Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Home and Hearth

Our home was built in the nineteenth century, and like most homes of its era, it has a fireplace. We have only used it once or twice. Currently it is so stuffed with spruce needles and cobwebs that we would burn the house down if we tried to light a fire in it. But fireplaces have hearths, a raised pad of bricks or stone that protects the floor from spitting sparks or rolling coals.

During toddlerhood, we kept our hearth covered with the cushion of a patio chair. Now that all the kids are big enough to walk without toppling, we pitched the cushion (seven years of stains, and it doesn't fit in the washer) and left it bare.

Though it rarely stays bare. If it isn't covered with toy boxes, the girls have cleaned it off to use it as a stage. For four small people, it is the perfect place to stand in your mother's gaze and pretend to be Cinderella or a brave knight or a fairy queen.

Once, the girls wanted to put on a Nativity play, and they brought me into the room to be the audience. "Lie down on the couch, Mama," they said, "So you look like a bigger audience."

I happily complied.

"Close your eyes, Mama, so you can imagine the scenery better."

Well. I didn't want to disappoint them.

Thirty minutes later they woke me up and said, "What did you think of our play, Mama?"

I thought it was the BEST PLAY EVER. I clapped SO hard.

Today my girls performed Sleeping Beauty. They collected every canister of pens and pencils in the house and lined them up in front of the stage to be the thorns that grew around the castle. There was a princess, a prince, a good fairy and a witch. There was a castle and a spinning wheel and a dragon. A pool noodle was a lance. I stayed awake this time, but clapped just as loud.

Motherhood rearranged my life. Things that I had always found useful suddenly seemed pointless. Priorities I'd always had slipped to the bottom of the list. It didn't happen all at once, and it didn't happen painlessly. But eight years into this adventure I realize that my essential self is still here - all the pieces of personality I think of as me are still present - but they have been put to new use. Some days it is painful, and some days exciting.

The architect who designed my house could not predict how it would be used in 100 years, but he built it to last. Sometimes I think of him, whoever he was, and wish I could thank him for my sturdy home. I wish I could tell him what a peaceful home it has been, standing strong through the changes of a century. I wish I could tell him to be proud of his design: the hearth is still in the center of this house, and it still keeps me warm.


  1. I'm not very interested in thanking the architect of my house. But I'd sure like a few minutes alone with the asshole who removed the walls around the stairwell and put in deck railing.

    It's so sweet that your kids put on a play. And they let you engage in horizontal parenting!

    [I just read your post out loud to my husband -- he found it very amusing.]

  2. We have a picture of the elderly 1st owner of our house calmly on a ladder fixing the roof and it's weirdly comforting to think of our very, very old house as a place that has sheltered many people before us and will continue to do long after we're gone, too, probably.


  3. What a lovely post! Our home was built in 1962, and apparently it had the garden that put all other gardens to shame. By the time we moved in, the subsequent owners had let that garden become a shambles of weeds, etc. It's taken years, but finally the garden is built back up to what I hope would have made the original owners proud.

  4. Love the BEST PLAY EVER!!

    Our house was built in the 20s and has a hearth that is often a stage. This is one of my favourite hearth-as-stage pictures.

  5. Love this post and the description of your home, your daughters, all of your imaginations.

    The problem with Colorado is that any dwelling built in the 19th century is rare and usually converted into some sort of museum (come see the tin coffee pots in the cabin!) Living somewhere relatively new means not having much of a history, which is a trade-off.

    I suppose that means I can look at our home, built in the 70s with a fireplace and hearth) as a place where families will work and play long after we are gone. I hope. We are at the beginning of a sweet legacy.

  6. Lovely post. Sometimes it is easy to forget that things existed before we were here and that, hopefully, they will go on after we are gone.
    I wonder what kind of plays the past generations living in your home put on for their mothers.

  7. This is wonderful.

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