Wednesday, August 09, 2006
Your House May Be Cooler Than You Thought
Here is an excerpt from what I call, My Favorite Essay of All-Time. I came across this in Victoria magazine when Naomi was only 8, and it forever changed how I viewed my house on 'messy days.' May it do the same for you, especially those of you with many small children.
Other People's Houses
By Nancy Eberle
The houses I love are so unlike my own. I love houses that have the flotsam and jetsam of well-lived lives trailing from every surface. I love houses that have phone numbers and children's heights written on the walls, and heaps of seashells on the window sills, and skis stuck in the corner and ironing boards open in the kitchen. I love houses with crazy hats hanging from a hat stand, and cupids painted above the bathroom sink, and wisps of crepe paper peeping from behind thumbtacks stuck in the walls, and pineapple tops growing in saucers.
You can go through a whole lifetime without seeing more than one or two such houses. In my lifetime, I've known two. One belongs to an artist, the other to a Lutheran minister's wife. (The artist is married to a writer, and the minister's wife is married to the minister, but I think of the houses as belonging to the women.)
The artist's kitchen has messages from friends written on the wall by the big wood stove where she bakes bread daily. Her living room has fabrics she loves permanently pinned to the furniture with straight pins (although when she discovered the glue gun she was quick to see its uses for upholstering.) She has pots of red geraniums on an ironing board stuck behind a Victorian setee, and she sets the table with odd china she's bought for its color. The bathroom is papered with maps scotch-taped together and brown with age and has a tiny loft for reading that she and her husband made for their daughter....such houses... are like things from the sea, covered with barnacles and limpets...
The Lutheran minister's wife's house ... has the same air of rampant creativity and of something else--an energy that even the artist's house doesn't approach.
The first time I visited, I stood stock still, rendered motionless and speechless by sensory bombardment. Laundry heaped upon the dining room table, spilled to the floor, trailed across the carpet, and rose onto another chair. Children were jumping rhythmically up and down the sofa, still holding toast from breakfast. A sewing machine was set up on the dining room table, where a sewing project--sixteen pairs of drapes for a neighbor's house--was in full sway. The floor was so littered with children's toys that I had to pick my way across. In the kitchen, twenty quarts of green beans sat cooling on the table, and on the sideboard, half a dozen flowers were being pressed. My friend made no apologies--no small act of courage when you're the minister's wife...
There's no company cleanup or company manners or company anything else in such houses, and yet you feel more honored, more privileged to be present than in any other house. What you see is what you get--and what you get is the real person.
Nothing is sacred in such houses. There are treasured objects, to be sure; nothing is ever thrown away because the owners have a fierce, almost mystical, attachment to objects. But the house itself is not sacrosanct. No one worries about whether the value of the house will go down if a door is cut in a wall.
There's often a lot of unfinished work visible in such houses--quilts that were never completed, pictures that were never matted, additions that are still being worked on three years later--because the kind of people who live in such houses care more about the process than the product.
The overwhelming feeling such houses give is a feeling of richness. They are the opposite of all that's ... careful and calculating. They impart the joyous, generous sense of there being lots and lots and lots more where that came from.
Although you may love such houses, as I do, you can't decide to have one. It either happens or it doesn't. Most of us need more order and control~~we're too fragile, too afraid that all those things unfinished and things undone and things revealed will take over, swamping us.
And the truth of the matter is, most of us don't want that kind of a house. We want a house that reflects the kind of person we are trying to become. The houses I love reflect the owner as she is or was, wherein lies their power.