Last May, our family of four moved into our little cottage on Warren Lane. Built in 1937, the house needs care and attention, but it has good bones. The first time Johnny, our plumber and electrician, got a look, he approved wholeheartedly. “This house is tight now, for sure,” he said. Johnny nosed around our cellar, taking pleasure in the stone masonry work, the archaic wiring. What Johnny enjoyed most, however, was firing up his propane blow torch just to incinerate abandoned spider webs dangling from our gas boiler. Johnny would bring a bazooka to a water fight.
Truthfully, this house is more than I should ever tackle. I’ve never been mistaken for a handy man. I’m the guy who badgers the poor gents at Lowes to death, asking them the most basic questions, listening to their explanation and then asking them the same question again just to make sure I’ve got it. I think word’s gotten out because I’ve noticed how when I hit the front door, everyone in red vests scatters like mad.
Even with my limitations, my wife Miska and I wanted this house desperately. We wanted this exact place, with her solid hand-hewn oak doors, her creaking floors, her cedar shakes that after 80 years, are barely hanging on. We wanted to tend to this little plot of land, to these gardens. We wanted to grow vegetables and herbs and figs here. We wanted to grow a life here.
This is the sort of place where a neighbor pops by and asks for a cup of baking powder or where another neighbor puts out an invite to come grab beers from the ice chest and oysters off the sizzling grill. This is the kind of place your boys remember as home. Maybe even the place they return to with kids of their own one day.
Part of why we wanted this house is because we felt an unrelenting need to be responsible for a place, for something to be asked of us that we could not slough off to another. Our previous home was a new townhouse on a new street. It was beautiful, near downtown, with an astounding view of Carter’s Mountain and Jefferson’s Monticello. However, the HOA fees took care of the yard (what little there was), oversaw parking grids, managed the exterior paint and roof. Everything was so ordered, so safe. If we wanted to screen in our back porch or paint our front door or build a raised garden bed, we were supposed to get the Powers to sign a permission slip. We were grateful for our days there, but the place never required much of us. I’ve come to believe that our place should absolutely require something of us.
So here we are, two sons named Wyatt and Seth, a dog named Daisy, a cat named Juno. A few possums, a raccoon or two, more birds than we can count, deer who don’t seem nearly as afraid of us as they ought to be. And a cottage we’ve named Longdream. If that sounds idyllic or quaint, we’re giving the wrong impression. It is our long dream to live in and love this home that receives our sweat, our tears, our hopes, our responsibility—and gives us a life in return.
©Winn Collier, 2016