Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Stairs of Home

Our house was not prepared to offer us a home when we met it about a year ago. With all first floor windows and the front door boarded over, the vestibule was almost black and most of the building’s nakedness was semi-concealed.

The only sounds in the house were the wind whipping down the street and thin flakes of plaster and paint falling now and again from the water-damaged ceilings to break with a sound like old eggshells on the dusty oak and maple floors.

The library to the left once had a detailed window part way up its main wall, but that had been stolen by looters, as had been the detailed columns in the living room opening to the right. All that was left of either were a ply-wood covered hole on one side and a wide sagging arch on the other with prints in the old shellac of bases and capitals to hint at what had once been there.

The living room ceiling had settled into a crackled grid with odd little pieces laying on the floor. The fireplace wall with its green tile looked very bare since the mantle had been stolen and someone had tried to remove some of the tile hearth resulting in a jagged edge looking a lot like teeth broken in a bar fight.

Pocket doors – miraculously remaining – led from the living room to what was once the dining room with another missing window in its bay and a Lazy-Boy-sized patch in the ceiling where the bathroom above must have caused problems in the past.

In the kitchen there was no stove, a sink in a rusted metal cabinet connected to nothing and drywall sagging from the ceiling because it was screwed up with no respect to joists.

The dust and grime of an empty house were everywhere as you headed up the stairs to the bedrooms and bath on the second floor, but at least there some of the windows that had been only cracked had been patched using acrylic sheeting and silicone so some sunlight broke into the rooms.

The bathroom had yellow-green tub connected to nothing, a toilet that had shattered from cold and a sink that had to be re-plumbed.

The house had been so long empty that even mice had moved elsewhere and scattered all through the house – mainly painted a much-grubbied flat white – were scrawled profanities, references of love to a girl named Felina and notes to a personage named Joel who was to stay out of the kitchen and bathroom.

The only space under that was possibly tame was the attic, and that possibility was only visible after tapping into the fort-building skills of a creative childhood. So we tapped. And hauled and rearranged until we were to be found squatting in our own attic. Since the budget set for the house by our broker didn’t go as far as he’d hoped before he passed away, it would be another seven months before the house had working plumbing beyond a basic toilet and it will be this Christmas before the kitchen is functioning.

But this year has been an interesting one in the development of our concept of home. Living on the third floor of a house set one-half a floor above ground meant a lot of stairs. Up from the back door to the kitchen. Up from the front hall to the bay in the landing. Up from the bay to the upper hall. Up from the hall to the attic with its pine floor, walls and ceiling.

A sofa and chair. Coffee table. Bookcases and mountains of books. Art supplies. Our make-shift dining table. Boxes of china. Paintings tucked wherever they would fit. A bed in one corner. Dressers in the back dormer. Everything involving home meant hauling up and down seemingly endless stairs to a space that was an odd hybrid of Rapunzel’s tower, Swiss Family Robinson’s tree house and Anne Frank’s annex. Home became all about stairs and waiting the winter out so we could begin expanding into the rest of the house.