This is my childhood home. (Sorry for the Flash; here’s a non-Flash listing, but without as many good pictures)
My father sold our house back in 1991, about five years after my mom died, and it was a fairly contentious, ugly time for me and my family. Now, as an adult, I understand why he sold it. He had a new partner in Manhattan and was spending most of his time there, none of us really lived at home, the house had too many memories and he didn’t want to live their alone, but most of all, it was crazy expensive to live there and especially pay taxes ($13K at the time) on a house he was barely living in.
Anyway, I would say for the next twenty-eight years I spent three or four nights a week dreaming about the house; the dreams were almost always the same: I’d sneak inside wihle the new owners were away, and the house would be filled with our old junk, dilapidated, treated horribly, etc. But I’d always hide out there. (It was perhaps one of the most obvious, easy-to-analyze psychologically recurring dream I’ve ever had, aside from the one where my mom would be alive, still sick, but my father still chose to be with his new girlfriend. Yeah, my subconscious is embarrassingly blatant.)
I’ve driven back there a few times and have been saddened a bit by the changes made to the outside; the showpiece of the house was always its gorgeous oak door, which we kept in immaculate shape, but since we left has been allowed to get weatherbeaten and dull. Also, some apple trees and lovely 40-foot-high evergreen trees had been chopped down (living in NYC without a tree taller than 8 feet in sight, I can’t even imagine such a desecration!). But still. The dreams continued.
Then in 2009 I received an email from one of the owners of the house, whom we’d sold the home to back in '91. The village was celebrating its 100th anniversary and the wife was wondering if my sisters and I had any memories of the house or village as we’d grown up we could share for a little local history booklet she was helping coordinate. She was sorry to hear that my father had passed away in 2003, as they remembered what a charming man he was and how much he’d loved the house. I emailed her with a few recollections and then gathered the courage to ask: would it be a huge imposition if we could visit the house? She said not at all, very warmly. She and her husband had put the house on the market, actually, for similar reasons to my father – their kids had grown up and left, and a 14-room-house was too big and too expensive for a couple.
One of my sisters and I went to visit, and it was… strange. First, the inside wood looked gorgeous, which you can see in some of the pictures up above. The house is a classic Tudor and sure, there were some changes that had made my sister and me cringe inwardly (mostly just ripping out the original oak wainscotting that had lined about 1/2 the walls in the ground floor,* painting the bricks in our den white, and blocking up the tiled fireplace in the master bedroom to turn it into a walk-in closet–oy veh!), overall the house looked beautiful. The inglenook fireplace shown in that slideshow was stunning with the new shelving, and though we both felt an ache at the loss of the grand piano for that flat white leather… sofa thingy, which is shown in picture #3 I think, obviously that was a logical decision if they couldn’t play. (Also, we took the piano with us anyway, obviously, since it was ours.)
All in all the house consisted of elements that were just as we’d remembered, and elements that were different enough to how we’d remembered so that we somehow didn’t feel homesick. Bittersweet longing for our youth but the differences meant that the house was no longer ours. It had been passed on to owners who, despite the different tastes, obviously cherished and valued the house. They loved it too.
Two things really stunned me, moved me to tears.
First was that in the basement, though they’d blocked off much of the wonderfully old creepy stone section that had been the source of much imaginative playacting (it looked like an Elizabethan dungeon), my father’s work room was still there, and still intact. I mean, they even had the same tools there–his tools, which I guess he’d left behind. I stood in that room and saw the things my father had used for various small house repairs, things I would never have thought I would be sentimental over, and missed him so damn much. Plus I was oddly touched that they hadn’t just tossed the tools away, even though the area was no longer used at all.
My other moment of heartache, yet in a good way: in the mid-70s, my late mom, being a major Anglophile, had lined the dining room wall above the wainscotting with this lovely Tudor-era designed tapestry. When my sister and I visited, once we entered the house and saw the wainscotting was gone (which the owners explained was because they wanted to hang pictures on the wall–understandable) I knew instantly that the tapestry would be gone as well. And of course, it was.
But. The couple had taken the fabric and used it to re-cover a padded bench near the stairwell, and made eight tiny pillows for the bench with it too. I… I just loved that. Seeing that material re-purposed in such a smart way moved me, somehow. My mom’s touch was still part of the house. I even had the nerve to ask the owner if, once they sold the house, I could purchase one of the pillows to keep. They of course said yes.
So the visit was extremely emotional and cathartic and strangely comforting, even though yes, there were painful moments too, with our parents being gone, and all the love that had been in the house, and the depression, and the lonely times I spent there as a child that still made me use my imagination to invent stories about the somewhat eerie attic and the aforementioned dungeons, and… well, it made me the writer I am today.
And I swear to God, people: after this visit? The recurring dreams went away. Just like that. I couldn’t have foretold it, and I wouldn’t dare put it in a story because it’s just too pat and sappy. But it’s true.
Anyway. The house has been on and off the market, I’ve noticed, and it was actually featured in the front page of the Sunday New York Times On the Market section last September. (Which would be almost exactly twenty years since we sold it.) But the owners can’t get the right buyers for it, and I understand why. We sold it for $550K in 1991; back in 2009 it was listed for $1.7 million, then went off the market, then went back in 2011 at $1.6M, and is now off again. It’s an admittedly old-fashioned house with 7 bedrooms and 4.5 bedrooms that, unfortunately, doesn’t have nearly as much land as a house this large should have. (I believe it’s only 1/4 acre.) It obviously requires upkeep, and the taxes are now $28K, thanks to the stellar school district. But this market sucks. The village has a great history, having been one of the earliest planned communities in NY.
Honestly, I kinda like that they haven’t sold it yet; I like that we still have a connection to the home–that the current owners bought it from us, y’know?
- When we moved in back in '69, that wainscotting had been painted a garish red by the previous owners. My mother demanded it stripped back to the original oak, and very painstakingly, the work was done. It was gorgeous.