How the defects in my house help me accept my own deficiencies, turning flaws into features.
My house is a grand dame. At over 200 years of age, I don’t think of it as something we own, but rather something we steward. An enclosure for generations of memories past and many more to come. The inspector who gave the thumbs up on buying our house said that if a tornado came through our town, our house would be the last thing standing. It will certainly be standing long after we’re gone, and I find something comforting about that.
I look at my cracked and crooked walls with respect, knowing that these lines are earned. Like wrinkles. They are not damaged, just a little distressed. And yet they hold our home together, stronger than those new houses in the development down the road. Those newbies with smooth walls and straight ceilings. What do they know of hardship and heart? Life and death? Hearth and home? They are young houses, yet to shift and moan and settle into themselves and the earth, still far from experiencing the loving repair of a family.
I grew up in a condo, on the 7th floor of a 31-story high-rise. When my mother sold it, after more than 30 years of living in it and raising a child, there were no sentimental goodbyes for either of us. Stripped bare, it was a condo much like any other. Sure, the rooms were a bit bigger by today’s tiny space standard, but there was no character. No distinguishing uniqueness. No sense of self.
Even though my husband and I have only been in our grand dame for 5 years, if and when we ever sell it, there will be things I miss. Personality traits. The high ceilings with impossibly unstoppable spider webs courtesy of our large Daddy Longlegs population, the crumbling bits of plaster that occasionally fall from said ceiling, the original hardwood floors with handmade nails perfect for catching socks or tripping, the dilapidated front door that requires a delicate lift-and-slam movement to shut in the colder months — only if you want to keep it closed.
But these are the quirks of age. The imperfections of a fully realized personality. There is also the carefully curved plaster wall in the den, the intricately forged radiators in every room, the stacked plank insulation that blocks out almost any outside noise, the original pantry window where the builder and first steward of the house handed out mail to neighbours driving up in their horse-and-buggies. These are the characteristics resulting from commitment, fortitude, and patience, popular in an age before built-in obsolescence.
These qualities together, the blemishes and the blessings, make up the life of house and human alike. This is what I am growing to appreciate. My house will never be perfect. I will never be perfect. But my house is more beautiful to me than any new young thing on the block. What gives me comfort is knowing that integrity, excellence, and the wisdom of age are worth the wrinkles.