The stories houses tell

Every house tells a story.  Who lived here before you?  What did they do?  How did they live?  Was there more happiness and laughter than sorrow and pain?  Were children born here?  Did anyone die here?  Why did they leave?  Where did they go?  These are just some of the questions that fill my mind when I look at a house, especially an old house.

I love history. That, combined with a natural (almost feline-like) curiosity, is what motivates me to research everything that catches my fancy — family origins, different countries, cultures, religions and, yes,  houses.

So, when we bought our historic home in the bohemian  (as in “free spirit, eclectic, artistic”) village of Coconut Grove (in South Florida), I was thrilled.  What struck me was that the house had really, really good energy.  Now, this is not my imagination.  Every friend or family member who has either visited or stayed overnight in this home has said exactly the same thing:  It’s got good vibes.  And, I’m happy to say, it’s also got good bones.

But,  like most  old houses,  it is not without some “challenges.” Built in 1928,  this small house – with loads of windows and creaky floors – has been a haven for many families. Laughter and tears, births and deaths, triumph and defeat – it’s seen it all. Now it’s our turn to play a role in its long history.

Coconut Grove was first inhabited in 1825 by an influx of Americans from the Northeastern United States, as well as British and Bahamian immigrants. Formerly an independent city, Coconut Grove became annexed to the city of Miami in 1925.  It is Miami’s oldest village and the beautiful architecture, rich tropical flora, artistic community, delightful restaurants, cafés and shops make it a highly desirable place to live … or, at the very least, visit.

Native flora in Coconut Grove

Our cottage-like house was built by the Bahamians (as in “from the Bahamas”) who first lived in it.  As was customary at the time, builders made use of all the available natural materials indigenous to the area, such as coral and Miami-Dade pine.  Homes were simple, yet full of character.  Back in the day, there was no air conditioning and, as such, air flow via windows (windows, windows, everywhere!) was  how the steamy South Florida weather was made bearable.

Thankfully, the previous homeowners have managed to preserve much of the original character of our home.  We have thick Miami-Dade pine frames around all doorways and windows. We have a beautiful coral fireplace.  And, we even have a barn — complete with the original doors!  Of course, we currently use it as a garage but we intend to convert it into a two-story architect’s studio with a roof-top deck. However, we will keep the first floor (with original doors) completely intact.

Our “barn” (with Bacchus standing guard!)

We’ve had to streamline our life. Over three decades, we’ve collected so much “stuff.”  Too much stuff.  At some point, it becomes almost obscene, this collection of material things. When this house beckoned to us (it really did!), we knew that it was time to downsize and simplify. So, we’ve been taking stalk of what is really important to us and, amazingly, the downsizing process has become quite simple.  There are many others who need these things far more than us. And it’s to these families that we will pass them on.

And, so, the house is a work in progress and its story continues to the next chapter…

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My Silent Companion

He may be silent, but his eyes speak volumes.  He is my muse. A gentle, guiding spirit who curls up beside me whilst I write for hours on end.

As I’ve mentioned before, his name is Bacchus and he will be 11 years old next month.  Surprisingly, although his fur is greying, he is as spry as ever.  Nevertheless, we decided to buy him a large Red Radio Flyer Wagon, complete with padding (bottom and sides) and installed with an “umbrella” to keep the UV rays out. When we take him for a long walk, we lift him into the wagon as he gets tired.  He can lie down comfortably and enjoy the scenery or take a nap as we continue our stroll. I know this sounds a bit over the top but, he is – after all – our “son.” (Note: we also have doggie ramps ready to be installed for that time – hopefully not for a while yet – when stairs become a challenge for him). People do look at us rather strangely, but we don’t mind appearing a little “eccentric.”

We feed him natural, preservative-free food — a combination of home-cooked and Orijen (a wonderful brand – made in Canada, of course!) , which makes his coat shiny and soft.

Bacchus came into our lives when he was an 8-week old puppy. He has been a source of joy from the first day I held him in my arms.  He has taught us a lot about loyalty, love, patience, and trust. Most importantly, he helps us to understand — truly — that life doesn’t need to be as complex as we humans make it out to be.  There is serenity in simplicity.  Bacchus continues to help us keep things in perspective.

Right now, I feel his breath on my feet.  He is content, eyes half-closed and probably thinking that I spend way too much time on the computer.   He’d be right about that.  Come to think of it, maybe I should take a break and take him outside to the garden for a bit. It’ll do him good.  And me, as well.

Signing off for now …. h.f.t.g.

“He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog. You are his life, his love, his leader.  He will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of his heart. You owe it to him to be worthy of such devotion.”    -Unknown

Legacy of Words

I do not have children.  I will not be passing on my legacy through a next generation of my own creation.  But please do not misunderstand or make assumptions.  This was a conscious choice — made by two people who chose a path which focused exclusively on the pursuit of knowledge, advanced education, career, business ventures, literary pursuits, and travel.  If I could turn the clock back, I believe that I would have followed that same path.

So, when I read this passage written by an author I deeply admire —Alexandra Fuller — it resonated with me and, frankly, I couldn’t have articulated my thoughts any better.  In the Author’s Note of her novel, Scribbling the Cat: Travels with an African Soldier, Alexandra Fuller says it best:

“What is important is the story.

Because when we are all dust and teeth and kicked-up bits of skin — when we’re dancing with our own skeletons — our words might be all that’s left of us.”

Words. I hope that they will be my legacy.

h.f.t.g.

Image via arkarthick.com.