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This old house

First slide

Last week, I moved into a very old house. It’s more than 250 years old. This new-to-me house is steeped in history. It’s also exceedingly dusty and has not a few dents and dings to its name. Before moving here, I was an admirer of old houses; I thought them lovely to tour and to visit — and then to leave, escaping to modern conveniences and sparkling clean baseboards. I admit here and now that I was skeptical about “old house love.”

Turns out that the love of my life loves old houses. Deep down, he’s always, always wanted to live in a house that dates back to the Revolutionary War. So, when his work dictated a move and he was rather despondent about leaving the only state he’s ever called home, I put forward my best attempt at enthusiasm that day in February when he showed me a listing for the house of his dreams.

We took a whirlwind trip to see it in person. He fell in love with the house. I remembered how much I love him. We made an offer and we signed a contract. (There was actually quite a story between offer and contract, but this column has word limits, so I’ll write about miracles another time.) Now, for the foreseeable future, I am the girl who is polishing and shining and learning to love a very old house.

And I do.

I am sure this old house will be full of surprises. Here’s the first: owning an old house is the greatest relief a perfectionist can ever know. I thought that raising nine children would be the cure to perfectionism. When one has nine kids under one roof, it’s completely impossible to control much of anything. Eventually, I learned that perfect was not within my grasp. Still, when I moved out of my former house, I left it in better-than-new condition, as close to perfect as humanly possible. Then, I loaded all my cleaning tools into the car and raced north in order to clean our current house before the moving truck arrived. When I pulled up, the painter’s van was in the driveway. When I walked inside, the painter’s stuff was spread out over every room. It was crystal clear that my plans for perfection were foiled from first glance. Instead of cleaning, my husband and I worked all day to move some old things out and make room for our belongings. We spent some time outside. We cooked a meal for our kids on the grill. And we prepared for moving day.

On that day, we learned that not all our stuff would fit in this house with the very low ceilings. To be honest, my husband has to duck through some doorways. He thinks it’s charming. Without the drop cloths in place, I saw all the imperfections a house can acquire over more than two centuries. And that’s when I learned the first lesson this old house has to teach me: When something is old, you offer more and more grace for the imperfections. When something is old, you might even see the imperfections as charming.

There is no expectation for perfection in this house. We know that around every corner is an antique door or wall or spindle with a story to tell. And every one of them has the scars to prove it witnessed those tales. What has surprised me most as we settle is that I am actually relaxing into this old house. When no one expects perfection, grace abounds. When there is no pressure to make something impeccably unblemished, it’s so much easier to see charm and character and dignity in the way a house has aged.

I wonder what would happen if I could see people through the same lens. I wonder if I could see myself that way. What if — no matter how old we are — we look at the mistakes and the imperfections that we gather with time and experience and recognize in them the radiance they bring to the whole as they take on the lovely patina of age? What if when we soften to see the beauty in the flaws, we recognize how good it can be to grow old with grace?

Foss, whose website is takeupandread.org, writes from Connecticut.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020