Don’t tell the kids, but we bought a new house

This week, five years into it all, we’re mov­ing into a new home in Dun­das

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - THOMAS FROESE

So, the chil­dren’s mother and I bought a house. “Let’s not tell the chil­dren,” she said. “OK,” I replied. So we didn’t. Now be­fore I share why, let me say that we all have a re­la­tion­ship with our houses, and in my fam­ily I’m the one with a sort of long-suf­fer­ing in this union. This is the story. Our friends were mov­ing to Bri­tish Columbia. “We want to sell our house,” they an­nounced. “To you.” No real­tor. No list­ing. “We want you to have it.”

It was a fine house in a de­sir­able part of Dun­das, one of the GTA’s most in­ter­est­ing and for­tu­nate com­mu­ni­ties. It could have eas­ily sold for more money to any­one. But it was of­fered to us like a gift, from nowhere, like gra­cious wind on a calm day to an un­sus­pect­ing sail.

We knew we couldn’t live in it. We worked and lived in Uganda most of the time, and would con­tinue for some years. So we bought the house, rented it out, and left for Africa as usual.

When back in Canada, I’d visit. The house needed work. Some­times the chil­dren were along, with, nat­u­rally, their ques­tions.

“Dad, why are we sleep­ing in this empty house?” (Garage sale.) “Dad, why are these bricks in our van?” (New drive­way.) “Dad, why are you land­scap­ing this house?” (I’m help­ing the peo­ple liv­ing here.) That’s what I’d al­ways say.

Four years later, at a cer­tain tree at the Dun­das Driv­ing Park, we told the chil­dren. “You mean you bought a house four years ago? With­out telling us!” “Uhuh.” That shar­ing came last sum­mer. This week, five years into it all, we’re mov­ing in.

It’s a dif­fer­ent feel­ing. For the first time the chil­dren will know their own space in one place year-round. I feel newly ar­rived my­self, like a for­eigner, some­how, to this great city of com­mu­ni­ties.

I also find my­self talk­ing to this house. Feel­ing for this house. A large hole for a walk­out is punched into its lower back. The en­tire base­ment is un­der con­struc­tion. Sharp saws have cut open its con­crete floor. Hammers have pounded nails into cross­beams. Heavy boots have left their marks.

It’s messy work. And the house, like any house, is re­sis­tant to change. But in the quiet mo­ments I look around and re­as­sure the place that it has great value. That it’s loved more than it re­al­izes. That de­spite its doubts and this dif­fi­cult work, it’s not wasted space. And while our re­la­tion­ship started with an ocean of dis­tance, the world now knows about us.

Through their new front win­dows, the chil­dren will now see a gnarled and bent wil­low tree in sum­mer, then fall. For the first time they’ll know win­ter (which I haven’t ex­pe­ri­enced fully in 15 years.) Then spring. Mem­o­ries will now col­lect in ways as dif­fer­ent and fresh as sum­mer snow.

The house will also see things: fam­ily, friends, food, laugh­ter, games, love­mak­ing and what­ever more. It will see and hear ev­ery­thing. When I con­sider this, I hear the house whis­per back to me.

“It’s good. Very good,” it says. “But I am a house. Only a house. A col­lec­tion of wood and brick and mor­tar. I will hold your fam­ily mem­o­ries for a sea­son of time, yes. But I’m not the mem­o­ries them­selves. And one day I too will be piled on the ash heap of his­tory.”

Then the sad­ness. But this too is good and nec­es­sary. And this, I sup­pose, is why we didn’t tell the chil­dren. We didn’t want them dis­tracted by some time and place not yet in front of them.

Our friends, by the way, didn’t stay long in Bri­tish Columbia. You know how things go. Plans change. Sev­eral years ago they re­turned to On­tario. This too is life. Do you know what makes God laugh? Peo­ple mak­ing plans. That won­der­ful Yid­dish joke.

And that tree at the Dun­das Driv­ing Park? It’s one of the more striking trees in Hamil­ton. You’ll know the one. You’ll see it’s per­fect for climb­ing and sit­ting and lis­ten­ing to se­crets, to hid­den things, like a child might. When I walk past it, I think about these mys­ter­ies.

Maybe some­time I’ll see you there.

From his new home in Dun­das, Thomas Froese writes about fa­ther­hood, travel and life. Find him at www.thomas­froese.com

THOMAS FROESE

A house with a view is what Thomas Froese’ fam­ily has pur­chased. “The chil­dren will now see a gnarled and bent wil­low tree in sum­mer, then fall,” he writes. “Mem­o­ries will now col­lect in ways as dif­fer­ent and fresh as sum­mer snow.”

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