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My House Talks to Me by Lisa Merrill, May 1982 PDF  | Print |

As I approached its stone steps and began to ascend, moans echoed through my ears, pounding at my head. Each step revealed her face, from which the tears of years past had long since dried. Dried, crumbling, and rotting from abuse and from her long lost hope for salvation. Nearing death, only moans could be heard as the beveled glass door opened.

The passage from the tiled foyer into the entry hall was a passage back in time. It was not an ordinary step back in time for it was mirrored, showing two periods of time. The leaded glass, the blackened brass chandeliers, the six fireplaces with magnificent tile and mantels long since bricked up, the massive oak staircase, the music room ceiling still rivaling any who dared to compete, al revealed a period of time when grandeur and elegance ruled the old mansion.

But the other side of the mirror was a nightmare of oak pocket doors nailed to the floor, falling plaster, numbers on the doors indicating the seventeen apartments, blackened and bubbled varnish hiding the walnut beneath, partitions, kitchens, and scars from landlords chopping at her woodwork to install bolts.

She had lost all hope and was reconciled to a deterioration that was picking up momentum, climbing her oak staircase, I was aware of its soft gentle rise, of its sturdiness, and of the craftsmanship in its baluster and spindles. I stopped to stroke her railing. Finding no splinters, I sat on the step and ran my fingers around the spindles, realizing a series of three, each carved differently. Stroking each one ever so gently, a tiny stretch was felt and an extremely faint sigh could be heard, but only I was aware of it.

However, in time my senses were keenly attuned to all of her sounds and movements. Running my hand up the railing as the ascent to the second landing ends, I beheld massive walnut doors with transoms. My imagination went wild wondering what secrets were held behind these closed, blackened doors. Beyond these doors the mirror continued to reflect two ages. My now the early years were all I saw, but my senses still felt her pain.

While on my knees in the master bedroom, I became convinced that she still had breath and that she was using her last bits of energy to talk to me. I tore at the linoleum nailed to her beautiful fir floor.

The same instant that I tore off a large section she gasped at the fresh air. Her strength and determination to survive penetrated my and as I felt the water damaged wood from another kitchen sink to discover rot had not set in.

Her sighs and moans became so clear to me as I continued to touch her brass, her tile, and her magnificent wood. She sensed my touch, my feel, and my heart for what she once was. And, as if struggling in a last heroic effort, she pleaded with me for her salvation.

For every injustice done her, she made me note something, which survived the torture of more recent years. For every wall with severely damaged plaster, there stood a strong one with minor cracks revealing her struggle to remain strong.

As I felt the holes where the missing spindle in the third floor balustrade belonged, my heart sand and my eyes dropped toward the first floor below.

But with great strain, she lifted her head every so slightly to show me her pride at having retained all other spindles. The weak smile across my face and my hands now stroking the spindles near the missing one, told her that I understood.

Her sounds and feelings rang louder and stronger inside of me as I began the descent. Touching the family crest in the entry hall fireplace mantel made her muster up one more tear from the dryness with her woods. The tear was shed for her lost love . . . the love of those who gave her birth and gave to her a position of grandeur.

As I exited that afternoon, I knew she had used all remaining strength to show me what was left of her early years. She knew I heard, she knew I saw what she wanted me to see, and she knew that in my brief passage into the mirror of her tow lives, I not only saw her glory, but cried for and felt some of their defeats, transgressions and injustices.

I didn’t want to leave her that afternoon, but fear for my own survival at the thought of linking my life with hers began to creep in. Yet as I closed the door and rubbed the brass doorknob, she, with the wisdom of age and suffering, knew what I did not—she knew that I would be back.

Note: Lisa with her husband Jim started the restoration of 3328 Harrison Street in the late 1970s. Their house was on the Hyde Park Historic Homes Tour in 1979.