You don’t really own a 205-year-old house.
It owns you.
The house makes most of the significant decisions for the family: Whether that door will open or remain jammed. When if ever the kitchen light will stop flickering. Which small animals will take up residence in the cellar.
If the house doesn’t make the decision, it’s only because the question isn’t significant enough for the house to bother with.
From the time we Brendels took “possession” of this place, on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, we recognized that we were not really its owners, but merely its stewards. The house — which I’ve christened “Dragonhead” — had already lived three of our lifetimes, and unless we screwed up, it would outlive us by another three or more.
Dragonhead has survived more than two centuries of hurricanes, blizzards, floods, pandemics, you name it. When rains of biblical proportions swamped Ipswich, even our neighbors uphill from us were pumping out their basements. But our solemn dirt floor, bounded by the original 1817 stone foundation, remained bone-dry.
As if the house were making a smug statement of fact: “Staying dry. My decision.”
Flooding is one thing, however; cold is another. After the marvelously mild weekend we just enjoyed, it’s almost hard to remember that just one weekend earlier, we were hunkered down for a record-shattering Arctic cataclysm, freezing pipes in homes across the region. Dragonhead may have attempted to say “Staying warm. My decision,” but the double-digits-below-zero wind chill proved too daunting for the elegant old warrior.
We awoke on Saturday morning to find that the kitchen sink would not drain, the bathroom sink faucet would produce no cold water, and the toilet would flush but not refill. A couple of drain-reamers later, we had the kitchen drainpipe open all the way to the septic tank. Success! Hope bloomed.
But in the bathroom, the old pipes couldn’t handle the cold. When my wife realized that water was flowing freely through a busted pipe, she raced to operate the shutoff valve, which is in the basement. (She took the second-fastest route she knew, having crashed through the floor a couple weeks earlier, in a now-famous staircase repair accident.)
So as I write these words, there’s no water to the toilet, the sink is unusable, and the washing machine in the next room is an empty cavern, gathering dust. Close inspection of the crime scene has confirmed that the plumbing in this part of the house is utterly inaccessible. We’ll have to pull up the floor to get at the broken pipe.
Meanwhile, I’ll be getting to know one of Ipswich’s outstanding laundromats.
As for the busted bathroom — which was MY BATHROOM — I have no choice but to relocate upstairs, into my wife’s bathroom. I’m okay with sleeping in the same bed, but I haven’t shared a bathroom with this woman in years. This feels weird.
She gallantly invited me to take a shelf in the medicine cabinet, but I feel awkward knowing what she’ll be seeing every day. Like bottles of pills for thyroid, cholesterol, blood pressure — little statues saluting my physical decline. The special kind of floss I really can’t live without. The nose-hair clippers. It’s all just too intimate. Even for marriage.
That’s my opinion, anyway.
On the other hand, what Dragonhead says is: “You needed to move in with her. My decision.”
Doug Brendel lives with his First World problems at Dragonhead on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. You can explore his odd world at DougBrendel.com.