Guardianship

An old house is an exercise in frustration. Nothing is square, nothing is straight. If there is a 90 degree corner in this house, we haven’t found it yet. If such a corner existed, it would be almost temporal in nature – a happy accident of settling in a particular season. The house has creaked and groaned into that corner and settled, spreading its skirts and saying “yes, this feels about right“. My house reserves its right to change and settle again, turning that corner into an 86 degree corner next spring.

8 years of renovating. Doing and undoing. Adding and subtracting. A hundred years is a whole history, a whole lifetime.

That first time when you encounter not the bad renovations of the 90’s: but the original work of the house – when you see the paint scheme on the original plaster. You marvel not just at the out of date pastel peach and green, you realize that you are seeing the colours the first wife chose, and you run your hands over the brush marks, wondering who painted that careful line of brown to separate the colours, carefully looking at the art deco swirls.You pull out the camera, take pictures, and then sighing over lead paint, you carefully skim coat the plaster and paint with more modern colours. You lean your head against the wall, almost apologizing, muttering about safety.

You pull the 1960’s formica off the countertop and you see the original tongue in groove counter top. Carefully, you preserve it as much as you can, slowing the speed of demolition to pull the narrow pieces out whole. You don’t know how you will use it.

Look, you point out – you can see the knife marks. This was used. This was a part of someone’s every day. Someone fed their family and friends from this counter. I will become a part of that. 

With your hands on what is left of the counter-top, you think about those women. The woman for whom this house was built as a wedding present. The woman who listed her occupation as a married lady in the 1930’s. The family who lived in the house through the 1960’s and the little boy who planted the arbour day tree you had to cut down two years ago. You think about the children, the couples, the celebrations and the griefs.

I thought when we bought the house, we would make it our own. I thought we would do what we wanted and only that. Instead, all of these years ago, I find myself making choices and saying “no, that won’t suit the house”. What I really say is that the house wouldn’t like it. I make choices for the next one hundred years, carefully doing things I think will work for the house, working to preserve and protect it. Making choices that will continue to serve the house well.

The mortgage papers say that Mr. Spit and I are the owners of this house. The city says that I lawfully own this domicile.

We are its current guardians.

I care for my house, adding, subtracting.

In exchange, it looks upon me and smiles, providing four walls and a roof for laughter to echo off of, providing shelter from the storms and balm to sadness.

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5 Responses to Guardianship

  1. Mr. Spit says:

    How very true. While there are never “simple renos” in this old house, it has certainly given up some interesting gems in the process.

  2. Jen says:

    I feel *just* this way about our house. Beautifully said.

  3. a says:

    I hope someone feels that way about the house we live in now -my husband built it, and I hope it lasts a couple hundred years…

  4. debby says:

    Totally get this one. I am the guardian of an old house, and I often find myself thinking, with pursed lips, the house will not like it.

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