The Spirit of a House

Fireplace Before

As the renovation project continues I’ve spent a lot of time on a ladder, paintbrush or putty knife in hand, thinking.

We moved into this house in 1967 when I was 11 years old.  We drove by this house every Sunday for years before because my mother lusted after it in a huge way.  Why, I do not know and never will.

On moving day we were allowed to pick out our bedrooms (although I have an idea they were already picked out for us).  The exception being the room I’m currently doing which is adjacent to the bathroom.  The master bedroom, also known as the creepiest room in the house.

I believe an old houses has a spirit that is palpable when you walk into it.  I think it’s part of the appeal to those of us who live and love these old places.  We can feel the lives that have been lived in them.  The house in Enfield is truly one of the happiest buildings I have ever been in.  Friends have commented on it and it’s the reason we fell in love with it.  Good things had happened in that place over it’s 176 year life.

The house on Fort Pelham Farm is not the same kind of place.  I felt it the minute I walked in 48 years ago.  It has some bad juju and we all know it, just ask my siblings.  I’ve done the genealogy of the place trying to figure out what could possibly have happened here that could give it such a sad vibe.  You know, it’s not just sad, it’s a little angry as well.  I’ve never found anything in particular and sometimes think it’s spirit comes from neglect or “improvements”done by people who knew not what they were doing or were just plain lazy.

Bill and I have done a lot to this place over the past few years.  In the back of my mind I’m hoping that renovating in a thoughtful way will help to disperse some of the bad vibes that have been felt here over the years.  The living room, with its 3 year project coming to a close was the scene of friends dancing on its expansive floor before furniture was returned.  Walls had been replaced, sanding, painting and general TLC had come to an end with a smudge stick of sage from the garden burned to exorcise the demons.  I truly believe the act of lovingly breathing new life into the building itself helped its spirit.  That and lots of laughter with family and friends.

Upstairs the woodwork has been painted, the plaster patched, the wallpaper begins to go up today.  Just painting has made the room feel lighter.  I think as we continue to improve the structure itself and bring in laughter and love the spirit of the place can change.  Once the garden is in full swing I will also be rolling a couple more sage smudge sticks because you never know.

Saving and Sharing Those Photographs

Dad and MimMy grandmother with my father.  I can hear her laughing in the photograph.

With the temperature this morning hovering above zero and it having been that cold for what seems like forever more and more projects are sadly being started indoors.  It’s usually about this time of year when small things start outdoors and move into the bigger spring things.

The past few days have seen a plethora of collections of old photographs being shared with me on social media.  All of them are old and people have had to scan them.  A cousin commented on how wonderful it was that we had all of these hard copies (pre 1950) to share and wondered about how this would continue.  My entire career in photography was based on film.  If in color another lab would process and print it, if black and white hours were spent in a darkroom.  All along the whole process there was something I could hold in my hand.  My negatives were filed meticulously by date and subject and I can still put my hands on them if I need to find something.

With the dawn of the digital age and my activity in it I have had to deal with keeping and finding my files in a whole new way.  I still file everything by date (even though each image is time stamped), then each year is filed in its own folder.  I then make copies of my files and keep them on portable hard drives – sorry, I can never be too careful.  To add another layer at the end of every year I go through all of the files of photographs for that year and pick the best – the ones that would hurt me to lose.  I have them printed and bound into a book.

I started doing that with my first digital camera probably in the late 90’s.  I can’t say that we look at them a lot but they are there and I like having them.  It’s really no different than all of those black and white photos my mother glued onto the black paper of her scrapbooks (or her mother before her).

What I consider the most wonderful part of this digital age of photography is the ability to share all of it – new and old – with your friends and family.  Long ago I scanned almost all of the collections of family photographs as a way of preserving them, putting them in chronological order and sharing them.  I’ve found I have a profound reaction when seeing photographs of my loved ones from long gone that I have never seen before.  This has been made possible through the internet and social media.  My great aunt passing spawned something that started out as a way for people to bond, share their loss and find joy in knowing those that are no longer with us. All of that happened but now it is helping us all to have a better understanding of who we are as individuals.  Genealogy does that to some extent but this puts faces to the stories and the stories are told as the photographs are shared, by mulitiple people.  It’s like sitting in a room with all of your relatives (many I have never even met) talking about people that you loved.  You get so many different perspectives and then you learn that so and so’s child looks just like her Memere.  It’s pretty great.

Today the take away for me it that my father’s family loved life and family so very much.  They laughed – a lot.  They were practical jokers and could laugh at themselves.  We remember the French, the broken English and how all of it translated into love of family (whether we understood the words or not).  We are diminished in a way by their passing but in sharing the photos and stories we see that it continues on in ourselves.