Sunday, December 19, 2010


I have always lived in old homes. Even when faced with the opportunity to live in a new dwelling, I have always opted for the space that has hosted many occupants before me and, presumably, will continue this pattern until the property is condemned or turned into a Starbucks.

In addition to the intrigue of living in the same place that a mysterious person once inhabited, there always seems to be something magical to discover about an old home. One house we lived in when I was young, a foreboding brick Victorian house that was equally unapproachable during the day as it was at night. Daytime guests' cars routinely took ominous plunges down our moutainous front lawn, and a skittish alarm system tested even the most seasoned deliverypeople; in the years we lived there, I don't believe we ever had a trick-or-treater. But it seemed the home's previous owners, an elderly couple who had lived there for half a century, were some sort of amateur inventors who left a series of pulleys and gadgets in the garage. Also, an antique Oriental rug with a deep red medallion--a rug that made such an impression on me that I swear someday I will decorate a room around such a carpet, if I ever find one that does the long-since-discarded original justice.

I remember being early school-age and going with my parents to look at a summer home they had just bought. The house itself didn't make an impression at the time, but to this day I can recall the thrill of finding a handful of dimes and quarters in the basement. This bounty also came with tremendous guilt, wondering if the homesellers were aware the money was there, and would they want the house back if they knew about the riches hidden in its basement?

In my adult life, my residences have also proven to be serendipitous. After college, a roommate and I sublet a pre-War-era Manhattan apartment from a staid divinity school professor. His professional reputation was such that his name was known even in those pre-google and wikipedia days. Well, no sooner did we move in that we discovered his decidedly unstodgy side, thanks to the heavily smoke-stained walls that were revealed as soon as his artwork was removed, some paraphernalia on the private roofdeck, and the interesting array of magazines that continued to be delivered for months after his departure.

The first apartment my husband and I rented after we got married, a renovated historic building near the National Zoo, provided us with some confusion because the previous tenant's name was an extremely unusual combination of my husband's and my last names put together. And the first name was Angel, making it seem as if our union was being spiritually sanctioned on the fifth floor in Woodley Park during the Clinton administration.

Several years ago, while on sabbatical, we rented a Brownstone in Brooklyn from a family who were on leave in Europe. This enormous 19th-century home was filled with legacies left for us by the traveling owners: a mold-filled shower and flea-infested sofa. Thanks!

More recently, we moved to our current house which we purchased from a family (with children the exact same age) who decided to move across the street. And our next-door neighbors turned out to include a mother-son dyad whom I had met at my very first Mommy-and-Me class eight years earlier--when we both lived in completely different places. My daughter asks me on a regular basis to tell her about the person who built our house back in the 1920s. I am as intrigued as she is to see what I may find.


  1. I prefer older homes too Karen, they just have more of my favorites things to do when I go home for a visit is take a drive with my sister and look at all the homes we lived in as children (Mom and Dad moved a lot in the same town) and to see how they went from new dwellings in bare subdivisions to lovely old neighborhoods with towering trees and a settled look...
    and of course that gives my age away :D

  2. Hi, Cath! I also have lived long enough to see many a seedling turn into a tree! We have a photo of me as a small child in front of this lovely tree in front of one of our old houses... I heard that subsequent homeowners cut it down to let more light into the house :(. Thanks for your comments! Have a wonderful holiday season! Take care--Karen