Mary Lou Sanelli
First published Spring 2013
I don’t know how much longer I can live in a condo. Seriously.
Consequently, I’m looking at houses again.
And there is this one house. The first time I parked in front
of it, I was more than a little taken with it.
The second time I parked a block away, wanting to stroll up to the house more slowly, view it as a passerby would, rather than a fan, and I began to think about it not only as a more spacious way of living, but as a reflection of my inner life: in need of filling. I long for a house again the way some women long for children.
Perhaps I peered in too closely, interpreted the house as a mirror more than I should have, but, suddenly, it was as if no other house would do.
I rely on this feeling, this sense that something is precisely right, the way others rely on tools that are specific, like, say, an omelet pan when an ordinary frying pan won’t do.
By the third visit, I’d read all the information I could find at the library about the kind of house she is, a rather frilly old Victorian (my words), considered a little shabby, even kitschy, by some of the neighbors.
But their houses are, well, the word “established” comes to mind. It’s the kind of neighborhood where a house may boast a garage, a few clay flower pots leading up the front steps, or a new deck off the back, but, by and large, they are basically all the same house, white or tan, depending on the light, the occasional rustic-red. And in such reserved company, “my” house must prevail on her own, head held high.
My first thought after talking with one neighbor is how duplicitous it seems that every part of Puget Sound that even comes close to skirting the sea, or boasts a view of it, hardly reflects a working class price tag anymore, so why the bland color palate?
No, I imagine painting my old house an even brighter color, a delicious color that won’t hold back instead of toning her down to ease tensions that tend to bubble when things start to change in the neighborhood.
Not to say the house isn’t admired, she is, just not readily accepted as a “local.”
“Whatever that word means by now,” said my librarian, handing over another book.
“It’s hard not to think about how much work owning a house will be again,” I told her.
“How can you not think about it?”
“My husband is trying to talk me out of it BIG time,” I said.
“Of course he is. It’s not the stardust part of marriage it’s cracked up to be, buying a house together, remodeling.”
For the rest of the day, I thought about what she said.
And I thought about how my conversations with her had begun years ago, in a low register at the counter of the library, how she would always give me a little gift of knowledge to take home along with the books she turned over.
The friendship we developed never went beyond the walls of the Carnegie, but it was continually a lesson in how much easier it is to be yourself when you don’t feel yourself trying, how much better we get at being ourselves in certain company. I have her to thank for that.
My earliest memory of adoring her was the day I overheard her tell a particularly ornery man who spent his afternoons in the library to stop pestering unsuspecting walk-ins with his political views. Obama was up for his first election and tempers were flaring even at the library, apparently. “I don’t care,” she said in a loud whisper, “if you are a Democrat or a Republican, old age is not an excuse to be rude. It is your last chance for the privilege to be kind.”
Who knows if we would have become better friends if we were closer in age, or lived next door to each other, or if I wasn’t so preoccupied with work, with other friendships, with life in general? But it felt like an honor, an everyday miracle-of-an-honor, to chance upon her admonishing a man close to ninety, like seeing a flower open. So it hardly matters when we came to trust each other.
All that matters is that, in the end, there she is, an easy friend, so wise, so right.