Monday, December 5, 2011
The house we now live in would make a good test case for my grandmother. It was in foreclosure when we bought it nearly three years ago. When we came to see the house, it was grim: the bank set the heat just barely warm enough to prevent the pipes from bursting, and had painted every wall the same dirty off-white color. Hardly anything grew in the yard, and in the dirt just in front of the big kitchen window lay a curious pile of stones that had been painted bright yellow.
Was it home when we first moved in? Though my beloved family surrounded me, sometimes it was just plain creepy. Neighbors told us that four or five undocumented immigrant families had been living in the house before it went into foreclosure. We'd find small plastic children's toys in the basement. I wondered about the kids who had played with them, and where they were now.
But it was ours, and little by little we made it feel like ours. I am not always good at acknowledging the importance of our environments (I'd buy myself a pair of shoes - no, a hundred pairs of shoes - before I'd buy my house a lamp). But every time we make a small gesture towards personalizing this space, making it more beautiful and more comfortable, the resulting satisfaction runs deep.
On Friday I had the gas fireplace (yes, the kind you turn on with a switch!) in the playroom maintenanced and checked for safety. It had sat quietly all this time gathering dust. But once we got it working, I felt the primal tug of the hearth and by Saturday we'd rearranged the furniture, rolled out a rug that had been in the basement, and moved a bookshelf. Gabriel and I started these spontaneous efforts, and at a certain point I stood back, very pleased, and said, Look at this cozy nook we've made!
He started giggling uncontrollably. You...said...NOOK!
It is a pretty funny word, when you think of it.
So the children named our new spot The Book Nook. My family and I spent much of Saturday and Sunday morning reading and crafting by the pretend fire. We love it. It's amazing, how a small single thing can create a new way of being in a physical space, new habits and new modes of being together. We got the fireplace turned on, and now we have a cozy book nook.
Maybe home is more than where your family is. Maybe it's the place you create with your family: the place where you read, cook, sing, sleep, dance, create, argue, make up, move furniture around, and welcome guests and neighbors. When we first moved in we could have invited a priest to exorcise the place or a shaman to wave burning sage around, but instead we took the traditional route and just settled into living here, making incremental adjustments as the children grew and we were able. I guess it worked, because when I sat watching Frances read fairy tales in the book nook over the weekend I realized something with surprising clarity: we're home.