1591 Compton Road
When you live in a house, you hardly see it. Of course, you see it, but you take seeing it for granted, It becomes a habit. You see it automatically, but without intention, without attention, without appetite or invention. It is just there which approximates not being there. Then you add time and distance, all the accumulated incidents, accidents, passions and pleasures and defeats of living. It is submerged. Or better yet, it is buried in your life.
Then a friend shows you a picture he has taken in the far off city of your birth. A picture of the house, changed but recognizably itself. The hundred year old elms are gone. The luxuriant rhododendrons and mountain laurels flanking the steps up to the front porch are gone. But the house, with its two dour gray wings, one a library, one a screened in porch, is more than reminiscent.
There is a shock of recognition, like a depth charge in my mind. Not only is the house reanimated, rescued from the accustomed dullness of habit, but so many memories come flooding back of when I lived in that house and all that I lived in that house. The house is suddenly living and ferociously so. I have trouble sleeping the night after I see the picture, this portrait of a being with whom I was intimate. Or perhaps the tense is wrong : this portrait of a being with whom I am intimate.
I do not simply wander the house and the yard, but also the halls of time. I smell the smells. I hear the sounds. I listen to the voices of persons long dead, persons that I loved and still love. I know what they are saying even though they are not here to say it. My father tells me for the one thousandth time that doors are made for closing. I can hear the rasp of irritation in his voice. I probably am no more likely fastidiously to close doors after this. Maybe less.
I smell the new mown grass I have cut. I see the reds of the currants, of the sour cherries, of the darker raspberries. I see the grapes on the arbor intertwined with the wisteria and its long seed pods. I see the snow coming down, taste the gray of the days from November to April, taste the worry over money, the deeper and darker worry over health joined to it.
I am disoriented and oriented all at once in remembering. And then the April ecstasy of the return of light and blue sky and my mother’s mood lifting to become too high, so that she was unavailable in a different way, but still unavailable, the constant. In that house, I lived and loved and suffered and grieved and rejoiced and found and lost myself and still do all that in that that lives inside me as I lived inside it. I am that house’s house, still a child even past seventy.
All this comes back with an image. And yet I am not only a child, but someone who watches himself, who knows himself. In his knowing there is still the hope he had in that house, changed but enduring, recognizable, cherished.