautiful original windows were no match for February’s cold. The house gathered dust at an astonishing rate. Cleaning it took hours and left us cross and tired.

And yet, coming home was always a pleasure. The old place with its familiar smell and creaking floorboards was as comfortable as a fuzzy old sweater. Turning the corner and seeing the house again after a long trip never failed to give us a frisson of delight.

This is the house we sold. Our possessions are gone and strangers are repainting, pulling up rugs and chopping down old shrubbery. Strangers are sitting on the wide verandah entertaining friends. We drive by and I want to tell them how quickly the flowerbed by the driveway dries out if it isn’t watered regularly. I want to tell them the middle window in the main bedroom will come crashing down if it isn’t propped up with something.

Like a hovering parent, I want them to understand the place and make allowances for its shortcomings. I want them to love it, care for it and, above all, not make too many changes.

We have a new place to call home, but that will take some adjustment. The new house is – well, new. The toaster and the microwave can be used at the same time. The windows open with ease and the kitchen drawers slide open at a touch. With no giant trees to shade the windows, the living room is bright and inviting. The basement is dry and clean. We don’t have to slam the back door in order to make it close. There is no annoying squeak every time we walk down the short hallway.

And yet.

The new house feels young and we don’t. We contrast unfavourably with its shiny newness. Our quirks and personalities are at odds with its sleek perfection.

It will take time, but it’s now our job to make it feel lived in, to give it a few imperfections and bring it some of the experiences from which memories are made.

In the meantime, goodbye, old house and thanks for the memories.

Janet Sanford lives in Moncton.



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