By Ginni Spencer
I live in a town with a long colonial history – it was first incorporated in 1729. Over time, farms replaced open fields and newer farms replaced older farms. There were a couple of pretty grand hotels here once, judging from the old photos – retreats from the heat of summer for Boston’s elite. But they’re all gone now and have been since before I came here 45 years ago. So I shouldn’t be surprised that the cycle of demolition and replacement is still going on. The more modest houses built after WWII, occupied for much of my time, are now giving way to the spacious footprints demanded by millennials and their families. I don’t begrudge them that – it’s their time after all and many are built to be energy-efficient.
But I do mourn the passing of individual houses – the ones I have driven by day after day for years and have become part of my inner landscape. Like the house on a corner near mine with the beautiful azaleas. Or the one near the center of town with the Christmas lights strung over the bushes until Easter. There’s another place that added on a sunporch a few years back where you can see in if you drive past at night: a man reading a newspaper, a woman looking at TV. And then one day with no preamble a bulldozer appears on the front lawn as if it had been incubating beneath the grass and burst through full-grown during the night. The next day – the next day! –the house and all the debris are gone, and the site is as clean as a newly-shaved face. I might drive by the day after that and note the blank space with a gasp and yet find I really can’t remember any other details about the place, except maybe the azaleas or the lights that drooped on the bushes as spring came on.
Why then do I feel as if I have lost a friend or at the very least something that was very important to me? Why do I feel as if a mean trick has been perpetrated and I have been cheated out of something I was led to believe was mine?
I think the answer is that without my noticing these homes had become precious and dear; predictable landmarks in the hometown of my mind regardless of whatever relentless change was going on elsewhere in my life. When I made the turn by the house where the azaleas were, I knew I was close to home and I could give in to the fatigue of a long day and let out a deep breath before turning into my own driveway.
And what of the people who lived there? No, I didn’t know them – at most maybe figures on the porch or bundled up bodies shoveling snow from the walk. But still – what happened to them? Do they know what happened to the home they lived in for so long? Will they take a ride one day for a look at the old place from wherever they live now and find that it is gone? Every stick of lumber and every brick, to say nothing of the quirky furnace or the kitchen that was always too small. I picture them driving past and thinking briefly that they made a wrong turn until disorientation is replaced by disbelief. It’s one thing to leave a home but another quite entirely to have the home leave you.
My husband says I’m too sentimental. Maybe. But I really did love those azaleas on the corner and the beckoning of home caught up in their gently swaying branches.