By Narcissa Lyons
Perhaps it was doomed from the outset with a name like “Lazy Acres” because that is what the estate sign read at the bottom of the hill when first we drove up in 1977. I found out the other day that Lazy Acres, my mother’s house, finally sold. That our home and home base finally sold. I say finally because the place, while once beautiful, is the epitome of a “fixer upper”– in the neighborhood of several hundred thousand dollars to do it justice. It sits on top of a hill in the middle of five acres, has an in ground odd-shapen pool with a poolside cabana, plus a guest house at the end of the driveway. Sounds rather luxurious I realize, but it withered over time since from the onset my parents could not afford to maintain it. If a house is not maintained it will slowly fall in on itself, which is what it aggressively did, particularly in the last 10 years or so.
And then the house was lost, a real debacle of life. I assumed it would have been bought by a general contractor and parceled off or razed to the ground for a fresh, magnificent start, but an older couple bought it instead because they fell in love with it and want to fix it up (it is a weird type of French Colonial, about 5000 square feet and had the best bar room you can imagine). That’s a good thing, but it is a finality. The year it fell out of our mother’s possession was obviously not good, and my own family of four had even driven up the driveway a few times since just to remind ourselves what we no longer had, took ghoulish pictures of my children’s eerily lit faces behind which stood the eerier house.
When we were older, living there or visiting, all of us complained about the condition of the house, how it was always so cold in the winter because it was made of stone and brick, the spider webs everywhere, disheveled back patio, bittersweet invading, you name the hazard–but we had a meeting place about which to complain and we had thrown some kick ass parties over the years that eventually lamed out appropriately as we were all forced to mature, but we met. We swam. We dined and heartily conversed, albeit it in mock finery.
Because it was such a big house, it was the predominant meeting point for the larger family whenever there was a birthday or holiday, and my family was also able to sleep over, saving considerable amounts of money in the process, and hence visiting more than we do now. We used to go down around eight times a year, and that has now dwindled to less than half that. As our children have grown it is less and less palatable to stay in one hotel room, and we are not yet able to swing pent houses on a regular basis. The other branches of the family, while occasionally able to offer up their home, cannot do it regularly because it is either unreasonable due to smaller space, food provision or “stuff” logistics, or because aunts and uncles are getting older, wearier at the prospect of hosting.
Not to have a central point is a devastation, a theft of some kind. Even if quirky (we have been referred to as the Addams’ family by several of our friends), family is so important, and communicating through email is a lot more work, the phone call that much more rare because of schedules. The knowledge you can always make a call defers the act, but a visit is in the books. Besides which, relating an experience is not anywhere near sharing an experience—the calm of a summer breeze, the taste of home spun delicacies, the swatting of bugs or the stoking of a winter’s fire while the wine is poured. OK, and the silly political squabbles, European or American—a common battle in this family since my generation is first generation and we hear about it. But we all have those rehashed topics and winless battles of marginalized facts. And it’s all part of this family’s dynamic that is no longer. We may have raised our eyeballs in exasperation at the thought of having to mix some personalities, but we greeted, caught up, ate and wished the other well during the coming absences.
I don’t want to etch a perception this is a note of only sadness or ruefulness, because yes that’s part of it, but so is deeply fond reflection. It was time to say good-bye before it swallowed whole the remaining tenants, and life evolves–we will figure it out. Countless crazy memories are in those walls, on that property, that Halloween house (below picture is Brutus, who I never had the displeasure of meeting and can only gleefully imagine my sister Paulette’s reaction to when she did, and he is guarding the bar room to which I referred)
I have learned since the writing of the last sentence that the demise of Brutus was a combination of a Swiffer and an iron, the courage of which to wield took a few hours. RIP Brutus. A deer once ran through the front door and out the back, even with six slate stairs en route. There was purportedly a mountain lion in the woods one summer and I tried to go after it with a large kitchen knife while wearing a fur coat over a bathing suit. I cannot recall the intent and am uncertain what the outcome would have been had the beast been found. Some normal things too—touch football in the front yard, playing pong and watching old TV shows in the basement whilst drinking tea, wrestling, first cigarettes and what-not, the best Thanks-giving dinners I have ever had, the holiest Christmas evenings of which I have been blessed to be a part.
The matriarch of the family, my Hungarian grandmother on my mother’s side, lived for many a year in the cottage at the driveway’s end, seemingly the gatekeeper, begrudgingly letting in a non-family member after worth was proven. Later on, when age demanded she stay up at the main house, she still kept a certain kind of peace and regular visits to her side by her sons kept things moving–astir. When she died, the house felt it, got ballsy in it’s own undoing. My mother, who had taken care of my grandmother consistently and then constantly, was then suddenly sapped upon her mother’s death. Time to move on, time to get goin’ (a nod to the ever correct Tom Petty).
Many things were learned by the likes of us–parents, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles. The walls heard laughter, whispers, debating, cantankerous wenching and wishful slamming doors, the sometimes peace of emotions at rest. The critters who lived there saw teens running through the house, dancing on furniture (sorry mother), parents contentedly reading or lecturing at the dinner table, constant piano practicing and later playing with eager and many voices in varying degrees of sobriety. It was not Led Zeppelin overplayed that made me sick of Stairway to Heaven (still am), but the frequency with which we sang it along to the piano, no matter the passion with which we beat it to death. Mischief entwined with the mundane. Quiet punctuated by the not so rare maelstrom. Fare thee well home on the hill, place of weird and wonderful personality, source of many years of fun-ridden mayhem. What a grand, tumultuous ride. With as much grace as I can muster, I wish upon the new residents a continuance of cool stories, legendary moments and lasting peace.