You Don’t Look a Day Over Eisenhower

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I feel badly about this. Here it is, the start of a new year, and my house turned 200 years old this past year, and we didn’t even have a party.

We thought about it, we really did. We talked about it, how fun it would be to have all the other houses over, and the birthday cake, and maybe a piñata. But then life got so complicated and busy. You know how it goes. At the beginning, after the wedding, you’re young and in love, and you imagine all the great things you’ll do when you have a house of your own: trips to the park, to let your house play on the swings — who can go higher, your 1817 Federal or the contemporary from Charlotte Road? All the little houses will play in the sandbox, pretending to dig foundations for new construction, even though they don’t really understand yet where new little houses come from. And they’ll ride the merry-go-round till somebody’s toilet backs up.

But then you actually get your house, and it’s just overwhelming. There are mortgage payments and calls to the electrician and how to arrange a house-sitter on short notice when they call a snow day. And you keep putting off the birthday party, telling yourself that you’ll get those invitations out tomorrow, and before you know it, your house is almost 201.

It really was a simpler time back then, when our house was born. President James Madison had just retired, President James Monroe had just been sworn in with only one dissenting vote in the Electoral College, the War of 1812 had been fought to a draw, Americans were hopeful. The future seemed bright. It was the perfect environment for starting new little houses. A carpenter named Timothy Morse Jr. stood at the front of his several hundred acres, on Linebrook Road between Leslie and Lillian (the streets, not the women they were named for) and said to himself, This will be a good place to raise a house. He put up a standard two-over-two-room structure, with a fireplace in each of the four rooms, then enlarged it by dragging a small 1797 barn from elsewhere on the property and attaching it to the new house.

By the time of the Civil War, the house was really just a child, in house-years. By Ipswich standards, the house was still only a teenager during World War I. After all this house has lived through over the past two centuries, it probably deserved a birthday party. People living in this house likely complained about John Quincy Adams stealing the election of 1824, and were scandalized by Grover Cleveland marrying a woman less than half his age. This house survived the Roaring Twenties and Prohibition and all 86 years of the Boston Red Sox World Series curse. Think of how many Ipswich town managers this house has seen come and go. All of them, actually.

But this year was special. Even in Ipswich, with more First Period homes than any other town in America, it’s not every day that a house turns 200. After a heavy rain, I look at the younger houses in my neighborhood pumping water out of their basements, and I realize, with no small measure of pride, that my house is from good stock. The way it got to be 200 years old is by somehow standing where the water runs around it instead of through it, so it doesn’t flood and rot. It’s the real estate equivalent of a healthy immune system.

So yeah, after 200 years, a birthday party would have been nice, in the same way you throw your grandma a birthday party when she hits 90, just to celebrate the fact that she’s still available to party. But to be honest, when we thought about inviting other houses over for our house’s 200th, I got nervous. You know, the classic party-host anxiety: Will anybody show up? Will the houses born in the 1600s want to come to a party for such a young whippersnapper? Will a 1700s High Street mansion bother to come all the way to outer Linebrook to celebrate such a recent run-of-the-mill residence?

We’ll never know. We didn’t throw a party. Instead, we observed our house’s 200th birthday quietly, with just the family, here at home. Nothing too crazy. Yes, we popped a bottle of Drano, and everyone giggled as the kitchen sink guzzled it. But then it was off to bed — for the 73,000th night in a row.

 

 

Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road, grateful that nobody tore down his house in the 200 years before he got to it. Follow Doug by clicking “Follow.”

 

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