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Friday, July 27, 2012

Home again


Our renovations are finished.  In fact, I paid the bill about a week ago, but it's taken me this long to really feel the full impact of having a beautiful house.  I've been trying to think about why it's taken so long, and I've come to this conclusion.  Houses aren't just spaces that store our stuff and keep us warm or cool.  They house the habits that tell us who we really are, and it's taken me about a week to discover a new set of habits, most of them much simpler and more elegant than the old, to discover how these spaces will work their way into my muscles and memories.  We are a certain person, I sometimes think, when we do things, mostly because actions have long and separate histories and associations aside from the vagaries of our complex daily lives.  We think of ourselves as "a woman who bakes bread," and that becomes a clear and definite part of our personalities.  Or we think back through our mothers who also made bread or coq au vin, and are tethered for that moment by the movements of our hands and the smell of the ingredients to our history.  There's the whole resonance of making soup, a memory of making minestrone while I watched a much younger Veronica out the back kitchen window while she jumped in piles of leaves.  Plus a few lines from a Little Bear story.  And memories of the desire that infuses soup:  a wish to comfort and nourish people I have loved with something both simple and complex.   I will have to recreate these habits, actions, and memories now, having made neither bread nor soup for months.

Houses are memory containers; a book on a shelf reminds you off needing something to stare at while you had a heated conversation and needed to listen with concentration to someone else's viewpoint.  You remember where several of your cats, folded in your arms, finished their lives.  You remember buying those canisters on Cambridge MA, and with that memory comes the whole spirit of shopping around Harvard Yard and being student-poor.  (Now they won't fit in your new kitchen, and you're trying to decide whether to give them to Community Living or keep them downstairs on your pantry shelf.)  You remember your husband bringing you a kiss and a new pair of earrings while you sat at your desk, waiting for him to unpack from his trip, and that kiss connects somehow to all the others you've given one another in your back hallway--a strange but convenient place to kiss in moments your paths cross.  Veronica's growth chart is still penciled on the door of my study and reminds me how short I am.  I stenciled ivy vines on my hallway walls, which reminded me of foolishly standing on the banister to pull down the last bit of wallpaper attached to the hallway ceiling by someone much taller than I am.  The ivy is now gone; will I similarly forget youth, better balance, and a time when I didn't think about my knees?  I took my quilts down from the hallways to have them painted and can't decide whether to put them back up or not.  I am going to have to carve new memories and habits in the new rooms, and that may take a while. 

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