There is a beautiful, huge Victorian on Old Mill Road in my hometown, just past the Methodist cemetery, right before the sharp turn in the road that my dad used to accelerate through making us fly out of our seats, giggling as butterflies fluttered in our stomachs. One day while driving home from my grandparent’s farm, my dad told me that my mom wanted to buy that house when they moved back there after her residency, but it never happened. I thought about that every time I saw that house, walking past it the day of my aunt’s funeral, driving past it when I wanted to see if the boy that lived down the street was home, his VW in the driveway. It broke my heart that there was something in the world that my mother wanted, but could not have.
The home I grew up in is a hundred years old, a deep wooden porch wrapping from the front around to the side where concrete steps lie hidden in the flower bed. The doors are dark, wooden paneled behemoths filling the house with warmth and creaks. A key hangs behind the upstairs bathroom door, able to lock and unlock every blackened brass knob in the house, but never used. The front rooms remain separated by heavy pocket doors that open only if you lean into them, their musty antique smell next to your face.
I assumed that one day I would own the house of my dreams, the one my mother never got, a house with the same mahogany trim running along every floor, antique brass fixtures gritty in the palm of my hand. I would have a skeleton key of my own and my children would wonder what stories that key could tell…
But I will never own that house.
I found it about two years ago, flickering through the trees behind million dollar mansions, lost, abandoned in the wake of progress and development. I nearly drove off the road when I saw the For Sale sign, my van tires skidding into the gravel along the side of the road. How had I not seen it before? Only five minutes from my own home, it had been there all along.
Eventually curiosity got the best of me and I emailed the realtor who had first sold us our townhouse months after our wedding and then two years later, our single family home where we were raising our two small children. She was curious as well, so we went to see the house knowing from the start that I could never afford to own and restore it to its former beauty. I immediately recognized the musty smell of the old wood. The red tin porch roof was one coat of paint away from shining in the sun, rows of white rocking chairs stretched out along the wrap around porch, complete with a portico. The glass in the solarium waved, thin as paper. The pocket doors towering above me, nearly touching the twelve foot tall ceilings. Built-in bookcases. A fireplace in every room. A hidden staircase for the servants running from the third floor rooms down to the kitchen. As I stood in the servants’ rooms and looked down on the front porch, I saw a faint circle in the grass, the remnants of a fountain. My heart broke.
About a year later we bought the house we now live in. It’s eleven years old and absolutely beautiful with its Trex deck and neatly manicured lawn looking out onto the regional park that borders our lot. Two white rocking chairs sit on our flagstone porch, one on each side of the front door. This house will never trick me into falling too deeply in love. I can see its flaws – eleven year old HVAC can be problematic – but know that it is the best investment, the most sensible place to live. This house and I will grow old together, creating memories, filling the expansive 4,000 square feet with the laughter of children, their friends, their spouses, their children. The other house hid a lifetime of problems, despite the way it called to me up there on that hill behind the mature trees at the end of the long drive.
It will always be the house I will never own, no matter how I’m drawn to it.