We have lived in so many different ways inside the spaces offered by the house here at 136 Dorpsstraat. We felt right from the start that the ‘house spirit’ of this place was a very shy and simple soul. It was months before I could even sense it – probably because the house had been standing empty for so long. We had to live in the place for 18 months before we could make a start on any renovation or remodeling work – it took that long for the house spirit to get used to us and start to trust us.
In the mean time, we have squatted in the ground floor rooms, changing and adapting their configuration in ways that have challenged the adaptability of the spirit without overstepping its capacity to accommodate us (apart from the occasional blown fuse – the electrical system was very primitive). As the build has progressed, more substantial interventions have been called for, the most radical of which have been Chrisje’s foot through the ceiling in the living room (fortunately not followed by the rest of Chrisje!), the demolition of the chimneys and removal of the coal- and fuel-oil-burning stoves and the addition of the wood-burning stove. The most recent innovation has been the addition of a high-tech hospital bed to accommodate Chrisje as she recovers from the operation on her foot.
Now, with almost dry walls, an almost clean floor and an almost finished source of warmth in the new living space taking shape in the back, family life is starting to move in. This weekend, Ria has been hosting two of her small granddaughters, and I turned up this Sunday to find the traditional living space deserted, and Chrisje, wheelchair and all, installed with her brother and his wife around the table in front of the windows overlooking the garden, with the new stove radiating warmth and the winter sun streaming in. On all available surfaces (mostly floor and windowsills) were strewn the tell-tale signs of small inhabitants, toys, shoes, items of clothing.
It feels like a new beginning – there have been so many already in this story. And so many endings, too – the disappearance of elements, like the workshop and the back house; and the loss of both our walnut trees. First, the younger tree that was blown over by the hurricane in August 2011, and now, on the night of 22 December 2012, the venerable, lightning-blasted old being standing sentinel above the compost corner. We had been expecting it to come down at any moment, since it was so tired and rotten. With all the rain we’ve had this December, it’s no surprise that it chose that night to come to ground. And it came down exactly in the expected trajectory, handily blocking all access down to the orchard, chickens and swales. May it rest in peace. With the time it takes a walnut tree to grow, I guess we will be eating no more home-harvested walnuts in our lifetimes here on this land.