Dad’s House

My dad’s house was first built as a summer cottage along the U.S-Canadian border. Long before we moved in, someone hoisted it onto a flatbed truck and carried it north to a place called Puslinch, Ontario. In 1968, they built an addition off the north side but you wouldn’t know it to look at it—it remained a tiny, little bungalow.

My dad bought the house in late 1990, and it kept changing. The new kitchen formed where the bedrooms used to be, the new stairs descended under what used to be the bathtub. Over time, he built new doors, kitchen counters, bathroom vanities, railings, and baseboards. My mom sewed curtains, painted the front door green, wallpapered the kitchen with apples, my room with fairies, my brothers’ with rollerskates and hockey sticks. The house changed as we changed, grew as we grew.

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The house developed scars, too, like all living things. Our changing heights left marks on the wall. Spilled nail polish remover took the varnish off the hardwood floor. Our games left crayon pictures on the wall here, a caved-in section of drywall there. In other places the drywall bore holes crumbling in the shape of a fist. A hand-made door was ripped from its hinges and spray-painted with the taunting words, “Drink More.” The house hurt as we hurt, too.

In 2001, we left my dad and the house behind in a hurry. When my mom returned with a small team of close friends to gather our things, she could only wander around stunned and distraught as they hastily put everything in boxes. When they drove away the house stood in their wake, gutted. Stripped of the parts that made it a home. What was left was allowed to remain strewn on the floor for the next 17 years that my dad lived there alone. The house became a relic of an old life. Layers of dust and smoke settled on the wallpaper apples, fairies, and rollerskates that lined the rooms that no one went into anymore. The house began to grow piles of Levi’s jeans, empty beer cans, retro porno mags. Eventually, the backyard amassed so many water tanks, toilets, copper pipes, and Ford Thunderbirds that the township ordered it cleaned up. A few years later they came back, this time with an offer to buy the house to make room for a bigger highway. A good offer. Perhaps the only offer for a home that now only housed piles of abandoned junk and old scars and a little man shuffling around it all.

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My dad tried packing on his own but could only wander around stunned and distraught at the sight of every old toy and piece of garbage that had been left untouched for almost two decades. A long-time friend stepped in, packing load after load onto his truck long after my dad peeled out of the driveway. The house had been still for so long. But the unused rooms that were avoided like old wounds got ripped open again as another small team of close friends cleaned and packed as fast as they could to hold an emotional disaster at bay.

It took my dad and his friends two months to hollow out the house. They scrapped what they could for cash and burned the rest. On the last day before the township returned, they sat at the back of the empty house—on the porch my dad had built years ago—and cracked a beer. We Did It, they said, and bumped fists. Surveyed the empty lot, the last load strapped to the trailer, the grass pressed down in the shape of things that weren’t there anymore. They looked at the riding lawn mower. Talked about how to fix it, debated if the issue was mechanical. After all, some insides are easier than others.

When they drove away for the last time that day the house was still standing, and still will be, for a while. But no one who walks through it again will notice its carefully chosen wallpaper, or remember how those holes got there, or trace either with their fingers. No one will pay attention to these little stories a house has to tell. Soon, it will be over for my dad’s house that was once a cottage in southern Ontario, that was hoisted onto a flatbed truck and carried north, that grew with us and hurt with us. There will be no starting over this time, no ninth life waiting in the ranks. Soon the house will fall, relieved from its duty, and rest in ruins. A mess of rubble and reminiscence. And soon the town will pave over it, and the commuters will speed into the city, where the little man will live—on the outskirts, in a tiny, little bungalow.

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