Heart is where the home is

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(Host) Commentator Willem Lange tells of his recent visit to a long lost home.

(Lange) I’m parked across the road from our old house, just sitting here in the truck – streaks of rain running down the windshield – gazing at it. It was the first place my wife and I ever lived together. The rent was ten dollars a month, and the roof leaked everywhere after a rain or a snowstorm. I guess nothing’s been done to the roof since then. The edges of a large blue plastic tarp are showing around the edge of the parapet.

It’s empty now, and virtually derelict. Somebody from away bought it some years ago and began a slow rehabilitation. The house is deteriorating faster than it’s being fixed up. Poorly built in the first place, it was nevertheless our first home, and I harbor a sentimental attachment to it. I can see the window beside the desk where I typed letters and paid bills, and the window of the room where our first child’s crib stood.

It’s probably the lowering fall day and the early darkness that’s made me thoughtful. Or maybe the approaching anniversary of our marriage, which began in that flat-topped wreck of a house, that’s made me sentimental. I just want to sit for a few minutes, look at the familiar windows, and remember what once went on behind them.

Many of us, when passing crumbling houses – Victorians with turrets and bay windows, Carpenter Gothics with missing filigree, farmhouses with rotting porches – get the urge to restore them to their former grandeur. It’s an urge to be resisted; for the settings have changed. Victorians nowadays look out upon a landscape of Wal-Marts and traffic lights.

This little house, however, sits in the middle of a village not much altered in 40 years. It’s we who have changed. We wouldn’t put up with the kerosene stove in the living room, or the leaky roof. We’d want an automatic water heater, instead of the coil heater with the box of matches next to it. And I doubt if the 55-gallon drum septic system would be satisfactory anymore.

No, the kindest thing anyone could do for this place would be to bulldoze it. You can’t imagine a less prepossessing piece of property. But a lot happened here, until one winter morning we loaded all our belongings and our child into a Volkswagen Beetle, like latter-day Okies, chugged away toward a new life, and never looked back. Till now, and only me, sitting in my truck trying to remember – the daily trips up the stairs with the kerosene can; the downstairs renters like cats and dogs; the chimney fire; the neighbors who invited us over Tuesday evenings for the Red Skelton Show.

A curtain stirs in the house next door; I’m making the neighbors nervous. So I start up the truck and again leave the ruined little house behind.

This is Willem Lange up in Keene Valley, New York, and I gotta get back to work.

Willem Lange is a contractor, writer and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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