Millennium Memoir
Moon and Stars . .

12.19.1999

In My House

Past
The landscape of my childhood is dominated by the various houses that I have lived in, beginning with the 1920s white house in Providence, on through to the neo-colonial my parents built on a 3/4 acre lot in the suburbs of Philadelphia. But no house perhaps, has meant more to me, than the house we lived in from 1981 to 1985.

In My House

31 Avenue Juliette was located at the very end of a dead-end cobbled street, lined with trees and ending at a forested pedestrian pathway through to a larger, busier street on the other side of several old properties.

The house was built in 1915 in Tudor style and was intended as a country retreat from the city for a wealthy doctor and his family. His daughter, Madame Wettendorf now an elderly lady, owned the house and the one next door and rented both properties while living elsewhere herself.

She was very kind and exceedingly elegant and on the few occasions which I met her, I was very impressed by her bouffant hair-do and friendly smile. She was equally impressed with me by all accounts and was very pleased that I would have the room that used to be hers -- the Juliet room as my mother called it, the one with the balcony, above the bay window.

The house was a blend of light and shadow, with lots of tall glass windows, but equal numbers of dark wooden beams. It was both cozy and spacious, elegant and homey and it reeked of history, from the rooms under the eaves of both the house and the carriage house where the servants used to sleep, to the hand pumps all over the property that still brought up water that could be used in the garden.

Some time in the last fifty years or so, the house had been modernized with modern toilets on all of the floors except the attic and the gas fireplaces had been switched off and sealed, except for the dining room and living room, replaced with radiator heat.

Down below in the basement, there was a labyrinth of storage rooms, left over from the days when the main basement room, which now served as both garage and laundry room had been the kitchen. There was also a very scary dark room beyond the storage rooms that bellowed and billowed with heat. The modern boiler was there, but back in the darkness beyond it was the coal pit, still partly filled with coal and black with soot.

Many of my childhood nightmares involved coal beasts creeping up from the depths below to come and get me.

Outside of the laundry/garage room, was a paved bay for the car to park. Dad would bring the car around and down the inclined driveway from the gate on sunny days to wash the car there. However, we didn't usually keep the car in the garage under the house, but in the carriage on the other side of the house. Steps led up into the back yard through a bed of roses and past a wall covered with ivy beneath the tall windows of the dining room.

If I stood on tiptoe I could just reach the metal bars of the small balcony outside of the dining room and pull myself up onto it and into the room if the door was open, to escape from my brothers when we played tag.

Around back, were two large, perfectly trimmed lawns surrounded by red gravel paths and a tiered brick wall of flower beds leading back up to the house. There was an open-fronted garden house at the rear of the garden beside a tall pine tree that we used to climb nearly every day in clement weather.

Once, Tom climbed as far to the top as he could and looked out at the city spread out beneath him in wonder. I have a picture of him up near the tip of the tree where the branches got thin -- it's just a splash of his blue shirt in between the bushy green of the branches, but one can see that he got quite far up, before he had to turn around and come down. I was already too heavy to go up so far by then.

At the far end of the yard, was an apple tree with large yellow fruit. The apples weren't very flavorful and often mealy, so my mother used them mostly for apple sauce. Behind the tree was a brake of shrubberies and bushes beyond which the path curved around the steaming heap of straw and garbage that was Dad's compost heap. Next to it was a manger of sorts, where horses were probably once kept, still filled with straw and creaking with age. An arch in the brake led up to the bell-tower which joined the manger to the carriage house.

The bell tower wasn't very tall, but it was tall enough that we couldn't really see the bell up in the angle of the roof. The roof was itself, bell-shaped and tiled in orange as all of the buildings on the property were. A rope with a string attached to it hung down into the center of the tower and two benches on either side provided seating for playful children. We used to swing from bench to the other on the rope and string, ringing the bell, until we got too heavy and broke the string one day.

The carriage house boasted two separate bays, one without an upper storey, the other with. Mom's sky blue VW Bug lived in the smaller bay while Dad's company-owned, silver Beamer lived in the other.

The larger bay had a step ladder leading up to a trap door in the ceiling, above which was a room divided in two by chicken wire and inhabited only by a lone chair with a broken seat and an ancient woolen cap. My father told me that the grooms would have slept up there in the olden days, but since there were chicken feathers all over the place, I surmised that this had also been the chicken coop.

To the right of the larger bay, was a small piece of lawn on which my parents set up my jungle gym which had come with us from America. When we left Belgium, we had to leave it behind, much to my chagrin as it was too rickety to survive another move. However, I still have many a joyful memory of scrambling all over that jungle gym in the afternoon.

Past the jungle gym was the second driveway, paved with tarmac, as opposed to the first which was tiled. Bothe led past the smaller front yard, which was also divided into two pocket-sized lawns surrounded by elegantly trimmed pear trees, shrubs, bulbs and the ubiquitous red gravel pathways. Rhododendrons of massive proportions lived against the hedge wall that separated the property from the street and a pretty clematis vine trailed down the side wall behind a bush near the mailbox, which was a cavity with a door in the pillar of the gate.

The front door was a massive, dark wood affair that we hardly ever used, since we went in and out through the kitchen door which was directly across from the carriage house. The front door opened out into a hallway which branched off twice to the right -- first to a shor corridor that led into the tiny family room and a double-doored powder room, second to a longer, narrower corridor that led past a small square window and turned beneath the main stairwell to go down into the basement.

The main stairs were carpeted and had a massive wooden pillar stretched from the bottom step up to the ceiling, with a wide bannister that was perfect for sliding down.

Across from the stairs was a set of glass doors with curlicue handles, that led into the long living room with its big fireplace, the bookcases full of books and the dumbwaiter -- a source of endless fascination to us kids because it could be hauled up and down from the basement to the first floor. My mother was much more practical about it. She kept all of the liquor in there, obviating the need for a liquor cabinet.

The hallway ended at the foot of the stairs facing another set of glass doors that led into what we called the eating room. Before the addition of the larger dining room, this room must have been the primary dining room. It had a fireplace on the outside wall of the house and two doors, one leading into the balcony that overlooked the dining room and the other to the kitchen. In the wall that the eating room shared with the kitchen was a small thick-paned window that once looked out onto the garden, but now looked onto the refrigerator and the brick fireplace in the kitchen where my mother hung her bright brass pots.

I spent a lot of time in the kitchen, eating room, family room and my bedroom upstairs. We ate our breakfasts at the small table in the kitchen and I would sit on the counter or at the table to talk to my mother while she made dinner in the evening. We ate dinner in the eating room, around the larger table sitting on the ladder backed chairs that my mother loved so much. We also hung our Christmas stockings on the fireplace in the eating room because there were nails already driven into it for that purpose.

The dining room was something else altogether. It was enormous and decorated with five panels brought in from a medieval castle that was being torn down outside of the city. Four of the panels represented the four seasons with the fifth being simply an ornate design of flowers and fruit. I found these panels to be endlessly fascinating. They were partially carved in three dimensions, with parts leaping out in full relief from the wood, while other parts were simply outlined against the background. Two of the panels opened up to reveal shallow alcoves in the walls where shelves held my mother's good napkins and china. Swinging from the ceiling was an antique crystal chandlier of massive proportions that cast a warm glow onto the rich wooden panels and carved pillars that made the room fit for a king.

The room was sunken one level below the rest of the rooms on that floor and had a short set of steps that led back up into the balcony that overlooked the room. My mother had two large dining tables and a trestle for parties, but when the room was not in use, it was large enough for her to host her aerobics class and for use to ride around on the bikes that we got for Christmas in 1983.

We also put on a Christmas pageant in there, using the balcony as a stage for the enjoyment of our dinner guest seated down below.

Back up the stairs and on up to the second story, the first room on the left was mine, next to my brother's large sunny room. Across from the top of the stairs was the guestroom and one step up from the floor, was the big bathroom. In the landing that opened out at the top of the stairs, was the water closet with the toilet and another hallway led down to the far end of the house where my parents' bedroom and bathroom was. There was a door in this hallway, that my parents could shut to be completely isolated from the noises of the house. However, we shut it more often than they did, on the sly so that we could get away with staying up past our bedtime to play make believe.

My room was a study in pale powder blue, with alcoves and cornices, built-in bookshelves and an enormous closet with mirrors on the doors. The room was built one level down from the landing, with two steps into the room and a short hallway where the closet was leading into the body of the room. I could spend hours just daydreaming at the windows -- I felt like a princess in a tower in there.

Beside my door, was the door leading up to the attic. The stairs stretched up along the wall of my room and into the floor up above.

There were three rooms up there, one large one that was right above Tom and Ted's room with three windows at one end and a door in the other and two other smaller rooms at the back of the attic. My mother kept her sewing machine and materials in one of the smaller ones and boxes in storage were in the other, as well as in the crawlspace that was above my room.

The big attic room served as a play room on rainy days and a sleepover room when we had slumber parties. There was enough room up there for twenty kids to sleep on the floor, though I don't think we ever had more than ten at any given time.

Parties in that house wer a wonderful thing. The grown-ups would all be downstairs stuffing and drinking themselves silly, while we kids ran from the top of the house to the bottom and all around the grounds playing hide and seek, tag and all manner of other games. Even regular play dates, with just a kid or two coming over after school, were a dream come true with all the nooks and crannies that the house provided for us.

My imagination ran wild there, from stories of princessess captured by dragons, to brave warrior-women dashing about on horses and staving off the evil hordes of bad guys. There was history everywhere all around us and the house itself fascinated me, from its elegantly carved woods and dark beams, to its sweet smell of wood polish and old carpet.

In the summer of 1984, my friend Russell and I went to sleep one night up in the attic, lying side by side on cot mattresses. Both of us were burnt red as lobsters by the sun due to a day trip to the seaside with our school. The windows were cracked open and the soft summer breeze blew in gently, cooling our sore backs. We talked for a long time before we drifted off to sleep, ignorant of the fact that in a few short months Russ would be shipping off to Australia with his family and that I myself would be returning to America within a year.

Saying good-bye to our house was one of the hardest things I ever had to do.

Present

Since we lived at 31 avenue Juliette, we've lived in hotel for a week, at an apartment in Bryn Mawr for about three months, in a rented house in Paoli for just over a month and in or house on Orchard Way in Berwyn for just under fifteen years.

Our family moved into the Orchard Way house five days before Christmas in 1985. My parents sold that house on the 27th of August and they've been looking for another one ever since.

They currently live in an apartment about the size of the one Sabs and I left behind at the Edlandria just under two years ago.

I myself have since lived in three different college dorms, two on Smith's campus and one in Geneva, a one bedroom apartment on Capitol Hill in Washington DC and now two apartments in Alexandria, VA.

This weekend, my parents found the house that they want to buy. Last night, the realtor who sold us the Orchard Way house came by to help them put an offer on the new house.

This morning, we all went over to take a look at it, so that we'd have some say in whether or not we like it.

Though the house bears no resemblance physically to any of the homes we have lived in before and doesn't even approach the splendor of the palatial 31 Avenue Juliette, it feels the same way that our other homes did.

The house is much smaller now, as all three of us kids is no longer a full-time resident, but is spacious enough to accomodate guests and future grandchildren. It is bright and airy, but cozy. It has a nice yard, a big basement and a cure upstairs arrangement with two bedrooms on either side and the family room in between them. It is both old and new and set on a secluded lot behind the communal water reservoir tanks on a tiny winding lane.

It is quiet, but close to the town where my parents carry on most of their daily business. It is farther away from the high school, but not so far that a bike ride, drive or train trip won't get you there in five to fifteen minutes.

In other words, it's perfect.

So I have my fingers crossed that this time, the bid will go through and all the papers will be signed and at last, the family will be home for good.

After all, that would be the perfect gift for my mother whose 50th birthday was today.


Present Post Script
As the holiday season approaches, entries may be delayed. In fact, I'm thinking about uploading all of the ones I have prepared through to the end of the season now and taking a break so that I'll have time to finish making Christmas presents.

I will also be out of town from Dec. 22-27 visiting family and will not be able to update during that time span. So if you don't hear from me for the rest of the coming week, don't panic, I'll be back.

Finally, at the close of the year, I will be moving the journal renaming and redsigning it. Again! you may be asking? Well yes, again. I've finally found the right title, the right design and the right meaning for all of this. Furthermore, it's been a terrible year and I want to start the new one afresh, with new hopes, new dreams and a clean slate of sorts.

The new design will go up on Dec. 31 and will be at a new URL, so keep your eyes peeled for the re-direct.

Cheers!

Moonlit Trees . .

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