Saturday, October 14, 2006


I am in the treetop house -- wobble-glass windows of an old Victorian, a house that used to belong to the town dentist in 1863. He had the exterior painted black back then -- a bit foreboding. I wonder how many of his patients had come for gold.

This top floor of the house was the servants' quarters. I'm sure they knew -- quietly and with hope -- that they had the sweetest nook of the house: window-fulls of hills and the peak of Mt. Tam. I wonder whether the weather patterns of San Francisco were different back then -- the hills much more barren, stretches of raging wild fires. Perhaps they were up here because of a heat that no one else chose to bear. Curious too that in this home they were servants, and across the country there were still slaves.

Did the people here have views of such an issue or did distance breed a sense of irrelevance? I wonder what it is, in my 2006 home, that I am turning the same blind eye to. I'd like to know and face it full view.
Houses are a funny thing. They are a member of the family and then suddenly one day are not. They cease to contain all your living clutter and then fill with another's -- and yet, even so, the door jams remain the same, the height of the ceilings, the soft arches into the living room, the addition your parents put on the kitchen and the remodeled attic they designed in pencil at the dining room table. These continuing elements are what make houses haunting, eerie, are how they can make you ache in your chest.

When I was 16, we moved out of my childhood home. I slept on the 10x14 foot concrete front stoop with two girlfriends the night before strangers moved in. I knocked on the door and came back to visit the next year -- out striped valances were still in the sun room, our brick-orange tile on the kitchen floor.

Then yesterday, 13 years later, a childhood friend called to tell me her mother, a nursery school teacher, was invited to a 4 year old's birthday party. His address: 4400 Q St. So today she celebrated another child on my childhood patio and tried to peek in the windows. I wish I could have gone too, just to smell the shaggy pine that grew in a line up the backside of the house and to see fallen magnolia leaves resting on the stoop like yellow leather boats.

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