Two nights ago the house across the street burned down.
We were eating dinner, my daughter and I, with a friend and his parents, when the town firehall’s sirens started up. It’s only a few blocks away from us and we’ve gotten so accustomed to the fairly regular sound that we honestly don’t take much notice.
A few minutes later someone at the table commented that the sirens were getting louder, and then “the house is on fire!” was shouted out.
From the window beside our dinner table we could see, across the street, a flickering of red flame shining through roiling columns of smoke, rising swiftly to the sky.
And sirens, as one firetruck, then two, then an ambulance and a cop car all piled up in the street.
Floodlights were set up from the firetruck to shine onto the house, illuminating it intensely as the flames grew tall, taller even than the house itself, rushing and pouring out the backside, plumes of smoke funneling out of every available hole in the house.
Crowds grew. My daughter ran outside to take pictures. We adults stayed inside looking through the window as the crowd outside grew, and the firefighters swiftly extinguished the flames, quelling the smoke.
The next morning the white house looked untouched, until I got closer. Then, I noticed smoke blackened windows, holes in the eaves of the roof, a scorching of the normally green grass at the back corner of the house. The general air of bleakened pallor.
It was such a swift change from liveable house to burnt-out shell. It took hardly any time at all.
Then the next day, I checked out a house for sale with a friend who is house-hunting.
This house is 99 years old, and beautiful. What’s called a character home. It is also lacking a solid foundation and the floors, while clearly a gorgeous hardwood under the scuffs and dirt, slope downwards in a dramatic fashion. There is stained glass. There is a bathroom with stained carpeting. The house has the general air of having been lived in by miscreants and people that don’t care for their surroundings, and is in foreclosure.
Empty, but for an upright piano in the living room, a rolling pin on the floor, and bits of plastic bags scattered around the outside of the back shed, it’s full of promise, and deeply neglected.
It’s clearly a home that was grand at one time and could be incredibly cosy and liveable again, with a lot of work. There is a century’s worth of different types of electrical wiring and plumbing systems. There are beautiful trees in a spacious yard.
I wondered about 99 years worth of stories in the house. About what led to the house’s bedraggled current state.
Later, we went to the local farmer’s market. I sampled some gin from some local distillers. The flavour was bright, smooth, with a touch of a burn, and I was astonished at the quality. I was delighted by the young distillers selling their product. She had large black frame glasses and a camel coloured coat. He had a big smile and cosy sweater. They had three simple bottles on their table, and their samplers. So knowledgeable, stylish and friendly. I was charmed.
We ran into friends, acquaintances. New parents with their four month old.
I was reminded of the insides-turned-outside-and-upside-down experience of becoming a mother, dealing with little to no sleep, life and expectations and priorities being turned around and discarded and grieved for – all the toughest things about parenting that aren’t always openly talked about, aren’t always allowed to be.
For all the joys of parenting, it can also be incredibly crazy-making. I was reminded so deeply of that.
I’ve been thinking a lot about home. And what makes a home. How we make home. How we deal with things when they burn down, when they lose their grandeur, when life hands us the biggest game-changers we sometimes imagined and dreamed of, but of which we sometimes didn’t dream of.
What do we do when things don’t turn out the way we want, or had hoped for? What then?
As usual, I’m so curious.
What do you think?
Literally and metaphorically, what have you done when you’ve found your home all burned down, down to the ground? Or in a home that needs a lot of work? How do you take the surroundings you’re in, and either suit yourself to them, or get them to suit you?
How has your sense of home evolved? How do you deal with change?
I’m truly interested.
Until next time,
ps – If you enjoy what I do, I’d so appreciate it if you shared – with friends, family, anyone who might appreciate my approach. Maybe even get yourself a devotional painting or some original tiny art for your walls.