Sunday, November 22, 2009

a time warp

i'm thinking of chickens and eggs and which comes first and putting all of one's eggs in one basket and all of those egg-related clichés. 

we've been house-hunting this weekend. we haven't sold our house yet (we're not worried, it will sell and it's being viewed regularly, so no problem there). we don't want to buy another house before selling this one - we've heard far too many horror stories of people who did that and sat with two mortgages for far too long and we're not going to put ourselves into that situation. so maybe it's silly to look at houses, because what if you fall in love with one and then it sells before you sell yours and you have to look all over again? and you always think "what if?" about that house that becomes ever more perfect in your mind, for being out of reach?

on the other hand, if you look at houses, you know what's out there and you get a better idea about what you like and what you want. we looked at 3 places this weekend. one of them, we'd really like to have. we looked at it before and they've actually even just lowered the price. it has a lot of promise and we think it might be The One. we looked at two others. one that is enormous and has a lot of potential, but was also likely to be a complete money pit. the last one we looked at wasn't the house for us, not at all, but i'm very glad we looked at it.

the house is owned by an elderly widow who lived there since the early 50s. her husband, who died 7-8 years ago, was swiss, so there was definitely a whiff of the swiss chalet over the place, with small curlycues around the wooden door frames and phrases in german etched in wood hung here and there on the house. i didn't have my camera with me, as it was again a dark and rainy day, but i don't think it would have felt right to snap pictures anyway, not with her there, weeding and digging in the garden despite the rain and the fact that she must have been well into her 80s. you can see some pictures here on the website, but they have clearly done a major photoshop job on these, as it's never been that light in this house. ever.

the house was like stepping inside a time machine. they had decorated way back when they moved in and then the clock stopped. heavy wooden furniture, dark wallpaper, maidenly twin beds in the bedrooms, a lace-topped baby grand piano with a complicated piece with a german title laying open, low ceilings, vaulted walls, small colored-glass windows. it was like a museum, with both the objects of a museum and the hush and that musty, old smell of ancient books and linens.

stepping back outside, i had to shake my head to bring myself back to 2009. it really felt like entering a time warp. and that was both fascinating and a bit sorrowful. it was so strange to think of an entire lifetime lived in that house, being held there between those walls, preserved, an imprint of time. surely there were memories layered there in the books on the shelves and doilies on the elaborately carved, very upright couches. hints of an earlier time and an earlier sensibility - one both accessible there and yet incomprehensible in some sense.

i wonder if one day someone will look at our house and think the same? will we stand still like that? how does that happen? is it a question of money? or stubbornness? or lack of awareness? what is it? the lady seemed very tough and spry, out in her wellies, doing hard labor in the garden on a rainy sunday. i both admired her and felt resentment radiating off of her. she must have been sad to be facing that she could no longer take care of such a large place, its barns full of beautiful old horse-drawn vehicles and chickens and the detritus of more than fifty years. it must have been hard for her to see people traipsing through her house, trampling her memories with those blue protective plastic covers on their shoes. it made me feel sad and yet i also indulged some of the strangely attractive kitsch that is nostalgia. nostalgia for something which i never experienced, but which was obvious there in the very fibers of the place. i wonder how many of her memories would echo there in those walls, long after she was gone. does a life lived so long in one place leave a heavy imprint that cannot be erased?

such heavy thoughts on a rainy, grey day. so i lightened my mood (and hers), by buying fresh eggs from her, a whole tray of them. and she smiled at me when i told her i wanted some eggs and for just a second, i think it was ok for her that people were looking at her house.


Molly said...

I know exactly what you mean.
We bought our house from an elderly man who'd lived here for 30 odd yrs, his wife had died a number of years previously and all his kids had obviously left a long time ago, but the house felt just like it must've done for all those family-raising years - stuffed full of photos and memories. We felt the same emotions coming from him too.
We really like that our house, although over 100 years old, has only ever been occupied by 4 families (ourselves included), while there are many memories etched in these walls at least they've only been from a handful of people, which makes them that much more special.
Good luck with the hunt!

Snap said...

Happy house hunting. You are redecorating!

Gwen said...

This is why I love house hunting: each home is its own complete story, even if it's not a happy one.

It's difficult to imagine you standing still, J. But you can try.

Anonymous said...

such a great post and wonderful gesture.

Char said...

it makes me sad when the elderly have to sell their homes like this - for whatever reason. you were kind to buy the eggs - but it was probably a score too as they are probably delicious.

Delena said...

What a way you have with words. I could see the house the way you described it and feel what you must have felt. I would have the bought the eggs too!

Zuzana said...

I love this post. Isn't it funny how we can fall in love with a place, the same way we fall in love with people...
I felt the same when I saw my house for the first time.