July 23, 2020

Listen to “House” on Spreaker.

 McAlpine St. House, photo courtesy

The second house I lived in became a recurring and enduring nightmare long after we had moved. My first house was a row home in South Philly, which marked my brief Return to the City phase, back in the late 70s. That phase ended with the birth of my twins, when I realized my lily white suburban background would mean my kids would get eaten alive on Philadelphia’s mean streets. That second house was in upstate New York, in the rural foothills of the Adirondack Mountains, and represented my brief Back to Nature phase, during which my kids were faced with simply being eaten alive, whether it be bears, mayflies or the relentless Siberian winters there.

“To say it was a drafty old manor was like saying the Titanic leaked.”

The house, a turn-of-the-twentieth century, gabled and wood framed manse required attentiveness, DIY capability and unlimited funds to keep it upright. And these just happened to be the three attributes that I lacked. To say it was a drafty old manor was like saying the Titanic leaked. To say it was impossible to keep warm was to admit Hell had indeed frozen over. Even cutting the 30 odd face cords of wood we would need to get us through the winter (which lasted from Labor Day to Memorial Day, the rest of the year was just bad skiing), and buying as much fuel oil as we could afford, plus the kerosene heaters in the bedrooms, electric blankets on the beds, the house remained cold enough that we never had to worry about the kids’s popsicles melting all over the furniture.

We lived there for almost six years, until the isolation and brutal cold got to be too much. After leaving the North Country of New York for good, I would sometimes reflect on how close we had come to being stuck in that environment with no escape possible. Simply packing up and leaving with no job would have left us with a house we weren’t likely to ever be able to sell. That was the seed of the recurring nightmare.

In one version of the dream, I’ve agreed to transfer back to New York, and move back into the same house. As soon as we move in, I’m aware how stupid I was, and I realize then I’ll never be able to leave, and things were just as cold and isolated as they always were. In another version, the house leaks like a sieve, and every room has a bucket collecting streams, not drips, of cold, fresh, mountain rainwater. And again, there’s no escape, and I awake in a cold sweat, and the eventual relief that it was just a dream. Ironically in real life, the area had the coldest climate but the warmest people I’ve encountered.

Recently, the kids looked up the old address, and we found that all the things that I had never done had been done. The house grandly gleams like a country estate now, restored, polished hardwood, modern kitchen, carpeting and fresh paint throughout. With all that, it would still sell for less than what I paid for the mobile home I’m living in currently.

The pictures have ended the nightmares, and even have me speculating that the place would make a great country retreat for summer or winter activities. Which just proves we do in fact make our own nightmares.

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