The first night we stayed in this house, 20 years ago last March, we slept on a futon on the floor in a small second-floor bedroom that had a cracked and crumbling plaster wall. And we were smitten.
That wall didn’t bother us much. The whole house was a project, and the crumbling wall seemed the least of it. We were naive, newly married, and thrilled to become owners of an ancient farmhouse with hewn beams, worn pine floors, and a wood stove.
At first, the room remained a spare bedroom with a cracked plaster wall. Eventually, when Hyla came along, we hired a guy who did plaster the old way (with cow hair mixed in) to repair the cracks and make the room fresh for a baby.
We stood on the deck behind the house, thigh-high in late-spring snow, peeking inside the big window, 19 years ago this week.
(Remember how Vermont winters used to be?)
Our friends, the house’s owners, had written to say, “We’re selling the Vermont house. Do you want it?”
We drove from Pittsburgh and arrived while our friends were out running errands, so we were locked out and could only peer through the glass and imagine ourselves inside.
The house, built by a poor farmer from timbers cut on the surrounding land, had stood for nearly 200 years, and had seen a lot. This particular week, it was silently witnessing a fresh and terrible grief. We didn’t know what we’d find in this house. Heartbreak certainly. Ghosts maybe.
But the house was a comfort. If it had ghosts, they were kind ones. We didn’t say a lot on that visit. Our friends were suffering, but still warm and welcoming, and we let the house put its arms around us all.
That night, we slept on an old futon on the floor in a small room where the plaster was crumbling in the corner. We hadn’t yet been married two years, but we knew something about our future, and after that night we knew that it included this house. This land.
At breakfast, we came downstairs to the small wooden table in the kitchen. Bright eastern sunlight streamed through the huge window.
Who had the foresight to install that incongruous window? Certainly not the farmer who built the house, who was more interested in warmth and practicality than views.
Someone later, though, understood the balm of morning sun, cut a giant hole in the house’s hide, and filled it with light.
The house, when we first met it, was in (as one very wise woman said) “oh, brother” state. It was lovable, but shabby. No one had focused their attention on it much in a very long time.
We moved from the city that never felt like home, the two of us, a moving van of apartment furniture and books, and a long-haired orange cat named Seamus.
Life arrived in expected and unexpected ways. We got a dog. We worked on the house. We had a child. We did dishes in the farmhouse sink with a view out the big window.
We moved the house away from the road; the plaster cracked in places, but the house’s old bones flexed and then stood firm, the house’s haunches resting on a new foundation.
We cleared the trees to reveal a view of the local hills through the big window.
There have been many cats. And another dog. And now there are goats. There are nights of board games, music, tears, books, dumb movies on the DVD player, homework, arguments, parties, bad jokes, piles of laundry, messy cooking projects, angry words, tickle fights, popcorn.
There will be more of everything, if we’re lucky. And lucky we are. All together right now in this house built of old bones and kind ghosts.