April 16, 2024

The Victorian

She stopped in her tracks and stared.  The house was grand. It was downright handsome.  It was older, perhaps even historic—at least it looked that way.  It had its rough edges and a few unfinished surfaces, but its bones were wonderfully fit, and it carried itself with unusual sophistication and confidence on a street lined with relatively plain colonials and contemporary style dwellings.  Many of the others were larger, often surrounded by greener lawns and bigger driveways, but there was something about this house that spoke to her heart. And she was immediately smitten with its charm.

Image source: http://www.homeworkscarpentry.com/

Someone had worked very hard on the details of this house.  It was a stately, two-story swelling that was painted bright, cheerful colors.  It had towering gable roofs covered with slate shingles facing three different directions. The eaves were lined with carefully constructed wooden dentals and ornately cut gable end decorations, and there were shutters lining each window.  The house had one rounded tower that reminded the woman of a castle and, most wonderful of all, it boasted a wrap-around porch where she hoped to place a swing for those lazy summer evenings.

“I’ll take it,” she said, “It’s perfect!”

Soon everything she owned, her furniture and decorations collected over years of renting, was carried through the leaded glass doors and into every room of the house. There seemed to be a place for everything. She hung her paintings, placed her rugs, and tied neat little towels on the racks above the bathroom sink. She purchased some new decorations she liked and brought them home, where they lined the walls and shelves of the house.  In the evenings, music wafted downstairs where she sat admiring the moldings, the carved wood, the colorful baseboards, and the ornate ceiling inlays that supported great bronze chandeliers. Truly there couldn’t be a grander house, she thought. I can’t believe my luck.

Weeks went by. Then a few months passed.  Friends came by and expressed envy at her fortune in finding such a wonderful house. She’d feign modesty and say with a smile, “I guess it’s adequate for my needs.”  She loved entertaining just for the compliments she knew she’d receive.  But she also knew it was a big chore cleaning such a nice house with its ornate details.  Occasionally she’d express frustration under her breath as she reached for the feather duster yet again. At those times she began to wonder if such an amazing house was worth the work.

Then one day she passed a neighbor’s house that sported a large two-car garage. She paused, pulling her car to the curb, and she wondered if she’d be able to get a second car into her own garage. Opening the garage door that evening, she stopped to measure its width.  Sadly, it wasn’t quite wide enough to fit two cars, particularly that new SUV she wanted. “Well, that won’t work,” she said to herself, annoyed that her perfect house was suddenly not so perfect for her lifestyle. “I’ll have a contractor come by in the morning.” And she did.

The contractor showed up bright and early, taking measurements and notes. The garage door would have to be wider. In fact, he suggested the detached garage was in disrepair and, if she’d like, he could give her a price on replacing it with something similarly beautiful. “I don’t want to pay for that. I just want something simple, like my neighbor’s garage.  Can it be built on to the house?” she asked. “Um, sure,” came a somewhat hesitant reply, “but why would you do that?  I think you’d ruin the beauty of this house by doing that. It’s absolutely perfect the way it is. My wife loves this house.” But she insisted and threatened to call someone else who would do what she wanted.  So the builder relented and started work that very day. 

Three months later the old garage was gone and a new, more contemporary, more functional structure with sleek, clean lines and a huge, automatic door had taken its place. The new garage was tied directly to the side of the house, and she loved being able to walk directly from the car to the kitchen without getting wet in the rain.  “That’s more like it,” she told the contractor, smiling.

But there was something wrong. It didn’t dawn on her immediately, but over time she realized that the beautifully decorated Victorian looked strange next to the new garage. The old house needed some work too.  The paint was dated, and the decorative trim was strangely incongruous with the contemporary addition. Without a second thought, she picked up her phone and called the contractor.  Again, reluctantly on the contractor’s part, the projects began in earnest.  Weeks turned into months that turned into years.  As soon as one project ended, she’d ponder how the next would begin.

A decade later, the original house was unrecognizable when compared with its original self. Gone were the bright colors, the slate shingles, the castle tower, the dentals, and facia panels.  The shutters had been removed and the whole house painted a neat colonial gray with white trim.  Even the porch was gone.  Everything that made the house special and unique had been replaced with plain, traditional style and trim--inside and out.  In fact, it almost felt dead inside, like the spirit that once filled its hallways had been stripped and discarded.  The cheer, the charm and grace were gone. 

Unfortunately, by this time, the woman’s love for the house was also gone.  Even though the house was now simply what she had made of it, she was bored with it and felt no more affection for it.  “I’d move and start over,” she complained, “but I’d never be able to get this much space or land for that price again.”  She hated the fact that she felt “stuck” with it.  But it was hers and, though she stayed for many more years, she now regretted buying the house at all.


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