when you grow up curled into armchairs, with your nose pressed to the pages of fairy-tale storybooks, absorbed by the drawings of magic cottages tucked in the woods…
when you grow up meandering about the pond across the lane from your growing-up house, poking around in the woods you call your own, making logs into beds, and the seed pods of wildflowers into your make-believe kitchen…
when you grow up with a grandma who lives in an old fine house, with secret stairs and itty-bitty passageways, and an upstairs porch with creaking wicker chairs and fireflies dotting the summer night’s air…
when your idea of a heavenly summer as a 10-year-old girl is to spend it with cardboard boxes and your very best friend, cutting out fabric bits, and gluing and dabbing on paint, building a dollhouse that stretches from june straight into august’s last hours…
when all of those synapses have been connected somewhere along the way, when all of that cozy-cottage DNA courses through your chromosomes, well, you don’t look for a place to lay your head quite like the rest of the world. you don’t get wowed by granite countertops or showers that look as if they might lift off and whirl to outer space.
nope, you tend to poke around in peculiar uncharted ways. you know when you’re home when you hear the ping go off somewhere deep inside your noggin. you wait to feel the pounding there in your chest. matter of fact, you must have a light meter tucked back behind your eyeballs, because you always, always pay attention to the way the sunbeams filter in through the windowpanes.
you become over the years a decidedly undeniably nesty girl.
you turn into a someone who draws oxygen from dappled light dancing on old floor boards, who finds herself charmed by the newel post at the bend in the staircase, who spies clawed feet peeking out from under the victorian bathtub and you can’t wait to climb in.
you, very much so, find places to live by heart.
and you are over the moon when along with all of those lumber and glass particulars, you discover the person who owns the place is clearly a kindred spirit, a brand-new lifelong friend, the soulmate you’ve been searching for, without ever asking.
and so it was that we stumbled upon a charmed treetop aerie the other afternoon, one that will be our home for a year, the holy sacred place we’ll come back to night after night, as soon as we launch our big back-to-college adventure in cambridge, massachusetts, 02139.
as much as, just a few weeks ago, i could barely imagine leaving this old house that owns a piece of my soul, i discovered this week what i’ve always known: four walls and a roof are only the beginning.
what makes a place home are the whispers you hear when you tiptoe in through the doorway. what makes a place home is the way some invisible hand reaches out and cradles the tenderest parts of you.
and as we motored about the twisty winding streets of old cambridge, i knew, soon as we turned around the corner of putnam and franklin, that suddenly something felt familiar, not foreign, even though i’d never been there before. maybe it was the pie bakery & cafe we passed just before taking a left turn at the white picket fence. maybe it was the cobblestone sidewalks. or the victorian laciness of the woodwork out front.
as soon as the front door opened, and a gentle man ushered us in, as soon as we passed the statue of st. jude tucked in one of the bends in the three-story staircase, i found myself sighing deep down inside.
once we walked in, once i saw the way the sunlight fluttered on the old floor boards, dancing through the leaves of the trees that harbored most of the many, many windows, once i noticed the old brick column, a chimney from the downstairs fireplace, once i saw the cherry dining table with room for all of us and a few of our friends, i was starting to cross all my fingers and toes.
then, i tiptoed into the book-lined office of the very kind man who had opened the door, who had shaken our hands and left us alone to look about in quiet.
i spied there on his desk the covers of books with titles that gave me goosebumps, each one some combination of poetry and divinity, the two subjects i’ve long said i was heading east to study. i felt tears welling up in my eyes.
i hadn’t expected any of this. i’d more or less abandoned the hope that my long string of real-estate magic could take yet another miraculous turn. real estate, they tell you, is all about hard cold numbers: dollar signs and square feet. it’s about making the deal, signing the contracts.
except when it’s not. except when you’re a soulful spirit and you don’t work in worldly ways. you wait for the tears to spring in your eyes. you wait to feel that thumping thing there in your chest.
you don’t need dotted lines, on which to scribble your name. you don’t need security deposits to promise you will keep from banging holes in the walls.
you, an A-number-1 nesty girl, you know when you’ve stepped into a hallowed chamber.
you know, right away, when the fellow offering you two kayaks and a canoe, along with passes to all of boston’s museums, and 11 months in this treetop two-bedroom, two-study apartment, complete with bird feeders at two of the windows, you know he’s the saint and the spiritual guide you’ve been secretly waiting for for so many years. (especially when he starts to list for you the monastery in walking distance, should you be inclined toward “smells and bells,” as he joked, meaning the incense and vespers, and then goes on to tell you about the abbey not so far away, along the south boston shore, where you can rent a hermitage for the night, should you care to be holed up with your pen and your prayers in utter silence.)
you didn’t need all the running around to the bank and the notary public. all you needed was to stand there and shake hands, a deal is a deal — when it’s of the heart, that is.
you didn’t need some 10-page typed contract. you simply accepted the invitation of the lovely fellow and his lovely wife to come back that evening for a glass of wine at the candlelit table on the back deck where the mockingbird kept up his night song, and all of you began the unspooling of your life’s story, and the very first threads that would stitch you together for years to come.
and so it is that we now know where we’ll hang our hearts this coming school year, when all of us go back to school in cambridge.
and so it is that once again i am witness to the truth that if you never extinguish the pilot light of faith in undying old-fashioned goodness, it will up and surprise you, surround you, and illuminate your path in pure unfiltered luminescence.
and that’s how nesty girls do real estate.
if i were to write up the real estate ad for the lovely place we’ll call our home, it would go something like this:
2 bdrm, 1 w/ skylight where you can absorb the lullaby of gentle summer’s rain. kitchen w/ bird feeders at 2 windows. windowseat tucked into corner. back deck tucked into the tops of trees, looking out on a flock of gabled roofs where mockingbirds and robins perch for evening song. bookshelves stocked with every cookbook you could dream of. complete, chronologically-catalogued case of sacred music. old quilts on beds. hardwood floors that glow in sunlight. birdsong from 4 a.m. till sunset. church bells, 2 blks. away, chime on the hour. herb garden. climbing roses. lifelong friendship included. floorboards and ceiling beams appear to have absorbed years of poetry.
how would you write the real estate ad for the place you call home?
illustration above is the frontispiece from “the tasha tudor cookbook: recipes and reminiscences from corgi cottage.”