According to the calendar,
It’s summer still,
But the breeze last week advised
Soft and cool
She whispered across my cheeks
“It’s time . . .”
And it wasn’t just me she told
But the leaves and the horses and the butterflies
By now, they all know
And soon the woods will turn every color
Before it all falls away to black and white.
Nature’s empty room—
I have been doing more and talking less
These past several months
But along with the weather
I can feel myself about to turn,
cool, and shift
to the words I need to write.
Spring came late that year. It was still bitter cold and snowing in late March. The family had been making regular visits after that first and every time she heard them coming up the walk, she hoped that maybe, just maybe, that day would be the day they stayed. In the meantime, she treasured each moment they spent with her, mostly sitting in the kitchen together, talking quietly, and dreaming their dreams.
She began to file away the feeling and sounds of their lives–the slight weight of the baby (it was a girl!) when they laid her in her little bed to nap, the old dogs turning their circles to lay down after running around outside awhile, the woman’s soft voice murmuring about ocean colors, and the firm step of the man checking this or that. She didn’t want to waste any opportunity to know them better, if they were going to be hers, and it would seem that they were . . . (She was still sometimes struck with terrible bouts of anxiety that they would not come back and she would be alone again, uncertain of her fate.).
One night, shortly after they arrived for an early evening visit, she felt a slight tug and heard a pinging sound. It was coming from the window over the kitchen sink . . . with no further warning, she felt the last of the day’s sunlight flood in, pure and bright, pouring onto her counter tops, her walls, and her floor! Oh, to be touched by the sun again! It had been years since the plastic was stapled there, to keep the heat in through cold winters and to keep the heat out through hot summers. She appreciated it, since there was no one inside to look after her, it offered some protection from the elements and changing seasons, but it was also terribly suffocating.
She had heard the phrase, the eyes are the windows to the soul many times in her life and had decided, in turn that her windows were the “eyes” to her soul. A house could not see, of course that would be silly, but through her windows, she could feel the sunlight warming her everywhere it fell, no matter how cold it was outside; when they were opened she could feel fresh breezes and hear the birds and the people outside; and with the plastic gone, her body was filled with light–just as it was meant to be.
Windows were also a point of pride. At her birth, she’d had only three, but after a few updates and additions somewhere in her first hundred or so years she was blessed with forty two! And every last one of them had the shade pulled down and thick plastic stapled over it. Well, every one but the one over the kitchen sink, that is . . . if she could have sighed, she would have, it felt so lovely.
That was how it began–The Flurry, as she would later think of it. They peeled the plastic off that one window and watched the sun set, then began bringing in bags and setting them in the pantry. They pulled up the old carpet in the living room, they scrubbed the sinks, counter tops, and the cupboards, and when they left late that night, she gleefully noted that they did not take any of the bags with them.
Over the following days, more and more boxes would come, they brought friends and proudly showed her off, they vacuumed and they bleached, they drug out the old kitchen shelves that the mice had ruined, and the man came one night by himself and stayed very late painting the living room floor. The day after the floor-painting, they didn’t come in the morning or in the afternoon and as the day wore on, she found herself afraid again, even after all of their cleaning and care, even as she held boxes and boxes of their things. It is hard for an old house, one that has held and loved so many over the years, to be alone.
That particular day was sometime early-spring, though she couldn’t have given an exact date for houses do not mark such things. The last of the winter snow still lingered, but the sun had been staying longer and longer, and she was lost in her fretful thoughts when she felt the key wiggle in the deadbolt. She could tell by their shuffling steps that they were tired. Moving quietly, they placed the baby in her little bed in the downstairs bedroom, brushed their teeth, made their way to their bed (which they’d set up in the living room of all places!) . . . and went to sleep. It was the night she’d dreamed of for so long and she spent the whole of it listening to the sounds of their soft and steady breathing and dreaming dreams of her own.
That night would have been the highlight of her year if it weren’t for a few weeks later when she felt a small and strange thump, thump, thump, WUMP in the kitchen followed by the woman’s squeal of delight. It had been so long since she felt such a thing, she didn’t recognize it for what it was until the woman spoke. “Oh honey! You did it! My sweet Sunshine, papa is going to be so excited!”
The baby had taken her very first steps: three of them! Thump, thump, thump! Before falling on her bottom with a WUMP! A house cannot cry, and that is good, because she would have absolutely flooded herself so moved was she by the feeling of those tiny feet and the sweet sound of a mother’s joy.
The Flurry continued all through spring; furniture and appliances came, electrical and some plumbing were updated, old shelves were torn down and new ones put up in their place and it was glorious. After spending years wondering if she would molder right back into the earth from whence she came, she delighted in all the activity . . . but it was just a touch more than delight.
That spring, the perfect season for such a change, her dread and loneliness were replaced with joy and the bright energy of a new beginning. As they moved in, placing all of their possessions along with themselves in her care, she felt her sense of purpose swell, filling every dusty corner of her being. And at the rate they were cleaning, soon there wouldn’t be any dusty corners at all!
Despite her age and current state of disrepair, she took great pride in the fact that even after hundreds of years, she still stood strong under and around them. She may have lost much of her outer beauty to peeling wallpaper, chipping paint, worn out floors, and broken windows, but inside she was as sturdy as the day she was made–with wood hewn from the forest she stood beside, hand-forged and driven nails, and horsehair plaster.
After so long standing empty, she felt deeply the precious weight of their life–something only a house could truly grasp. And knowing, as she did, how quickly lives came and went, it was a gift she meant to cherish.