Secondly, please allow me to talk about something somewhat related, but also not. About a month ago, I took a trip to New York City to visit with friends. One last trip before building begins. I have no idea when I’ll get there again, so I figured I’d better go now. I picked a really nerve-wracking weekend to go, of course. But I somehow managed to fly out early enough to miss the worst of winter storm Nemo, and also flew back late enough that the clean-up was already done. It really could not have been better. Thanks for being on top of your game, New York.
But anyway, to the point, shall we? I’ve been thinking a lot about houses and what they mean to us, so on this most recent trip to New York, I decided to drag my good friend to Crown Heights in Brooklyn (in the snow and cold) to find the old houses where my dad’s grandfather, mother, and father lived. I’d heard a lot about these places but had never been. And to my surprise, they were still there (though I can’t vouch for how much they look like they used to).
This building was thought to have fallen into the street, but instead it’s somehow still standing. My great grandfather’s medical practice was in the back on the first floor, and the rest of my family occupied the upper floors.
I wonder if bits of their spirit are somehow still in there. I think this about the places I’ve lived as well, even places I was not too fond of. Do we leave invisible bits of ourselves in our homes that stay there for as long as the building stands, or even beyond that? There is of course superficial evidence of our having been there. Doors, windows, trim. But what about the intangible things -- the spirit of the place? What makes someone “get a feeling” about a house? Is it because we’ve left a bit of our soul there and they can sense our joy and all the happy times we’ve spent there? Can they sense the sadness felt when you leave somewhere behind and they know this place is something special?
My mom's parents at their house on Long Island
It was hard for me when my grandparents' house on Long Island was sold. They built it after the war when Long Island wasn’t the never-ending strip mall that it is now, and my grandmother lived there until she couldn’t care for herself and moved to assisted living, at which point my cousins moved there. It had been part of our family for so long and it was hard for me to grasp that there would be no more Christmases there. No more lobster feasts on the back porch. But I can still see it vividly when I close my eyes. I can still remember the feeling of waking up there. I remember the sweet smell of the air. It will always be a part of me and I a part of it for having been there, just as it will be for everyone else in my family. And those houses in Brooklyn that I had never seen until a month ago? Those are a part of me, too, because they shaped the people who lived there and that spirit undoubtedly was passed down through each coming generation. Our homes play a huge role in making us the people we turn out to be. They change us in ways that nothing else could, for better or worse. Even a place that we hated.
Maybe someday I’ll have the courage to knock on one of those doors, and when I do I wonder who I’ll find. Perhaps a young family, trying to eke out their own little way in the world with the same passion and drive as my great-grandfather, grandmother, and grandfather. Not just a roof over their heads, but a home.