Two years ago, I stood in front of the house that was my great grandmother’s. I made my father take me there so that I could see the neighborhood where he and my grandparents grew up, so that I could see the two houses that stood next to each other, my grandfather’s family’s house and my grandmother’s family’s house. I stood between the two and looked up. This is the place where they met. This is the place where all of my father’s stories from his childhood take place. These are the houses in which my ancestors walked and talked and laughed and loved and lived.
I can’t really explain exactly what I felt that day. But I can say that I knew immediately that this was a place I wanted to be. I longed to go into the house in front of me, to hold the railing along the staircase where my great grandmother walked. To sit and read in the living room where my family had done so.
I’ve dreamed of one of these houses for two years. I’ve not mentioned these dreams much, for fear that everyone I know would think that I am crazy. Instead, I wrote a novel about an old house on Pittsburgh’s Northside. And I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that though I had never been inside, this house was the one that was in my head the two years I was writing it.
And then, one month ago, the house went up for sale.
Don’t get too excited. This story doesn’t end that way. Yet.
This past weekend, the realtor met me and my parents in Perry Hilltop on Pittsburgh’s Northside, and he opened the door to the house that I’ve been dreaming of all this time.
When we walked in, we were in a huge entrance hall with a beautiful, dark wood staircase. And stuff. Stuff, everywhere. Bikes and weight benches and pictures and clothes. The most beautiful marble fireplace and tile surround that I have ever seen.
Fireplaces ripped off of the wall, lamps and lightbulbs hanging precariously from wires, floorboards missing. Transom windows over all three bedrooms.
A bathroom smaller than I’ve ever seen, a toilet tucked into a small cave. The brightest, most beautiful light in every room, even the basement.
My great grandfather’s workbench, still against the wall in the basement. Sparks flying from the lamp I touched against the wall, a chintzy ship’s wheel that my dad tells me was there the last time he was in the house.
A porch falling off, a hillside caving in. A back porch with the original beadboard ceiling and a place where you can drink your morning coffee looking at the woods below.
A beautiful tin ceiling in the kitchen, cabinets still full of food and things piled so high you can’t walk between the living room and the dining room.
This is my dream. Well, one of them, at least. And it’s a big one. I don’t know if I’ll be able to make it come true. But I do know that no matter what happens, I will always, always be endlessly thankful for this afternoon, where I walked through my great grandmother’s house and heard the stories of those who came before me. Here by this window is where my father’s earliest memory of Christmas is, and here on the porch is where my great grandmother pointed bricks to keep the house in good shape after her husband passed away.
I hope that this house has a new life, I hope that I can see it restored to its original beauty. I hope that I can see my detailed vision come to life. But if it isn’t restored, if no one can save it, at least I got to be here. At least I got to stand witness to what it is and to what it was, to its builders, its artists, and to all the people who took such careful care of every small detail over the years.
This house and the people that passed through it are important. They matter. And I will hold a place for them, always.
I’m not ready for this project. When I dreamed that I would buy this house, it was always years down the road, when I was older and stable and had at least one (smaller, easier) house restoration under my belt. Maybe even when money is not an obstacle anymore.
But the house is for sale now, and I don’t know that I’ll get this opportunity again, so I’m going to try. I’m going to see what happens. If there’s anyone out there who can point me in the right (or any) direction, I’m all ears.
Thanks for stopping by today and for listening to my heart.