MAGGIE DODSON: Missing the House on the Hill
The author, a writing student at the University of Vermont, is the daughter of Pilot Writer-in-Residence Jim Dodson.
Atop a timbered hill in Maine lies a magic house.
I know this, because I've lived there. The house itself is a living being. It moans when tired, for the ache of supporting a family is deep. Its walls breathe out their sighs of relief when the woodstove is lit, bringing warmth into their veins. At Christmastime, the house glows.
My father built the house, with the help of a few others. They installed the kitchen cabinets and the light fixtures. He laid the plank floors, built the bookshelves where a thousand titles stood for decades. But it was us, the children who lived there, who brought the magic to the house.
Every inch of this house is covered with nicks and scars from my childhood, from ghost stories told in forgotten corners to re-enactments of Civil War battle scenes in the front yard.
I can recall lying in bed awake, early in the morning, listening through the floorboards to my father below in the kitchen as he made coffee and tuned in to the morning news broadcast. One can still hear the smacking of feet, as if children were running through the halls. We congregated around the fire in the winter and ate our dinners on the back porch in summer. The banister creaks loudly when swung upon. The presence of family is everywhere.
Last spring, my father sold the house to a couple from Massachusetts and moved back to his boyhood home of North Carolina. The couple are much older than my parents and own two Doberman Pinschers.
I don't hold grudges against certain dogs. In fact, I love dogs of all kinds. But there is a generation of golden retrievers that have roamed those grounds. Five dogs and three cats have lived there. And five of the eight have had their ashes scattered among the gardens. So although this home is no longer mine, I feel a stab of pain thinking about others enjoying its charm.
When my father sold the house, I was in school at the time and missed the opportunity of giving the house my private goodbyes. Being young and seemingly unattached to anything, I sort of shrugged it off as something that just happens in life. People move on. People forget things that they once knew.
As a college student I've had to become accustomed to "letting things go." I am a grownup now, with responsibilities, and no time to wish that I were back in the care of my parents, having my meals prepared for me. I'm not supposed to long for the rainy summer evenings where I danced outside on the lawn with my kid brother, Jack.
I have my own world to create now, my own memories to make. I know I have to let go of the past and move on. So, with the memory of my childhood home tucked securely away, I began to forget about the magic house.
Summer went by lazily and wonderfully. I lived in a house on my own in Vermont, putting up my own light fixtures, decorating to suit my tastes. But then a beautiful New England fall came, and unbidden memories of the magic house with it.
Every fall for me is special. The color of the leaves and the smell of the wind make me deeply, unaccountably, happy. I've felt that if something great were to happen, it would happen in fall. But this season I felt that something was missing. On my breaks from school, I would venture home to my mother's house and find myself wishing that I had enough courage to sneak up the road and visit the house where I grew up on the hill.
I try to tell myself that a house is just a house. That a home is far more than growth markings on a storage room door, familiar wooden floors, and a claw-foot tub. But there's an invisible bond between me and the house where I grew up -- where I went from newborn to high school graduate in what seems like just 10 minutes. Those markings, those wooden floors and that claw-foot tub are imprinted with my essence; they are my childhood.
At a time when more than a million Americans a month are reportedly losing their homes to foreclosure and job losses resulting from the economic crisis gripping America, it may sound thoroughly trivial to say I'm now in grief for a house, missing the magic house I grew up in and knew every inch of like my own skin.
But it seems to me that with the economy in downturn and world affairs becoming more and more complicated by the day, people are going to need something to hold on to. Why should we "let go" when there is so little to grasp hold of in the first place?
The problem with letting go of anything is that theory rarely matches reality. Life isn't lived on paper. It's lived in the day-to-day world of personal memory and unexpected emotion. That's what's so great about this life. Like a closet full of things, it's jumbled and untidy. Nothing is ever really forgotten, and even if you "let go" of everything, it will eventually find it's way back to you.
Someday I will buy that house back, and the magic that's in it. And I am certain that I'll still be able to hear the walls sigh with relief when I walk through the old wooden front door.
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