A few weeks ago I dreamt that we'd purchased a new house not far from our current home, but the previous owners hadn't cleaned out their things before leaving. Every room and cupboard was still full. And all of the things were old. I cleared out cupboard after cupboard of 70's style dishes and mugs and old appliances. There were walls with faded wallpaper that I stripped for painting. Floors with scuffed linoleum that I tore up. No matter how much I threw away and no matter how many rooms I painted and updated, there were other rooms that needed to be cleaned, with closets full of things that needed to be sorted and thrown out, walls that needed to be painted. I woke up before I got to experience the relief of seeing it finished. That is the theme of so many of my dreams.
Tonight, in real life, we went to a housewarming party at the new home of my husband's colleague and his wife, both very lovely people. Very soon after coming into their house and starting to learn its story I began to feel the uncanny sense that I was in a dream.
The house was built by a botany professor who stayed for 50 years until forced by age to be moved to a retirement home. Everything in the house was outdated and ragged, from the carpets that was worn in paths that he'd walked thousands of times, to the mold on the old kitchen walls and rusted metal cabinets and peeling window frames. He had added greenhouses and workshops to the house over the years: A pottery studio, still filled with stacks of notebooks with entries dated from the '70s and handwritten notes tacked to the walls and piles of frail yellow catalogs; an attached greenhouse entirely for growing orchids, with pots strewn around half filled with dirt, and the leftover brown stems of plants still curling up the mesh on the wall; an outdoor greenhouse with broken cinderblocks left broken and half buried in the earth. And his workroom in the basement was lined with benches and shelves piled with quirky, odd, old things and tools and appliances, partly finished projects. Two enormous scythes hung from the wall. The yard outside was wild with bounty and history; between every flagstone was some herb growing now out of control; around every corner some enormous tree was growing, planted by his own hands decades ago; fruit trees spilling their fruit into the lawn. The garden overflowed with years of carefully prepared harvests that had begun to go untended. I have never been in a home that so much seemed like the physical manifestation of a self and a life.
And I knew that a person could live there for years, and work on it for years and still round new corners to find new objects to be turned in their hand and sorted through; more windowsills needing to be stripped and painted; more notes tacked in hidden places scrawled with faded pencil memories.