It is never easy to dismantle your family home, the sorting through forgotten boxes stuffed in the backs of closets and in dark corners of basements and attics. Harder still to sell the house you grew up in, hard, even when you don’t want it, nor do your siblings, but you don’t want someone else to have it, either. Not really.
After my mother died we debated what to do with our childhood home. It had sat uncared for except for the most basic of repairs during our parents’ illnesses. They couldn’t cope with much renovation, and neither could we. We decided to sell it “as is,” in the hope a nice family would see the potential there, the late Victorian charm. Would recognize the solid, open-armed aspect of the place. We didn’t count on it, but it was what we hoped for.
We got our wish.
It turns out we knew the couple who wanted to come look at it, my sister and brother-in-law knew them, my niece and their son were big buddies from school. They, or maybe, she, had been looking for a house to restore. I wasn’t there the day they toured our old house, but apparently she was a goner as soon as she saw it, and his heart sank when he saw the enthusiasm on her face.
It is daunting, the idea of tackling such a project. But she had done it before, and he agreed to take on the project, as you do.
Two years have passed, and they are ready to move in, but not before offering us a chance to see our old home and what they have done to it. She is a sentimental sort with a deep respect for tradition, and she said, in almost every room, that they worked to honor the history of the house, they wanted to change some things but didn’t want to veer too much from the original.
They kept the wall colors my sister had chosen years ago, because, really, if she doesn’t know anything else, Kathy is a genius at color. They stripped banisters and redid floors, added a better bathroom than the little afterthought one just off the kitchen — and really, who wants a bathroom attached to a kitchen? Added a utility room downstairs, added a nice big addition, reclaimed an old kitchen sink they found in the basement, installed A/C.
I think she might have been a bit anxious about how we would take the changes. She need not have worried. My sister, Kathy, brother, Geoff, and I love this stuff and we had wanted our parents to consider making changes, too. We couldn’t get over what a great job they had done, improving the flow — something Mother always complained about—and making it more livable.
They swear our parents are in the house still. They have heard them. Growing up, we wanted our house to be haunted, but we never heard a peep. They say Mother and Daddy are companionable, and throughout the renovations, they often chat with them, asking how they like the new cabinets, and what about the color in the hall.
I love that. Love that they are restoring our home and are in communion with my parents and with us, too, as they make the house their own. Love that they are students of architecture and know where to find the old mantel pieces that would have been original to the house. I love that we could be plopped down in any room, and regardless of the changes, we would know exactly where we are.
They have left the walls going down to the basement alone. Really, it looks awful, the paint now a dingy green, made dingier by all the penciled names and statements and initials there. The grandkids had written all over it, their names, statements about 9/11, secret messages to my mother “We love you Nana” written on a post, just at her eye level when she came up with a load of clothes.
I found my initials there, too, big ones, full of the ego and frustration of a ten year old girl.
She said they couldn’t bring themselves to paint over it, not just yet. We reassured them, it would be fine, but even so, I like knowing she won’t for a while. Let us stay with them a little bit longer, this new family, while Mother and Daddy rattle around upstairs.