I was showing a friend, a coworker, how to see houses on Google maps the other day. She was excited. We looked at her house in England, her children’s homes; one in the Northeast and one in Los Angeles. She kept coming back to a house she lived in, in England, when her children were small. It was her favorite house, back in the day. Her favorite house ever. She longed to return to her home in England.
She searched on one computer, in our reception office, and I was on another. My childhood homes were on side streets and the Google tool wouldn’t focus in on them. Too far from the main road. Realizing that, I searched for a house I had lived in, in Abington, Massachusetts. A house that captured my imagination.
I followed the line on the screen that said 18 clicking closer and closer to my destination. I became distraught. I followed the map clicking my way to Route 139. Then I traced my way back to where I thought the house should be. And it wasn’t there. I did it again. And then again. Where’s the house? Really? Someone tore that old house down? Really?
Nick learned to walk in that house. He learned to open windows, heavy, pulley-less windows, and climb out to play in the yard. Big beautiful windows that let in lots of sunlight. The house was situated to exploit the natural light. Nick didn’t like being a toddler much more than he liked being a baby. He did always make his escape with his trusted best friend, Winnie the Pooh. A raggedy stuffed animal that had survived all sorts of little boy abuse.
Jamie went to her first concert from that house—Jimmy Buffett at Tanglewood. I can still see her sitting under the tree, in the front yard, in her Indian-cotton wrap-around skirt with its matching shawl. We had it made for her. She started school while we lived in that house. She learned all the words to Sioux City Sue, and The House at Pooh Corner—despite being 80% deaf and not yet having hearing aids.
I learned to read Tarot cards there. An Aquarian deck–still my favorite to read. I wrote lots of poetry in that house. Lots. I lived there thirty-three years ago.
The property consisted of a main house, three stories tall, with a cook’s quarters attached, a two-story Carriage House, and a foreman’s house behind that. It had been broken into several apartments by the time I lived there. I occupied the first floor of the main house. Two bedrooms, a living room, a bathroom, and an eat-in kitchen. The person who redesigned it into apartments had managed to keep the original foyer/entryway beyond my door and still create an entryway inside my apartment. Covered porches in front and back. Someone had thought about this house every step of the way. It had character. Not many closets, but character.
I found hidden a staircase behind built-in wall cabinets and bookshelves. Well, I used them as bookshelves. I think they were originally china cabinets. The room they were in was a living room, but, I think, it was originally the formal dining room. Beautifully designed leaded glass kept my books dust free. Leaded glass. The cabinet had been there a long time. I pulled one of the…what must have been…a napery drawer out to clean one day, and there was a shadowy space behind it.
I remember pulling all three drawers, getting the flashlight, lying down on the floor. Turning myself and the light this way and that trying to get the best view. There was a room back there!
Well, sort of. The walls, in the hidden space were covered with cloth wallpaper. Deep rich swirls against a faded white. And there was a banister – an old-fashioned-swirled-at-the-end banister! I adjusted the flashlight, this way, then that, to reveal a staircase that had been walled away behind china cabinets that were so old they had leaded glass. I stared. A hardwood floor made a small walkway to nowhere around it. It ended at a wall that stood as a partition to what was the current front hall.
I roused myself to go and look at the staircase in the front hall that wound up to the neighbor’s second floor apartment. It was old. I touched the wall that hid the staircase. I knocked on it. Beside it was the door leading to the basement. I opened the door and went down. There were rooms down there tucked into corners. A staircase that I knew led to a walled off room. Some open space, some locked. It smelled old, musty. Like it had stories to tell.
Someone tore that old house down? Really?
I called my mother from my cell phone on my ride home. Do you remember that house in Abington? Its been torn down?
No, she said, It’s still there.
No, I looked, on Google Maps—it’s not there. I went all the way down 18 to 139—it’s not there.
Oh, she said. You have to go left at Factory Paint on to Route 58.
Ah. When I got home, I checked. I started at Route 18, found 139 on the map, and traced my way back up Route 58. I turned the view at exactly the right moment, and there was the house. The big tree wasn’t in the front yard any more, and the parking had been expanded. But there it was. I wondered if the current occupants knew about the staircase—were there still rooms in the basement locked with heavy, rusted 19th century padlocks?
I left the image on the screen. I checked my gmail, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin. I looked at the numbers on my blog—at WordPress and Open Salon. Checked the Sox score and ranking. I plugged in my cell phone and iPad to charge. Between each activity, I looked at the Google image again. And wandered in my mind. Ian turned on the Apple TV to watch, first an episode of The Twilight Zone, and then The IT Crowd (if you haven’t seen this, go to Netflix now it’s on instant watch). I gazed at the old house as Rod Sterling said, You unlock this door with a key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension…You are moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas…
Back in the day. It never crossed my mind to research the house. Back before the Internet, I didn’t think to know its story; I just accepted its mystery. Imagined its secrets. I wondered what sort of family built the house—what sort of person redesigned it inside. When? I wrote poetry inspired by the carved wood railings on the porches, the intricate design on hidden wallpaper, the tranquility of sitting on the back porch watching children play, listening to the kettle whistle behind me. No email to check, no Facebook or cell phone. No Google Maps.
Back in a simpler day…
So, help me if you can I’ve got to get
back to the house at Pooh corner by one
You’d be surprised there’s so much to be done,
count all the bees in the hive,
chase all the clouds from the sky.
Back to the days of Christopher Robin and Pooh*
*Lyrics by Kenny Loggins.
Word Count: 1219
Word underlined in blue: reveal.