Sunday, May 1, 2005

Everything in Moderation

A New Hampshire Brick Ender-Our House

It is May Day and seventeen years ago to the date--and the day of the week, Sunday--I moved myself and belongings from my fifth floor walkup in a Victorian house museum in downtown Boston to my mother's home in Jaffrey, New Hampshire. All night long I had been hauling boxes of books and assorted pieces of furniture down the five flights of stairs, only to have to climb up them again. A few friends had come, briefly, in the evening before to help move some items but I was proud and didn't beg and plead--I also probably wasn't that organized until the wee hours of early morning. I can't recall.

In those days I had more books than anything else. I slept on a comfortable futon bought at a hippy shop in a hippy town in Vermont. I had two white wicker Victorian porch chairs, my first antique purchases (in a group shop in New Hampshire), and some odd bits of thrown-together practical furniture I had purchased at Conran's in Boston (sadly, the store has been gone for many years). I had a desk and chair from my mother's barn, Mission style, that I had repainted from a dull flat white to an oil-based pink. Altogether it made an impressive showing grouped together for a brief time that May Day morning in the dark front entry hall of the museum. My mother, then-stepfather, and future husband (but not for another eight years) met me at the front door exactly at 6am (or was it 5?). Temple went upstairs and rolled up and taped the futon, the only thing I was unable to haul down myself, and we loaded an empty van and a station wagon and we were off, just as the floodgates of people were walking down Beacon Street on the annual "Walk for Hunger". The morning had dawned clear and cool with the promise of a glorious day.

The whole thing wouldn't have been so odd, except that I was 7 and a half months pregnant and was leaving a great job--and part-time graduate school--for an uncertain amount of time to have and raise my child. There were many unknowns ahead of me but I knew I was on a lifetime journey that was just beginning. I was 25, full of knowledge and self-determinism, and full of conviction that everything would be ok. I was also in the best shape of my life (there is something to be said about giving house museum tours in a fifth floor walk up). A year later, I would return to that museum with my 13 month old daughter to "museum sit" for the new tour guide and coordinate a photo shoot (with two people who have since become great friends) on my first published article (in the January 1990 issue of VICTORIA Magazine on life as a resident at Gibson House). Since that time, so long ago now, all of my concerns about the future have passed and I have been plodding along, as most of us do, sometimes with a plan and sometimes without. And along the way something extraordinary has happened: I am living the life I had always imagined, my daughter is becoming a young woman, and we are pleasantly surrounded by three men: my husband and our two young sons. And here I am writing a book about pantries which got its start in a Victorian house museum with an entire preserved and orderly nest of them.

Gibson House provided my first "real" solo apartment for a year and a half. I had four rooms on the fifth floor, all originally servant bedrooms, and I paid the nonprofit society that ran the place $250 a month for the privilege of living there (not bad rent at the time in Boston, especially for a Back Bay address that was steps from the Public Garden). I also gave tours several days a week, more in summer. It was the ideal scenario as I went to graduate school. My kitchenette was built into a small linen closet that overlooked the ventilator shaft that pierced four floors of the house for light and air. Off the hall was a roomy bathroom, complete with claw foot tub, and several large units of cupboards and drawers were built into the hallway. The woodwork was stained a dark Victorian oil-based varnish that hadn't changed in over 125 years. I didn't possibly have enough to fill all of the storage areas that I did have, as one bedroom had a large built-in storage unit, also. My clothes had never been so organized. I had two rooms I really didn't even use, except to store a few odd things. The servants would have been surrounded by seasonal clothing and linen storage, and were cold in winter and hot in summer as I was. In retrospect, I should have had a roommate to pay me to live there (as that was extraordinarily cheap rent, even for one) but I enjoyed my space and solitude. A couple lived on the fourth floor, although I rarely saw them, and I had friends all over the city to visit.

Now I live in an almost 10,000 square foot Federal house (not including barn storage) and it is bursting with our collections and family "stuff". It is its own museum, of two families coming together and two sets of four generations plus of things: letters, books, china patterns, silver, memorabilia, the chaff of life. I often get wistful for my apartments of the past when I was forced to keep things simple--by budget or design. There are days I am my own worst enemy with the amount of things we must go through or put away (my office has been torn up for months as I try to file papers, etc.).

I write this today because I realize, since starting this blog, that I haven't been back to Curves to workout and I've done little else with my computer time. This is partly because my children have been on spring vacation and the week before that my schedule was disrupted by several glitches. I realize how I crave aerobic exercise and I was beginning to get a regular infusion of it.

So back we go again tomorrow. Like anything else, a lifestyle change takes time to ingratiate itself into our psyche. It is all too easy for me to start a writing routine, like a blog, or several hours each day at the computer or in my office just writing (and soon I will have to be even more judicious about that). It is even harder for me to integrate regular exercise. Unlike my days in Boston where walking two miles or more was standard, not to mention the ups and downs of my fifth floor Victorian eyrie, living in the country requires a car. Unless doing hard physical labor on a farm, we have to make time to exercise and that takes time to do and think about. Before I would throw upon the large Italianate double doors of my museum home and walk out of them, knowing my feet would carry me to whatever my destination.

We are too dependent on our machines. A friend just returned from seven weeks away from her computer and television and did not miss either of them. I would miss my computer more than my TV and I would not miss my phone at all because I hardly use it. The computer through e-mail, the internet, and now this blog, has created a kind of universe I could not replicate in any of the places I have lived and yet, because of it, I can duplicate the same universe wherever I go. Big Brother must be here...I just hadn't noticed.

You are probably wondering, why pantries? To me they represent a safe haven, a secure and ample larder in a hectic world, a small and cozy space, neatly ordered, ready for anything. Perhaps I am just agoraphobic or coming out of several difficult years and no longer want to open the door on the outer world but step within the interior world of domestic spaces. I can't be certain. But I do know that the pantry is a place I enjoy being in or thinking about and finding that others, throughout our domestic and literary histories, do too.

1 comment:

Nancy Fenstermacher said...

Cath, I sent a comment the other day, but I will try another - I love IN THE PANTRY and reading all about what's happening with you and your family and Hancock, etc. You are such an entertaining writer that I do hope this develops into much more than you even thought it would. Congrats again on book contract - we cannot wait to see you and kids soon.
Hugs and Kisses, Nancy