3654 days ago my house died, killed by an overheated exploding Honda lawnmower at the ripe old age of 269. I know that houses don’t normally “die” – they fall down, or get sold, or burn, but mine truly died. The Barn, for that was its name, was so much more than a house or even a home. It was a concept, a haven, a refuge, a retreat, a party, and a continuous ongoing project. My friend Jerry Short even wrote a song about it. 01 Track 1 Unknown Album (1-16-2005 1-25-28 PM)
I was in Sturbridge, Mass, about 2 hours away when I got the phone call. Chris O’Neill who was working there at the time called me and said “your house is on fire” and I knew I would never see it again. The Barn was a wood structure, built in 1730 and turned into a home in 1960 that my father filled full of books and antiques. We used books as wallpaper – countless bookshelves everywhere.
My father always said it was a fire trap, and the good news was that no one died in the blaze, and all that burned was just stuff. And it made for some wonderful black humor – as in the list of the “Best Things about having your house burn down” . My friends/employees Beth Roed and Lisa Binzel drove me home, and I kept threatening to tell the media that I knew would be waiting that I was going to run for congress as “the first homeless representative from New Hampshire.” Lisa, the PR pro, suggested that perhaps that was an inappropriate message.
We arrived to dozens of fire trucks and friends and chaos. The first thing I noticed was that the peonies that were planted up against the edge of the house had survived. Somehow that gave me enough hope to dry my tears and face the Fire Chief who put his arm around me and held me up as he walked me around the disaster that had been my home. I looked for the granite counter top – and all I could find was gray mush. I found my closet in a twisted mass of Closetmaid smoldering on top of my favorite yellow suit and the remnants of 2 pianos. I randomly picked up a charred remnant and it turned out to be the masthead of the March 1941 issue of Fortune, the first one with my father’s name on it as Managing Editor. I recognized it because it matched the sundial made from the original plate that his staff had given him upon retirement. It survived and still sits in my garden. I call it Time on Time on Thyme.
My cousin called and I apologized to him for burning up the family manse. His response was perfect “You’ve been the curator for too long, go build your own house.” So I did.
There was lots of magic at work. The builder and architect of my dreams happen to be free, it was a remarkably snow-free winter, friends came out of the woodwork to help me rebuild and 11 months later I moved into my new house.
So here it is ten years later, and I still get teary writing down these memories. Because, you see, I still mourn what was. Not that I don’t love my new house, but when the old one died, it wasn’t just a lot of historical objects that were lost, but a way of living. The new house has all the modern accoutrements that one could wish for. Bats, squirrels and other wildlife no longer terrorize my house guests. I have modern bathrooms that work, big airy bedrooms and lovely garden views, a basement that is always clean and dry, a greenhouse and a fabulous home office that allows me to sit here on this gorgeous day and feel breezes wafting across my desk. But for all of that, maybe it’s the times, maybe its my age, but right now I’d give it all up to go back to that simpler time.