Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Happy house

There's a little house for sale about a block and a half away from my own. At least, I think it's still for sale - the sign came down, but without the requisite "SOLD" sticker, and the telltale realtor key box is still attached to the railing. These are the kind of details that would be lost to me had we not just been on the market ourselves, and if I didn't wistfully walk by it four times a day.

If it has sold, I hope the new owner has a cat or two - it would mesh so well with the gingerbread lattice guarding the crawlspace underneath the front deck. I hope they put lacy curtains in the windows and keep the brick red shutters that flank the front door. If they're not too elderly (I did have this house in mind for retirement), I hope they put a stone facade over the tapered stucco chimney, rescue the backyard gazebo, and build a window seat in the bay window. If they are too elderly, I hope they're brave/deaf enough to sit on the deck watching the traffic in carved wooden rockers, preferably whitewashed to match the ornate wooden railing. Above all, I hope they keep it painted the same delicate yellow that has always made me smile.

It takes me back nearly a decade to another daily walk, not to my daughter's preschool, but to my university classes. Back then, the thirty-plus pounds I carried on my back consisted of binders, books, and bagged lunches instead of a bundled baby, and the trek took me past a wending row of stately houses - the kind whose age and elegance implies tenants with tenure - instead of the slightly derelict collection of war-time treasures that grace my present route.

It took me forty-five minutes to trudge from my parents' home to the edge of campus (those of you familiar with the route can feel free to deride my slow pace), versus twelve minutes by bicycle or, inexplicably, half an hour by bus, but by the time the frigid temperature of ambient air sent my bike into storage for the season (this was around the beginning of November - yes, I'm a total wimp), I had fallen in love with the architectural scenery and chose to try the slower stroll instead of the bustle of mass motor transit. I soon came to appreciate the solitude. I outlined essays, said prayers, composed emails to far-away friends, or simply let my mind wander wherever it willed. It was a gift to think without interruption, even if it added ninety minutes to my day.

Around the halfway point of my trek of yesteryear was a dwelling of a similar yellow to the one I now covet; much larger than my current darling but constructed in such a manner to imply a cottage rather than a sprawling estate. Its entrance faced the corner diagonally, rather than choosing which intersecting street to face, and the front walk wound its way down to the curb through English-garden-inspired shrubbery. To one side lay what I suspect was a sunroom with large French windows lined with trim of bright white, and an archway attached to the other beckoned one to the backyard.

I called it my happy house. I wouldn't want to have owned it (I would have needed six children to justify the space - not to mention becoming independently wealthy), but just seeing it made my day, even when I passed it ten times a week. So now, as my walking thoughts are accompanied by soft strings of singing - anything from nursery rhymes to folk songs to Christmas carols - compliments of the curly head doll who's holding my hand, my new happy house echoes the old, smaller, simpler, but just as sweet.

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