Sometimes, it takes a sheer act of will to turn right, not left, at a certain point on our evening walk. Other times, will fails and longing wins.
My husband and I have not lived in what we call "our real house" for 15 years. We've lived eight-tenths of a mile away from it for that long.
But some gravitational force, especially on soft summer nights, propels us back to that street and that house where like love-struck teens, we stop and gaze at the old Tudor — the "old girl," we called her — where we spent 28 years. We left only when it was painfully clear even to us that the place was just too big, too complicated, and too demanding for the likes of us.
But homes retain their claim on us. Enclosed within are memories. Matters of the heart and the soul. A fondness that for us reached all the way to love.
For my husband, it was the stairway, brazenly uncarpeted, grand in a 1920s kind of way, that let him surrender to a house that was always going to be demanding. For me, it was the sparks of color when the sun hit the stained-glass den windows in the afternoon. For our school-age kids, there was no better house in the universe for Hide and Seek.
We forgave the house's caprices. No sensible floor plan. Inefficient heating. Something always broke or failed. It ate money we didn't have in abundance. Local plumbers and electricians would take one look and flee — just what we wanted to do when we saw their estimates.
Our kids begged us to stay put even after they left for college. And again when they returned to the area. Their dream was to be married in our backyard.
"They'll change their minds when the time comes," I assured my husband. I was wrong.
And it came to pass that Jill, Amy, and Nancy all got their wish. On three June days a few years apart, the Friedman brides walked down that staircase that had seduced us from the start.
Then each was escorted by her father down the path from the front door to the old beech tree in the yard. It wasn't planned. He ad-libbed the circling of that much-loved tree for the first wedding and it was a required ritual for the second and third.
Then a few years passed, and we sensed it was time to part from the "old girl." Even our daughters — and their husbands and even friends — prodded us with a well-meaning clarion call for change. Ready or not.
My husband had retired. We were grandparents. And this was the time to sell, the local Realtors kept reminding us.
So the potential buyers came. One couple talked about spreading wall-to-wall carpeting on our old oak floors. Another muttered about the impractical "traffic flow." Wildly impartial, we vowed we'd never sell to them.
Then along came a couple who were as smitten as we had been. But we had to be out in eight weeks. So we were — because we wanted them to be the next custodians of that tyrannical old Tudor.
We signed the papers on one of the worst days in American history: 9/11/2001. It truly felt as if we were moving from one universe into another.
We have been back. An even newer set of owners graciously invited us to their holiday party, and let us roam. The rooms were wonderful — but not the same. The kitchen was beautiful and modern — but the photos on the shelves in the living room were not of our kids.
Other guests at the party knew of our connection, and gave us space and privacy as we wandered. But if they watched this elderly couple, chances are they saw us wiping away a tear or two along the way.
Certain homes have souls, so yes, on summer nights when we can't resist, we walk past, and pause just to look — and remember.