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Category: the people who keep our house in one piece

nook by nook

cranny by cranny, we are tucking bits of our soul into this old house. first time i pointed my shoes down the winding walk that leads to the blue-slate stoop that leads to the glass-paned door and into this humble house, i felt a chill run down my spine.

i felt like i’d been here before. i felt like this was home, this place i’d never been. i felt like i knew not only the essence behind the walls, but all its secrets, too.

most of my life i’ve found the places i’ve lived quite by accident, often with a shiver down my neck. i just know, as i knew here, that these are rooms to spread my soul.

it is often the oddest things. things that don’t add up, not by ordinary math. a laundry chute. a magic place, a place for elves or little children, tucked beneath the boughs of spruce out back. the way the light slants through the front bay window. the narrow planks of oak. the wider planks of pine.

never mind square feet. or mstr suites. couldn’t care less for granite counters. or 3-car garage. like i said, i’m no mathematician. the numbers never add. it’s just a sense, a knowing. it’s a place that calls my name.

besides the oddest things, the don’t-add-up things, there are two essentials i cannot do without: light and flow. i need rooms with light that pours and light that dances, casts its shadows, hour by hour. louis kahn, the great architect and thinker, calls light “the divine animator.” this house has light.

what it didn’t have was lots of nooks and crannies. it was a house built in 1941, a time when efficiency and getting to the point was high on the agenda. it was built by a doctor, a doctor who delivered babies. and i’m guessing he meant business. not one to dilly-dally around the delivery room, he wanted his deliveries, his day, his path from bed to bath unencumbered.

he, unlike me, might have prided himself on a direct route from a to b. not me. i like meandering. i like the route least direct. i’m a dreamer, not a driver. i like stops along the way. i like the possibility of pulling over, unfurling blanket under tree, counting clouds.

nooks and crannies in a house are for those who savor pulling over. nooks beckon. they call your name. they are little places that invite you in. come here, they say, curl up. be harbored. tuck your secrets here.

a nook and cranny in a house is like a jacket full of pockets. like a sentence that rolls with clauses. it makes for texture, layer upon layer of possibility.

and so, one nook or cranny at a time, we’ve filled this house with place to pause, with room enough for wisps of dreams.

up in the room where we lay our heads there is now a window seat, looking out into limbs that any week now might be sprouting tiny shoots of green. i’ll get to watch from just inches away. and if a mama bird settles on a branch, i’ll keep a careful eye on the hatchery.

one whole wall in the room where i type is row upon row of bookshelves. four tall sentries, filled with pages, keeping watch over my shoulder as i channel words to screen.

in the kitchen, there’s a narrow nook for hanging coats. and across the way, a built-in bench beneath a window garden. it’s all a bit of heaven, if your idea of heaven is one with nooks at every turn.

each nook, each cranny, has come to our house courtesy of jim, the grilled-cheese builder. not a one is anything fancy. not a one the stuff that steals the cover of some shelter slick or glossy.

each one is rather quiet. but each one makes me sigh. long as i’ve been dreaming, i’ve dreamed of nooks and crannies tucked in little corners. maybe i read too many fairy tales. maybe i stared too long into drawings of magic cottages in the woods where all was old and quaint.

jim was here day before last, tucking two last nooks in two more corners. they are nooks for plates and cups. very old plates and cups. the ones i had in boxes for the last four years, and before that, stacked so high on a shelf, i needed a step ladder to reach them. i don’t know about you, but i’m less inclined to use for dinner when a ladder is required.

since this is, i swear, the house where i’ll grow old, the last house i’ll call my own, i thought it might be rather nice to actually start to use those dishes. a cupboard is an old idea, not a radical idea, a place to hold your cups. a cupboard tucked in corner, even better. a fine old idea; one the doctor, bless him, didn’t think of. he was thinking straight lines, i am thinking not.

alas, on the long list of things this old house needed, i assure you, nooks for plates and cups, especially old ones, was hardly up there. even if it meant years of dinners, christmas, seders, passed without the fine old plates.

as jim & co. banged the nooks into their place, i heard the old room sigh. it’s been waiting 66 years for that little bit of angle-changing. i sighed too. knowing that we were ticking off nearly the last nook on the list.

this old house has been hammered plenty since we moved in. the rafters might well be shaking. it’s time at last to settle in, to settle deep into these floorboards.

a wise friend and architect once told me, “a house bends toward its inhabitants.”

our house has bent, all right. our house, once hard angles everywhere, is now a house of nooks and crannies. it’s a place where i can dream. curl up and wonder. stretch out and ponder.
we are blessed to call this home. more blessed still to have tucked in nooks and crannies.

do you have a nook? one inside your house? one somewhere out in the woods? a nook of the world? a nook beside your bed? where in your house do you feel your dreams best stoked?

the grilled cheese that launched a kitchen

phone rang yesterday mornin’. it was jim, the man who built our kitchen, builds our dreams, i always say. he needed to stop by, pick up some hinges, make sure they fit the corner cabinet he’s building for my dishes, the ones stacked in moving boxes in the dark corner of the basement for four years now.

i am nearly certain plates and cups are broken. it would defy all of newton’s laws for that fine old china not to be broken, what with all that’s been dumped on its head.

but, like an ostrich, i’m not looking. and then, when i unearth a chunk of plate, a half a saucer, i will put on my best zen, and say i’m lucky for what’s left, for they all came to me the easy way, from folks cleaning closets pretty much, knowing i’d be trusted guardian to their treasures. gulp. (did you hear me swallowing my chagrin?)

ahem. back to jim, and his stopping by. last thing i said before we hung up was, “i’ll crank the griddle.” he laughed. he knows that the griddle is synonymous with grilled cheese, and grilled cheese around here is synonymous with jim, fueling jim, fueling him for years, in fact.

in the latest installment of jim’s-grilled-bread-with-cheese, during the 12 months that was supposed to have been three that it took to build our farmhouse kitchen, i musta slapped, slathered, sizzled some 1,000 grilled cheese. gone through 500 loaves of hearty wheat, nearly as many bright orange blocks of cheddar, enough butter to charm a cow.

every day, round lunchtime, even on the days when we were inhaling dust or ducking under dripping wires, i cranked the firehouse stove i call my own, and i sizzled up at least three if not more grilled cheese. then, on paper plates some days, jim & crew shoved aside just enough saw dust not to get more crunch with their cheese, and sat down to lunch. many a day, i sat down too.

and the grilled cheese always sealed the deal. always said the thing unspoken, though i’ve told it to his face plenty of times, and in print in the newspaper, too. the grilled cheese told jim & crew that they were not some hired workers, they were integral, essential, pretty much part of the family.

if they could build me my dream, hammer through headaches and near frostbite, for cryin out loud, jigsaw through knicked thumbs and delayed orders, powerdrill through the hassles of a stolen van and a lifetime’s lost tools, i could slap cheese on bread; butter; grill.

to be honest, not every day was a happy day on the long road to the farmhouse kitchen. at least one or two days jim wanted to kill me (like the day we discovered that the cabinet doors i’d described and the ones he ordered–and was starting to hang–were decidedly not the same).

but through it all the cheese was grilled, the apples were sliced, and in the end, the jim who walked in yesterday, pulled out a stool, sat down and bit off a corner of my grilled cheese, he’s one of the dearest hearts in my life. we endured, fueled, in good measure, on that oozy cheese.

it just seems right to me, and food for more thought for another day, perhaps, that the souls you invite into your home, to build your home, to wire your home, to get the toilet flushing, they are part and parcel of the woodwork, the wiring, the very innards of what makes your house not just a house but a very live theater with all sorts of characters who fill the stage with their charms, their quirks, their persistence and their considerable capabilities.

it is a bond not paid in dollars. it is far beyond obligation. it is, far as i can tell, a kind of love best served crunchy on the outside, oozing in the middle.

i’m curious, have you too forged bonds with folks who make your house keep ticking? or, if you’re a soul who does keep houses ticking, how’s it feel when you’re made to know, in no uncertain terms, that you are, simply, indispensable and far beyond just another worker hired for the job?

p.s. those are, obviously, jim’s hands up above, holding that grilled cheese. i love those hands, working hands. as i kept clicking, while he chewed, i was raving about the hands–knicks, calluses, rough spots, the whole shebang. he chuckled. said that was a first. said i oughta go watch seinfeld, some episode where someone–i should know who–becomes a hand model. oh well, in the comedy i call my life, jim’s hands will do. just fine.