...what our house thinks of us.
We are only her second set of owners. The first was the man who had her built in 1917. He was a wealthy banker whose wife died and left him three daughters. He did what most men of his stature did back then: he married an 18 year old girl when he was age 43 and had her become the new mother. He also had a fancy house built for her in the popular Victorian style. She produced three more sons and a daughter and the house now had seven children, two parents and a live in nanny/cook/housekeeper. The children grew up and left home, the father died, the domestic left to move back to Ireland and the house was empty except for the women who came there as a bride. Her youngest child, a spinster daughter, moved back in with her and cared for her until her death and then the daughter lived alone in the house until her death. When she died, the house was in a fairly bad state of disrepair and I bought it because I was astounded at how cheap it was in such a grand neighborhood and had no idea just how bad of shape it was in. I found out little by little. Now, it is in fairly good shape again and we have worked hard to keep things true to her original state.
We know all this history because within the first few years of moving in, we discovered that we had a ghost. So, we did some research and found out who the original owners were. We got in touch with one of the only remaining children, a man of advanced years now, the one who sold the house to me. We invited him back to see the house under the guise of asking him some questions about her original bones, but really...we were so curious to see if the ghost would appear when he visited.
She didn't. But, he did bring photos and Bing and I exchanged a guarded look when we realized that our ghost was his mother, the woman who had died in our bedroom. We were kind, we didn't tell him that his mother was haunting our home. We didn't want to scare him and it seemed somehow...rude.
But the photo was her. We did ask about her and he told us that she was a very young hearted mother, that she was a rather selfish, vain woman but that she loved to play in the yard with the children. We told him that we had found an old croquet set in the attic and when we showed it to him, he said that yes, that was theirs. It was a lovely set, all heavy wooden balls and mallets. We asked him if he might like them back and he laughed gently at our idiocy.
"I'm a little old for a croquet set, dears," he answered.
He was able to tell us that we had managed to restore the vintage polished marbled green of the fireplace bricks. We asked him about the buzzer that was on the floor under our dining room table and he said that it originally went off in the kitchen to let Moira, their housekeeper/nanny/cook know to bring in dessert or to remove the soup bowls, etc. We showed him two other buzzers, one on the top of the landing to the second floor and the other in our bedroom on the wall by our bed. He said that those were to summon help after his mother became infirm and pretty much bedridden. They still work and can be heard in the attic, which used to be the maid's quarters. When Liv's father visits us, he stays in the attic bedroom and Liv delights in pressing the buzzer at an early hour to wake him up. Or..she did until he dismantled it.
He marveled that the original claw foot bathtubs were still in the upstairs bathroom and the maid's quarters. "We used to have to share bath water," he observed, "and no one wanted to be last, plus Moira used her knuckles to scrub our heads and it hurt like the dickens."
He showed us the faded nicks on our wooden floors where he and his siblings would roller skate when they were alone in the house and no one could stop them. He smiled at the original toilet in our downstairs bathroom, complete with a brown box topper and pull cord. When I said that it flushes so fast and hard that you could put a cat down there and have no problems, he laughed and admitted that he once flushed a bat down there when he was a boy. This brought us to the discussion of the bats we find every Autumn in our house.
"It was the same back then," he told us. "Moira would put our father's derby on her head and shoo them out the door with a broom."
We went outside and I asked him about what was now a sand box for Liv. When I moved in, it was grown over, but on close inspection you could see bits of blue rock and plaster and it had a ledge to sit on. He told me that his father kept a pool stocked with goldfish until he died and then his mother neglected to tend them and they all died.
"We used to be amazed every winter about how they all seemed to be dead, encased in solid white ice and then when the spring thaw came, they would sluggishly start swimming around," he told us.
He thought that a sand box was a nice alternative. And he admired Liv's tree house that Bing and Tinton built.
"We used to beg our father for a tree house, but he never got around to seeing that one was built," he said. "He was a busy man, traveled a lot in his job. My mother used to be so much happier when he was gone, I don't think their marriage was ideal. Their ages were such a discrepancy. When he retired and was home, she used to complain that he was underfoot. And Moira practically hated him. Called him the dour faced one. But, I don't know. I think he was like most fathers of his time. He worked and we were well taken care of."
We invited him back in for some tea and cookies and he agreed and he told us a few stories. He told us that he and his siblings all loved Moira, their nanny/housekeeper/cook but that she missed Ireland so much. He said they often heard her crying in her attic room at night and would sneak up the stairs to sit in her lap and hug her, try to comfort her. "She never stopped pining for Ireland, though," he said, "and as soon as my youngest sister was old enough to look after herself, she gave notice and returned back home."
We didn't tell him about the times that we thought we heard crying upstairs in the attic, but assumed it was the wind. I don't know, maybe it was just the wind. One ghost in the house seemed more than enough!
After an hour or so, he asked if he had satisfied all our questions and we said yes, so he bid us goodbye. We didn't see him again and I saw his obituary in the paper a few years later.
But, now...I sometimes walk around my house and finger the original glass door knobs on the heavy oak doors. I think about the children that grew up here before Liv. On a kitchen door frame, I've recorded Liv's height from the age of 2 years old on up. She is now a few inches taller than me and only in the seventh grade! I wonder if other children before her were recorded. When I bought the house, it was empty and had been empty for years. The realtor told me that the man who was selling it had not been inclined to make repairs, just told her to sell it as is at a lowered price. Until me, no one had thought to make it their own.
So, I'm raising my child here. Have lived, first alone and then with a partner here. There have been so many guests through our doors, so much love and laughter, but I dunno...it must seem quiet to the house after the calls of seven children!
I wonder where they all slept? The house has one bedroom on the first floor that we use as a guest bedroom, but was originally used as a sewing room. We joke that when I am no longer able to climb steps with my RA, it will be MY room. On the second floor, there are four bedrooms and a smaller alcove off the master bedroom that I am told was used as a nursery. It is now a small library. Two of the other bedrooms are Bing's office and mine, and the last bedroom is Liv's. The attic is large and is used as a guest room as well. It has it's own bathroom and a tiny clawfoot bathtub that looks like it would be perfect for a dwarf. The basement has a huge laundry room with an original huge porcelain sink that was used to soak especially dirty linens, I was told. Now, we use it to give Socks his monthly bath. There is another large room in the basement that the son said was their playroom. It is now our rec room and Liv uses it often when she wants to read privately, watch television, listen to her Mumford and Sons cds, study or do crafts. I love it because it is out of the way and can be messy and not bother me. The basement has other smallish rooms that held interesting uses: one was to store the garden vegetables in the Autumn (we still do that!), another room held homemade root beer (we use it for storage, but it always has a scent that is not unlike root beer, it smells slightly foamy and frothy) and still another holds our huge red boiler, not the original one, though. That one broke down within five months of my purchasing the property. It cost nearly ten thousand dollars to replace it. I almost gave in and had the house wired for a furnace but at the last minute, paid the price to keep the house authentic. I am glad I did this most of the time, but admit that I do get weary of relying on window units for air conditioning in the summer instead of central air conditioning.
I hope our house likes us. We used to see our ghost (we named her Madge, after the bride who spent her life here) frequently. Or I did. At first, I was the only one who saw her. She would appear always in a long black dress and her face was serene and gentle. I didn't see any of the vain woman her son described. She came to me, standing behind me in a mirror the first time and I dropped my toothbrush in the sink in terrified surprise. After that, she would appear only as a watery shimmering facade of a person, never sharply defined or with any clarity. She never appeared to Liv and for that, I was grateful. To this day, Liv has never seen her. Once, right after I saw her briefly as I was going up to the attic to find an old box of books, I called out, "Please whatever you do, don't scare my daughter. She is only three and it would frighten her."
She never has. But, when Liv was younger, I often noticed a correlation between the times I would see her and the beginning of Liv getting sick with a cold or a virus. I began to wonder if she was warning me, cautioning me to pay attention.
As the years have gone by, I have seen her less and less. It's been over a year now since I last saw her.
Bing has only seen her once. But, once was enough. She scoffed for YEARS at my telling her of ghost sightings. Would gently taunt me that I was imagining things, had an active imagination. Until one night when she couldn't sleep and went downstairs to pour herself a glass of milk...naked as a jaybird. A few moments later, I heard her come scrambling up the steps and in seconds she was leaping back into our bed and flinging the covers over our heads, whispering frantically, "I SAW HER! THE GHOST! I SAW HER!"
I think that Madge and I are both still giggling over that. The next morning, I went downstairs to find an upended glass of milk on the counter and the gallon of milk sitting spoiling next to it. In Bing's fright, she had left them there.
I wonder what our house thinks of us. If she likes us, compares us to her first children. I walk up and down the steps, smiling. I look at the long unused sand box and wonder about a pond full of goldfish. I think about children roller skating on the wooden floors.
What do you think?