Sunday, January 29, 2012
12 Years to Discover a House Is a Home
January 2000, it had been frigid cold. One Saturday morning, the last of the month, ice was thick on the iron stairs to my attic apartment where I had lived for 10 years. A line of friends stretched to the ground helping lug the chaos in boxes and bags to their trucks and vans, then to load into my new home just two blocks away. Nothing changed but my street name: same house number, zip code, phone number, same community. I was 48 and I had purchased my first home. In my adult life, I had moved 23 times, and the decade spent in my aerie was the longest I had ever lived in one place.
I woke on Sunday morning alone surrounded by a bunker of boxes throughout the house. I did not know the sounds yet. My cats were freaked out and one took to the basement for a month. I thought, at one point, that perhaps she had died down there.
This home has been my miracle over and over again. In the first 6 years of living here, I took in roommates to meet the mortgage. I have had several changes of career over the years I moved in. I have lived alone for the second half of my residence. For the past 2 years, I haven't even had pets, other than the fish but they don't talk much.
Many people have come to stay, for a night, a weekend, and now I have guests for a few months while they get on their feet and prep for a new baby. They have brought their dog, who is getting used to me.
Some have come here to heal. Some have come to party or to write. For some, I am a relief and a good night's sleep in the middle of a road trip. Others stop by for coffee or tea. My home is meant to be shared with others but still be a haven for myself when I need it.
I have become a gardener while living here. My grandfather, Cleveland McConnell, advised me as a young writer that, if I wanted to be a poet, in my lifetime I had to accomplish two things: live in the country and grow a garden. I have experienced both. Now my gardens are permanent and ever-changing. The first September that I harvested herbs from the raised bed at the edge of my deck, I cried. These are the herbs I would harvest when I grow old.
In the 1980s, I shared an apartment around the corner from this house and I often sat on the back porch with my electric typewriter working on poems. I could see the big deck on the back of this house and I mused, "I would love to have a house with a deck like that someday." I realized that I had managed that dream very literally the first time I sat on my deck with a cup of hot coffee.
I have watched the children of the neighborhood grow up; we lost one to a bullet in his 19th year. His younger brothers and I planted a lilac sapling in the corner of their yard; only to discover it cut down by the landlord's lawn maintenance crew. I replanted it with a new next-door neighbor several years later. In a couple more years, it will bloom to mark the anniversary of his passing. There is also a Jackmani clematis in back that bursts with purple blossoms every June to acknowledge the loss of my beloved brother Alex.
Many neighbors I love have moved from the block, more have moved it. One of the elders has passed away and we have lost many trees on the block and in my yard. I have expressed my politics openly. I made jam for the church mothers across the street and sent a summer bouquet for their altar.
I felt like I was playing dress-up for a long time but no longer. This is the home I intend to occupy for the remainder of my life. It is the definition of roots and stability to me and now I have lived here longer than any other residence in my entire life. When and if the time comes that I can no longer climb the stairs, I will add a walk-in shower to the half bath on the first floor and convert my library to my bedroom. This is the house that poetry gave me. This is my respite but the door is open to those who will benefit and my gardens bloom to delight eyes. And hopefully, a long time yet, I will retire to my pillows, breathe deeply, fall into a gentle long sleep and have a very peaceful passing. We all hope for such a transition, I think. But until then, I have squirrels in the attic, mice trying to winter in the kitchen, and a ton of work to do on my many professional projects! Now to get back to it...blessed be to you all. Stop by sometime. I will put the pot on for a sip together.