At Home Away From Home
I WANDER away from home several times a year. Some are planned journeys; others result from a letter or phone call. The adage about walking a mile in another's moccasins before judging his or her actions has validity. But nothing rivals housesitting for the pleasure of slipping unobtrusively into the lives of good friends. But that, of course, means leaving home. My own house is small, of basic construction, and furnished in clearance-center eclectic. A lovely view of a lake and the Adirondack Mountains is its chief asset. Its solitude in winter is a virtue for me. However, when my friends in the town down in the valley go for a couple of weeks to sunnier places and offer me a chance to housesit, I accept.Skip to next paragraph
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In many ways, my friends' house, with its 1839 plaque over the porch, is the antithesis of mine. One can hear fire sirens and the throaty horns of huge diesel trucks from Main Street a block away. But a stable and a barn, now turned into garages, give me an enlarged sense of the rural history of the area. The rooms are huge, light, and airy.
I settle in quickly after a tour of the house to see that my favorite carved, marble-topped antiques, Victorian photo portraits, and framed needlework are still in place. My friends live comfortably with the historicity of their ancestral house. They have ancestors on one side who fought in the American Revolution and have a vice president of the United States, the only famous personage of the town, on the other. While the past is visible in their home, so is the present, especially evident by a compute r.
When I step out onto the wide veranda which sweeps around the corner of the block I mentally run through the list of places I can get to on foot: the library for some art research, the bank, post office, dime store, drug store (which even sells bread and milk), homes of my friends. The only movie house in a 50-mile radius is also in the block. As I have been a city dweller most of my life, I much prefer the agile maneuvering of a pedestrian to the clumsy parking of a motorist.
Sometimes while I am here and running my errands, I feel a sense of continuity with my early childhood, when we lived in a village-like neighborhood at the edge of New York City. I remember my mother, in the course of her errands, stopping to chat with friends and shopkeepers.
In the evenings I attend literary lectures at the library or concerts at a church - events which I would pass up were I at home. I do things my friends might do. I slip into my friends' life, watering plants, taking in mail, playing fetch with the ecstatic mop-faced dog whose dinner recipe requires three different kinds of dog food. I recognize in their life my own appreciation of history and learn something of the importance of its maintenance as a living presence.
MORE occasionally I get a call from friends who live on an island on the rocky Connecticut shore. Their home was the first I ever house-sat in. At the time I was still living in Newark, N.J. The contrast between a deteriorating inner city - with its museum and public library serving as poignant reminders of past glory - and this superbly elegant exurban house was memorable.
Of all the houses I have seen in my lifetime, this one represents a perfect balance. Its low-slung exterior blends with its stunning surroundings, and its interior space is like a multileveled landscape. Dawn, made more luminous by the water, glows into the breakfast area through artfully placed windows, and sunset flames into the glassed patio where I eat dinner.