My sister and our Dad visited the house we grew up in today. Lucy sent me this photo of the front hall and four dozen more of the rest of it – the bedrooms, the living rooms, the library, the kitchen, the garden – since first seeing them this morning, I have been in a sort of reverie – pensive, a little melancholy, swept over and under with memories and longing.
Eighteen steps. I counted them habitually each time I went up or down those stairs. The newel post lived on in my mind without my even being aware of it. When we built our own house here in Dehradun, I had a picture of what I wanted our newel post to look like but my words could not convey the depth and the texture and the beauty of this one. What we got here in Dehradun was stark and austere compared to the Baroque beauty I grew up with.
Oddly, the front stairway had eighteen steps but the back stairs in our childhood home had only sixteen. Old houses. Building codes in those days allowed for idiosyncrasies and personal preferences. Here in India, our one flight of stairs has seventeen steps. A compromise. And I am only now realizing it.
When we lived there – seven children, two grandmothers, Mom and Dad plus a parade of strays and down-and-outs – it was wonderful, but just a tiny bit shabby. We had second-hand furniture and a vast array of books. In the first living room, we had a grand piano and a balance beam, so that Moy Moy could practice her gymnastics.
Hey. Did you not grow up with a balance beam in your living room?
Mom and Dad had a lot of parties. Everyone was welcome. The conversations were deep and profound. There was singing and many stories. Much laughter. If a priest happened to be one of the guests, there would be a Mass.
I remember going to bed as a little girl with the parties swirling on in spirals of laughter and song downstairs. Going to sleep was so hard – all the fun was happening below and I had been sent off to bed.
The woman who now owns our house has invited us all to return, to spend the night. All she wants is enough advance notice so that she can prepare a wonderful dinner for us. Is this the magic of the house or are only amazing people allowed to buy this place?
Underneath the stairway, we had a row of hooks for our coats and hats. It’s still there. I want to buy a hat just for the pleasure of placing it on the hook that once was mine.
It was a house; it was a home; it was our launching pad into the wide and sometimes frightening world. We were the luckiest creatures in all of Fall River.