This old house feels so new. ‘Born’ in the 1800’s, two years after the end of the civil war, to be precise, it nonetheless has the fresh energy and hopeful lift of youth. Of course, identifying when an historic house was built always raises more questions than it answers. What signified the start of its life? Was it conceived when someone bought the land it now stands on? How long was its gestation? Or was it truly born when they broke ground, a violent yet purposeful act necessitated by the need for something new to emerge?
I can’t resist picturing the world as it was when this or any other old house was built. Was construction begun only to be halted by some economic or human disaster, momentum reestablished when the threat passed? That was so for many buildings in New York City begun in the false rushed exuberance of the Roaring Twenties, only to be idle through the reality of The Great Depression, and revived again before a world war began what they were not prepared for. I’ve always felt their prolonged confinement contributes to an air of insecurity. They’re old, but still unsure about their identity. Our history informs our architecture.
This old house I’m standing in now was built in 1867; and I accept that, not because I’ve done the exhaustive research to prove it, but because I can feel it is so. The hope for a wonderful new beginning radiates from its walls. Is it just that it’s been well cared for and tastefully renovated over its 148 years? I think not. Reassuring though meticulous maintenance of a house may be, this old house owes its ‘newness’ to something else; something essential and life-giving: hopefulness. There is a quiet, unassuming belief in the future here. A small flag of the United States of America, leaning out in a welcoming stretch from one of the little porch pillars, says so much about the new day its owners must have heralded in 1867.
But why am I here now? A self-imposed research assignment to study possible alternatives to the house I plan to sell, an old dream of mine and my husband’s that slowly faded until it became more nightmare than idyll. And I’m not that young girl who first dreamed it long ago anymore. I’ll miss the cool breezes and sailboat regattas on the bay. I’ll occasionally long for the explosion of flowers and birdsong, the crashing, splashing waterfall from the weir we put in over the pond; but I’ve enjoyed them all for a long time. Let some other young appreciator have them now. I know from my own family’s history that many dreams during the Civil War lost their luster. Yet with the clairvoyance of hindsight, I also know those dreams were replaced by others that made for happy, if changed, lives. Yet do I really want…can I bring myself to sell…the house we worked on so long and hard? Can I turn away from that dream, even though it became something that wasn’t even mine anymore? Am I ready? Is it not my responsibility to keep someone else’s dream alive when they no longer can?
So many questions roil my emotions to a point of creating sea sickness on dry land. We all know research can be another word for procrastination. Was my original intention to put off a decision indefinitely as so many of my former real estate clients used to do? But that should have tipped me off. I always use research as a way to jumpstart my writing, unlock the neural pathways and stimulate the urge to create. I should have known, or maybe I did.
Too late to deflect, I see this real estate search into new possibilities for living propels my life just as historical research invigorates my work. Too late to run away. I can’t resist the hopefulness and possibility radiating from the walls around me here. The dream both this house and that American flag represent is irresistible. Their hopefulness is mine, too. I want to make this old house my new home.