Susanna Salk


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WHEN IS A HOUSE A HOME?
Tuesday, March 11th, 2008

For the past two years since we bought a little lake house, we have rented out our main house for the summer.
As passionate as I am about my home and the things that are in it, when it comes to allowing strangers to sleep in my bed and sit on my sofa, I am strangely unpossessive. I clear closets but I don’t hide anything away. There’s nothing overtly valuable or delicate here: just very sentimental and therefore deserving of staying in its little hallowed place to be appreciated.
In fact it felt less taxing knowing everything stayed and waited for my return rather than having to disassemble my life only to put it back together again like some jigsaw puzzle.
For many years, I was so passionate about our home that I felt under a heady spell that soon felt albatross-like.
Just the thought of moving or leaving would fell me to tears. Wherever I looked I saw memories that brought intense nostalgic as though I was already an empty nester, (when in fact both my boys were still under the age of ten).
There was the sandbox where they had happily pushed metal Tonka trucks our painter (and soon friend) had given them.
Over there on the hill was where we had buried our Samoyed Omar, who we had bought as puppy back in Los Angeles and had been our beloved child until the real ones came along. There was the framed still life my best friend’s mother had painted one day when visiting.
It went on and on, the memory strands infinitely intertwined like vines, suctioned to my soul.
And then one day close friends made an unexpected offer on our house (in order to be near one of their parents who were our neighbors).
It was a high enough offer so that we would have been foolish not to consider it.
After a few primal shrieks of outrage from yours truly, I finally agreed to see what else was out there.
Surely nothing could compare to the house we had fashioned to our exact needs and style over ten long, expensive and exhilarating years.
My broker showed us a house high up on a hill (I’m a sucker for long driveways) which was in as disrepair as our current house was when we bought it.
And instead of feeling repulsed at the idea of starting over, I suddenly felt the familiar prickles of excitement and possibility.
Before long we were sketching out a new kitchen, family room and office, complete with barn beams brought in from Vermont.
The boys were running around the new lawn as happily as they did in their childhood home. How much kids can teach us about adapting to change, I thought admiringly. Although in truth I certainly wasn’t having as much difficulty as I thought I would. I felt like I was conducting an affair against my current house as I came home whistling with with color wheels and renovational magazine tucked under my arm. She had been so good to us, how could we just leave her for an upstart?
Then the deal fell through. We ended up staying. I didn’t know what to feel. I had forced myself to mentally move to the other house and suddenly I was back.
It felt good and disappointing. The worst part was how anticlimactic it felt not seeing our plans come to life in the new house: I had already had it decorated in my mid, every square foot. A virtual house was waiting for us to make it three dimensional. While a real one was waiting for us to come back with faith and commitment.
The good news: the vines now had been clipped and cleared.
I still very much loved my house but I knew now that if I had to leave it life would go on.
In some ways, renting it out, besides being a financial necessity that allows us to have a second home, is a way for me to keep a little distance.
The house on the other hand, tends to act out when we are not here.
Mysteriously just before our renter was to arrive, the kitchen ceiling started to leak even though there was no rain outside. As the paint began to buckle above I called out: “Relax, we are coming back!” Still had to call in major repair.
The mud room door suddenly swelled and the door wouldn’t open. “Why now?!” I called out as the renter’s emails thrilled into my Blackberry.
“Why not save it for when we’re back?!”
The house calls out to me to return or never leave, yet is ultimately patient for what I need to do.
She will always be my first love but if the time ever comes, I need to know when to turn the front door key over to someone else.

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