Friday, May 25, 2012

A house by any other name

Home is this New England village, bordering the Sakonnet.
One of my favorite novelists is D.E. Stevenson, who wrote about Britain during World War II and its aftermath. Thirty-three of her books line the shelves of my home office.

Stevenson described the sleepy English and Scottish villages in great detail and gave each of the houses a special name. Consequently, the reader could imagine the structure, the lay of the land, the historic as well as natural setting of the place.

Some of her picturesque names are Well Cottage, House on the Cliff, Archway House, Mountain Cross, Square House, Underwoods, Bridle House, Broadmeadows, Hillside House, Summerhills, Dower House, King’s Lodge, Swan House, Amberwell and Bridge House.

Inside, these homes are furnished with pieces handed down through the generations, and each has a story to tell.

According to Stevenson, “Fletcher’s End is the name of a beautiful old house in the English Cotswold Country; it was built in the days of Queen Elizabeth and the oak beams which support the heavy stone roof are of the same wood as the ships which fought the Spanish Armada.”

Some American houses are referred to by name, and the “summer cottages” of the rich in nearby Newport come to mind: The Breakers, Chateau-sur-Mer, The Elms, Marble House and Rosecliff.

One of my favorite nonfiction American writers, Gladys Taber, called her seventeenth-century Connecticut farmhouse, Stillmeadow, and her Cape Cod cottage, Still Cove. Fifteen of her books grace my shelves.

“The ancient house speaks to us,” she wrote in “The Book of Stillmeadow” in 1948. “Footfalls sound on the steep stairs, doors open softly, floorboards creak, echoing lives lived here long, long ago. And I think echoes of the lives of our family will be here, too.”

Our summer house near Fogland Beach lacks a name (Fog House?) but engenders all the qualities of Stevenson’s fictional homes. Furnished with the old rock maple couch, armchair and rocker that my parents bought when they married in 1950, it is decorated with my grandmother’s lamps and my grandfather’s cherry wood end table.

Sometimes if I listen intently, I can still hear him gently tapping his pipe on the table, emptying the tobacco into the ashtray.

“Your mother wouldn’t like it if we sold the furniture she gave us,” said Bel Brownlee in “Fletcher’s End” by D.E. Stevenson. “It would hurt her feelings to think we didn’t appreciate her kindness. People’s feelings are more important than … tables.”

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