When I started this blog in 2014, I mostly intended for it to be a blog about working on my new-to-me old house, plus a little about family.
The blog immediately went in the direction of Down syndrome. Mostly I try to write when something moves me. Now that I have succeeded in getting out many of my Down syndrome-related stories, it feels like time to focus on the house (both in word and deed).
The blog title for Elysium was originally inspired by my house, especially the lines from Mary Chapin Carpenter’s song: so I wasn’t thinking of where we would go, on a cold afternoon through the mountains we drove, up a few hairpin turns and then spread out below, the valley appeared with the sun, like Elysium.
The first time I saw my house was during winter. The house sits in a rural location in the midst of hills, valleys, and hairpin turns. I hadn’t been searching for a house at the time.
As I often did at this wistful time of year, each weekend I curiously perused the real estate ads. A not-so-old house peaked my interest. On a whim, I scheduled a showing. Decidedly, that particular house was fine but not magical enough to consider moving from our quaint, comfortable, small-town home.
The realtor did, however, give me a packet of current listings. I remember sitting at our computer in the basement, sorting through the listings, looking up MLS numbers for additional photos, and starring my favorites. One house out of the thirty-some listings caught my eye.
The next day I was in town (we lived 30 minutes from the largest nearby town). I plugged the address into the GPS and nervously headed out. It was just as the song said. Had I known the house, I could have spotted it from miles away. I rounded a curve and there it was: my Elysium.
The house sat on a slight hill. While there were other houses nearby, it was evident that this was the original farmhouse in a wide area that had slowly been parceled out. The listing said the house was built in 1900, but as I looked at it with a practiced eye (from my amateur interest in historic architecture of American houses), I thought the style indicated it was older.
I was intrigued, but also distracted by my boys in the backseat who were tired, hungry, and not in the mood to wait for mom to gaze longingly at a strange house.
That was Friday. It was the longest weekend ever. We had a weekend trip planned (something we almost NEVER do) and so we scheduled the showing Sunday evening when we returned. We barely made it back with enough sunlight to see the outside before darkness set in.
As I wandered around the yard while we waited for the realtor to arrive, I got that feeling. It’s like my heart temporarily floated away from my body and hung suspended above the house. It stayed there until the owners accepted our offer a week or so later.
Many people would have walked in that house and turned their nose up at it. There was a lot to be desired. But alas, I am an old house person.
What are old house people?
Have you ever heard of horse people? I grew up knowing many. Short story: once I went on a week-long trail ride with my friend and her family (all horse people). On the way home, we narrowly avoided a horrible accident when my friend’s dad maneuvered us through the ditch. His quick action saved our lives but damaged the horse trailer. We ended up broken-down on the interstate, no clue what to do with five horses as evening approached.
A horse person saved us. Despite all being complete strangers, she helped us transfer the horses to her trailer (terrifying in the midst of speeding traffic), put us up for the night in her house, fed and boarded the horses in her barn, and found someone to fix the trailer.
Since moving into my house, I have learned there is also a category of people I now call old house people. They are people who love old houses. Not house-lovers in the way of a mild fascination, however. These are people who walk into an old house with quiet reverence.
Old house people can feel the spirits of the house’s former inhabitants. They have x-ray vision to see past tacky remuddling to the heart of a house. In visiting an old house, they are likely to ask if they can see the attic and the basement.
House people usually grew up reading stories of time travel and ghosts (my favorite was Richard Peck’s Voices after Midnight). They are obsessed with the history of an old house and the people who once lived there. Meeting a person who lives in an old house but doesn’t know anything about its history defies their understanding.
Old house people love looking at old plat maps. The idea of a bus tour of their town’s historic homes district is more exciting to them than a beach vacation. They pretend to be in the market for a house just to see the inside of a local old house for sale.
These old house people are the ones who always seem the most interested in my stories of artifacts dug up, history discovered, and restorations done since we moved. Many of them also own old houses and have similar stories of their own, which I delight in as a house person myself.
Old House Souls
I have a connection to this house that I can’t explain, but I felt it from the first moment I stepped across the threshold. When my husband said later that first evening, “So do you think we should make an offer?” I felt there was no answer other than “Yes.”
After we made an offer, the realtor who listed the house called up a number of other couples who previously had shown interest in the house. She successfully convinced them to make offers. I was devastated. We had a house to sell and couldn’t afford to pad our offer to make it more desirable.
Lucky for me, the family who owned the house wanted to make sure it went to a special family. We took a huge chance and dropped our home sale contingency. The rest is history.
Over the years, the spirits of the house’s former inhabitants have become further entwined with mine. I am the caretaker, and I think the house knew that from the beginning so it pulled me here (an outlandish idea, I do realize). I believe that a house is not just a structure. As people live and breathe in a house, the structure absorbs energy from those lives.
Some people–old house people–can feel that energy.
Maybe the energy of these original inhabitants is what has propelled me through the challenges the house continually presents. As I attempt to bring the home back to its former glory, I think often of them. I imagine their lives here. The man in the photo above built this house with his own two hands, and I feel his residual spirit as I lovingly restore it.