05/27/2017 by syrbal-labrys
Some years back, when an acquaintance characterized my house as a “cottage”, I characterized his nigh-onto-MacMansion as “Neo-Victorian.” In some ways, I still think I was correct in that label. The house looked huge from the outside, but inside was cut up into nonsensical spaces, narrow stairways, and a three car garage that had no room for the actual vehicles.
But in retrospect, I should have wondered why I so easily recognized something that could be labeled “Victorian.” My rather normal sized house with one livable out-building is more Victorian in actuality. Six adults live here. Five of us are veterans. All of us have some measure of the mental illness that is called PTSD. It makes for a complicated household. To sew out lives back together, individually and as a family, we cut up the household. It is a place covered with photographs and lots of curiosities not necessarily ensconced in a cabinet. We write in numerous journals with numerous fountain pens.
And space here? Well, it is cut up into very sensible spaces — a garage apartment for our newest fresh-from-the-Marines member and his wife, bedrooms for the Minotaur and I, and one for the Manchild/T-Rex. The Runaway/Raptor now lives in the out-building with his music and dogs and cat. I think of that place as almost the oh-so-British “Club” where the men go and the women rarely. Video games, music, and cold beers rule there.
The den is still a guest room — a full bed boxed into a wall, violets on the shelf over racks of mead, and a German-style corner table that can seat seven that serves as a quiet breakfast nook or alternate office for laptop users. It is a cool room in the mornings, summer or winter, and in spring one can see the cherry tree bursting into popcorn blossom through the window or open door.
The master bedroom was sacrificed as official desk filled “office” space because it adjoins the bathroom with the shower — the one everyone uses; couldn’t have us sleeping in when the up-and-at-’em crew needed showers. I use the other bathroom with the very Victorian double-ended slipper tub. Ferns and plants hang from the ceiling there except in our brief summer.
What could have been called a “great room” in the MacMansion set of homes has been subsumed by food here. A rather massive table of oak sits there, extendable to the length of the room. It adjoins the kitchen; which fails Victorian standards by not being staffed by hired help and located in the basement! Here we all sit to talk shit about the Trump administration; or to have pie and ice cream after a long days work in the yard.
And the “yard”? There is none. Not if “yard” means grass. I’ve killed almost every bit of that. There are paved patios to sit upon in the cool mornings. These are mostly very private – hidden by climbing vines that routinely threaten to eat the roof-lines of the buildings. Yes, we have secret gardens, too. Old cedar fences eaten by flowering vines with flowers and chairs and strawberry beds behind them are the rule, not the exception. And in the very back corner, a tiny house made of cordwood and bottles – a wee getaway for the Minotaur and me, with a propane ring to make tea or melt wax for candles. There is a table 100 years old and rattan loveseat to sit upon, a corner cabinet of magical accouterments and an old beer case full of books about bees and honey and the mythology thereof.
Old fashioned flowers like foxglove and hollyhocks are favorites here. Bearded iris bloom at this time of year, as wisteria, lilac, and hawthorn perfume the air. Honeysuckle will take over later, and piles of single blossom roses. The hum of bees will accompany us through paths lined with lavender.
The Labyrinth in the back yard sits in morning shade and bakes in afternoons through the summer. I will walk there later with the latest name of a dead American. For Memorial Day, a place with no grilling and beer here, I will cut flowers to sit by the central stone. I’ve not found the heart yet to string the counting beads for 2016’s lethal total. After over thirteen years of walking in the dead there, I admit I am losing heart. I do the job, but more tremulously.
We have, over 30 years, made it a place with nooks of peace for a world ever more crazed. We dust the books in almost every room, and this inevitably leads to re-reading and re-thinking. Thus it dawns upon me, the original Victorian Era was the last hurrah of the British Empire – though they might not have recognized it yet. But they surely recognized the need for rest and nurture to bear the various burdens of attempting to maintain that empire? Who bore the most direct cost of that maintenance? Surely the battered veterans? So, no wonder we binge in Victorian here – we veterans of the Viet Nam War, the Cold War, the Gulf Wars, and the Afghan Wars. This is the magic of the house – succor and rest, haven and home. It is the house where we “live out-loud” and all things are open to discussion, disection, and solution without illusion or dilution. What is spoken here is forever “sub-rosa” – like the collar brass some of us wore, “under the rose” – secret and protected forever.
So it is Memorial Day weekend. We will weed a garden, water a flower bed, hang a swing. We will eat, rest, talk, read, sleep. We have hashed out pains and strains of recent vintage. We will continue, enraptured by what we cultivate to nurture us. May it be so with you!