The House I Live In
THE HOUSE I LIVE IN
The next issue of Alte: Getting Old Together, issue #8, is devoted to the theme “The House I Live In.” You want to talk about the song, fine. You want to talk about your home, fine. You want to talk about homelessness, fine. The deadline for your submissions is March 15. Hope you’ll join in!
Me, I’ve lived in the same house for 34 years. It cost $85,000 for 1,200 square feet on 1.55 acres. We moved in with month-old twins. The house had wall-to-wall carpeting, plastic wall paneling, exposed “beams” made of Styrofoam, and plasticized drapery on every window. We tore it all out and then spent the first two winters freeeeeeeeezing, There had been a reason besides bad aesthetics for the wall-to-wall carpeting and the plasticized drapery.
The only thing we kept from the former owners was a potted cactus shaped like Mickey Mouse. For months I ignored it before realizing that cacti do occasionally need to be watered. I moved it to a different window and gave it a dousing. Mickey Mouse then began growing a curving protuberance, nearly a foot long, which put forth an extremely fragrant white flower that lasted one night and wilted. The cactus has never flowered since, but is five times taller than is used to be and has many, many “ears.” It is surrounded by thirty-nine other houseplants, which take up a fair amount of our 1,200 square feet.
We had left the city three years earlier, after I’d suddenly realized that I knew absolutely nothing about the workings of nature. My wife Susan and I had adopted our first dog, a huge mutt with a lot of Irish Wolfhound in her, and I was bringing her nearly every day to the same fenced-in dog run near Prospect Park. From this habit, beating the same path every day, I had learned that certain trees flower before they leaf in the springtime. Before my dog-walking, I used to wander around Brooklyn wondering, Where was that pink tree I saw the other day? Now I learned the answer, and I was horrified by my fundamental lack of nature lore.
The first thing I learned about after moving to the country was darkness. It is very, very dark here at night. If there’s no moon, I’ve learned to walk — say, when I’m taking out the garbage — with a forearm in front of my face to defend against the stray branches of the dogwood or the lower-hanging trees that guard the cans at the back of the house. Craning my neck, I see between the treetops patches of black sky filled with stars, along with Mars, Venus, and Jupiter in season, plus the occasional incandescent meteor and the moon in all of its phases.
The sounds of the night are also intense here. I’ve twice heard a screech owl, sounding like a young mother who has just learned of the death of her child. I have several times heard barred owls hooting in a territorial call and response. I have many times heard the yapping and howling of coyotes from somewhere across the neighboring farmlands. I once heard violent rustling in the huge stand of forsythia bushes that borders our lawn, and the screams of some creature being killed.
We mostly prefer the daytime.
I used to walk my babies in a carriage, with the dog, on a two-mile loop that passed the Accord cemetery. The sign misspelled the word as “cemetary,” and I thought, I cannot live here for very long. (Elsewhere on the loop was “Pleasent View Farm.”) But by the time my kids were about 10, there was a new sign with correct spelling. Now we have two plots in the cemetery, right next to where my in-laws’ ashes are buried — hers in a Chivas Regal bottle.
I could go on — I’ve lived and worked in this house for nearly half my life — but it’s your turn.
Lawrence Bush for Alte