dear jim, a thank you story
six years ago tomorrow, we packed the little one and the not-so-little one in the wagon and motored by this house we’d signed up for, but hadn’t yet sealed the deal for–at least not in that way where, wobbily, you slide the check across the table and sign your first, middle and last monikers on the million thousand sheaves they shove before you.
as we sat, motor idling that cold thanksgiving day, the architecture critic in the front seat, the driver’s seat, said nothing. just stared as the silence thickened.
so happens, when you live, day after day, with an architecture critic, you come to know that silence is a very big sound.
even the then-9-year-old knew that sound was not so good.
“so, mr. architecture critic,” the young one began, “what is it you don’t like?”
now mind you, the object of the critic’s silence was the house i’d fallen hard for.
it was a house he hadn’t seen, oh, since the one time we’d first walked through, some five weeks back, before the poor dear critic’s back went kerpluey, and he was hauled swiftly into surgery and then could not be taken for a drive, not even to see the house we had bumpily and not easily decided we’d move to.
mind you one other thing: there is, in the world of architecture, a maxim mouthed by one of the greats–just who it was i can’t recall nor does it matter now–and it goes like this, something about the ivy hiding all the sins of the fool architect.
of course i need to tell you that this house, when we first saw it, was covered thick in ivy. by the time we motored by that silent november day, the autumn’s dropping of the leaves fully finished, the house, like all the trees, was bare, exposed for all its faults.
even i had noticed a few odd spots there on the face of that poor house, but naive one that i am, ever hopeful, i assumed the spring would come and with it, the ivy leaves, and thus, the camouflage that perhaps our new old house required.
that whole long day, a day of wringing hands and walking out the kinks, was spent debating should we forfeit our down payment and ditch the deal, or forge ahead and double-plant the ivy.
in the short term, ivy won.
and, pretty much, it was a package deal: we took the house, as long as you, dear jim–builder, yes, but even more, big brother of a friend–were coming with.
we saw, even through the missing ivy, this old house’s possibility.
and you, strapped with tool belt, were the one tried-and-trusted ticket. long as you were at our side, a lopsided house wasn’t such a scary proposition.
thus began a six-year project that, truth be told, swallowed every extra penny, and all our get-aways besides. summer after summer, winter break after winter break, while all the other folks around jetted off to here or there, we stayed home and listened to the sound of hammers. and circle saws. and hand planes shaving boards.
i tell you, not once did i mind–okay, maybe in the fourth month of washing dishes in the basement, after stumbling, nearly every sudsing, on unavoidable evidence that a little flock of mice had assembled to gobble all the scrapings from the plates.
except for the mouse droppings that i decided–in one panicky spell–that i’d inhaled in noxious amounts, i was purring like a cat. watching room after room be tucked with all the nooks and crannies of my dreams.
granted, the architecture critic, perhaps, was not so much a purring cat. not always anyway. he can’t help it, really, that he believes in the art of the beautiful. and to his fine-trained eye, there’s no shrugging off a line or angle that isn’t where he thinks it ought to be.
trust me, he’s just as hard on calatrava or gehry or that german fellow, mr. jahn. and the ones who penned the sketches for this odd old house did not escape his scrutiny.
so, yes, once in a while–okay, twice in a while–he might have scratched his head, stood silent, and we all knew whatever was the object of his silence, it was coming down, only to be replaced by a something that made his eyes light up. twinkle, if you will.
ah, but here we are, dear jim, and you’ve just pounded in the stakes for the one last thing i’d dreamed of: a picket fence of white, complete with posts that just might be the perch for a birdhouse or two. or three.
it is, in many ways, the row of exclamation points to a job well done. a job drawing finally to the end.
as i walk from room to room, dear jim, you to whom we turned and trusted with this utter transformation, i feel that swelling in my chest that comes, yes, just before the tears spill.
it’s been long, and sometimes hard. but this house, which from the very instant i traipsed its bluestone path, up two steps and through the glass-paned door, has wrapped me in its arms, well, it now does the same to nearly anyone who comes here.
i hear it all the time now: this house soothes. it’s like climbing into someone’s ample lap. it does not, ever, hit you on the head. but, more, it eases out a sigh. shoulders soften, backbones lose their overarch. shoes come off. it’s a barefoot sort of place, a place where legs are curled and bottoms cozied on the couch and fine old chairs.
it’s the one thing, i suppose, that’s essential in a place worthy of the title, home.
i’ve only just realized quite what it was that drew me as we tucked and nipped and painted all those colors. as we pounded into walls, swapped out windows.
i was leaning toward that most sacred of sanctums, the inner chamber of all our hopes and heartaches.
i was leaning, wholly, toward a home that fed and wrapped and stoked and quaffed not only my soul, but that of each and every someone who walks beyond its transom.
home, if you’re really blessed, is the one place on the map where, like the mama or the papa we all yearn for, we can come to be swathed. we slough off our cares, drop down our worries with a thud. we slam the door on all cold winds. and light the logs waiting in the grate. we crank the kettle. open wide the fridge, and forage for that one queer thing we love to spoon straight from the carton.
it’s home, where we set the table, join hands and pray our deepest prayer. it’s where we pull on our socks, knot the tie, and breathe expansively before forging out again.
it’s where some of us could stay all day, and never feel the urge to leave. it’s where some of us stop by only for rest and sustenance–dipping deep if briefly into the well–before tilting at our windmills.
room by room, two-by-four by two-by-four, you, dear jim, you hauled your tools and your lumber piles and your capacity for leaving not a turn or knob ajar or askew or not quite the way you dreamed it ought to be.
you’ve left your handiwork here where i type, in the bookshelves that span the walls, upstairs where a window seat looks out on rising sun and snowfall, and in the kitchen where i glance out at windowbox of herbs or up into the underside of raindrops falling on the skylights’ panes of glass.
there is not a room, not a nook, where you’ve not built and wedged and hammered some grace-filled dream of ours.
and in this season when we gather thanks, when our hearts spill and our souls feel wholly stuffed for all the riches that surround us, that are ours to reach and wrap our arms around, i just want you to know, dear jim, that till my dying day this house to me will always be the finest gift one friend could have built for another.
your friend who never stopped believing that a funny-looking house could someday be a holy blessed home…bless you, builder of our dearest dream
friends, as is always the case here, i write in the particular with the hopes that you can latch your dreams onto my story. so that it becomes our story. down below is where we start to sketch that out, as you tell me what it is–and who it is–who has built for you your deepest wildest dream. maybe yours is not a house. maybe it’s a love. or a family. or a parachute. or a windmill. this is storytelling season, so draw in, if you will, and tell your tale of thanks. and bless you for reading mine….
if all goes as planned i’ll be back tomorrow for a meander of great thanksgiving……