When I returned to my home state of Connecticut after several decades of living in south Florida, my husband and I made several house hunting trips to Litchfield County. We used all our frequent flyer miles and some donated by friends. We looked at every available home in our price range — Colonials, saltboxes with ponds, ranches, hidden contemporaries with long driveways, and some that defy description. Then…I bought my grandmother’s house.
Not literally, but it was a small cape on a hill, white with dark green shutters, of similar vintage and situation, surrounded by tall trees. Wood floors, a dank basement, and tiny upstairs bedrooms with the sloped ceilings and mysterious cubbyholes were memories from childhood.
Each summer, my siblings and I took turns spending a week at my grandmother’s house. It was only 15 minutes from our own home but a world apart to our young minds. She was a grand character — Irish, spirited and gutsy. The four of us fought for the privilege of spending the first week of summer vacation with her. It was a place apart; it made us each feel special for that week. And there were bedrooms we didn’t have to share — the biggest luxury of all.
Her living room was stuffed full with antiques brought from a Hudson River estate: Tiffany lamps, Waterford crystal, Oriental rugs, and Balzac volumes on the shelves. The centerpiece of the long room was a massive fireplace with dark round stones and a sword hanging over the mantel. We dared each other once to remove it from the scabbard and discovered it was broken in half. I imagined my long-dead grandfather engaged in youthful swordplay.
Outside my grandmother’s two-story, porched home were a hundred mountainous acres of woods with fishing streams, huge boulders, and logging trails. We wandered through the forest for hours, seeking the elusive Lady Slipper, mostly bringing back small creatures and curious stones. She made candied violets when we visited, an exotic treat. As a child I used to imagine, that in the woods were bears, although no one told me that there were.
The backyard was a mishmash of wildflowers, moss and cultivated beds that I inherited from the former homeowner. With warmth and wetness, amazing things grow. Mostly it’s not what I planted; the earth has its own recall. Bulbs and knotted roots and unidentifiable greenery emerged with each season. I pulled it all out several times but something always grew back.
I haunted the estate sales in my new neighborhood for bottles, baskets and books. I chose amber bottles to catch the light in the small front room. It would have served as a dining nook in my grandmother’s day but I remade it into a cozy Irish pub. The baskets were scattered about each room, holding mostly memories. The books filled a wall in the dining area and Balzac was prominently displayed, right next to Stephen King.
Most folks our age are planning the opposite of what my husband and I did: moving from Florida to Connecticut. I felt that we truly came home. When we moved in, I placed a Celtic cross on the front lawn for luck. At our first family picnic, my uncle jokingly asked, who’s buried there? I like to think there’s a bit of an Irish spirit in the ground.
I’m grateful that I left, and I’m happy that I’m back. All I have to do is look out my back window to see all the Fall colors.