A New Home

A NEW HOME Our first house always felt as if it was alive, as if it was a member of our family. When we were home, the walls surrounded us like a womb, keeping us safe and warm. My kitchen fed us. In the three bedrooms, we rested our minds and bodies. If our house was alive, its heart most certainly would have been the living room’s free-standing fireplace. The steady, glowing energy of its winter fires had a soothing pulsing rhythm. A heavy metal grate lay in its center, its curved arms so strong, ready to hold the many branches we had gathered from the woods at the end of the block. My husband, George, would strike a match, the crumpled newspaper underneath would catch, and the first sighs of orange flames seemed in unison with our own as we snuggled on the couch. Fireplace memories from the 1970s are soothing. I can still hear the bellow’s swoosh as our son, Sean, coaxed the brightening coals. I recall sitting on the rug with my young daughter, Beth, fresh from her bath. The warmth from the embers soothed us as I brush-dried her long, honey-colored hair. In 1994, when our children got older and Hampton Bays’ beckoning call became louder, we decided it was time to move the 40 miles east from Holtsville. As difficult as moving from this house would be, we had to go and leave it behind. Our jobs and my family kept us from moving much sooner. George and I had met on the crowded steamy dance floor of the Boardy Barn in Hampton Bays during Labor Day weekend of 1970. George’s parents had retired and moved to Hampton Bays from Rockville Centre in the late 60s. George joined them when he returned home from Vietnam. I spotted his handsome face – as the song goes – “across a crowded room….” I silently worked my way over to where he stood and accidentally stepped on his toe. Our forty-three-year love affair is reflected in the passion we share for this hamlet. Once you are kissed by the ocean of Hampton Bays, it becomes your lover and you want no other. Miracles happen in Hampton Bays every day. The ladies smile at each other in the supermarket as they shop! At first I thought there had to be something in their drinking water. Then I realized that these were smiles of contentment coming from the secret knowledge of still living in small-town America. When you drive south down Squiretown Road and approach town, maples and oaks form an arch of welcome. A nighttime peaceful rumble from the ocean lulls an anxious spirit to sleep. Trees seem to rain in the morning as heavy briny dew falls from their leaves. The rising sun paints the bottom of soaring seagulls’ wings pink, while noisy crows quack like ducks! Hampton Bays’ greatest treasure, however, is its people. They are just plain friendly. And now it was going to be our home. What happened next seemed to be proof that our house was indeed alive. As soon as the decision to move was made, the house appeared to be upset. Rarely giving us any problems in the past, home repairs were needed. First, the water pipe under our slate foyer broke, and we needed a new hall floor. Then a slow leak necessitated replacement of a wall and the living room carpeting. One morning as I stood in the kitchen talking on the phone, a still-unexplained trickle leaked from under the molding, forming a tiny puddle on the floor. I was suddenly stunned to realize that all these repair issues were water-related. Was our house sad that we were leaving? Was it crying? The moving van arrived in May. Workers carried out our packed cartons and furniture. It was time to go. I walked alone through the empty house, breathing in the unique fragrance of each room. My memory heard the 22 years of our past lives. Pausing in the frame of our front door, I pressed my lips to the wood and kissed the house goodbye. Although we didn’t particularly care for the new owners, I blessed the house and wished them all happiness. Since I still worked as an elementary school secretary in Holtsville, my lunch hour now had new fun. I was able to continue to shop in favorite stores and visit familiar neighborhoods. Driving past our first house became routine. I began to notice, though, that the house never looked happy. One of the first things the new owners did was to chop down the six tall arborvitae bushes that offered shade, privacy and the aroma of pine to our screened-in porch. Go figure. It was now not as much fun to look at the house, so I passed it less often. However, with nothing else better to do one autumn day, I steered the car down our former block. My eyebrows raised in surprise as I saw on the curb in front of the house a large dark pile of what looked like broken sheet metal. As I got closer, my mouth hung open in horror, and I gasped. Piled in the street, waiting for the garbage collector to take it, were the remains of our beloved fireplace. They had destroyed it! My body ached with deep longing, as if for a dead loved one who was forever gone. Then something wondrous happened. There, at the end of the pile, was the fireplace’s grate! Its black sooty arms curved toward me like a child’s. The plea I heard was loud and clear: “Save me!” If I had any inhibitions, they quickly dissolved. I pulled the car over, walked down the concrete driveway, and knocked on the door. The new owner recognized me and it crossed my mind that she could have been friendlier. I asked if it would be OK for me to take the grate. She waved in dismissal at the pile of debris, saying, “Take anything you want.” The grate was heavy, my hands turned black, but I swear I felt gratitude flow up my arms as I slowly lowered it into the trunk of my car, closed the lid and quickly drove away. What happened that evening is one joyous memory. After hearing of my rescue adventure, George was thrilled with the idea of having such a vital part of our old home in our new one. He replaced the builder’s smaller grate with this sturdier one in our stone fireplace. The weather wasn’t cold enough for a blazing fire, so we lit a Duraflame log. We noticed how this grate was not only wider, but taller than the builder’s grate, and how its long hand elevated the flames. It was now time to sleep. The log still burned, so we closed the glass doors of the fireplace, shut off the lights, climbed the stairs, and went to bed. Dozing, I sensed that something was different about our darkened bedroom. I opened my eyes and saw quivering ribbons of light. Rays from the still smoldering fire downstairs had passed upward, through the slats of the staircase, and were dancing on the ceiling just for me! I smiled and my heart overflowed with love. I whispered, “Welcome home,” rolled over, and went to sleep. Excerpt printed in Newsday My Turn 1/19/2013