Peacock tail feathers up close.
Peacock tail feathers up close.

The Ghosts of Houses Past

I grew up a homebody. I would have been just as happy to never leave my little hometown, quasi-socialist neighborhood, and 1,000 square foot townhouse with all the friends you could want within a stone’s throw. I wanted to stay there forever with my feet glued to the floor. When I was little, my best bud and I poured over Ikea catalogs and picked out the furniture we would have in our house. We could not imagine a world without one another. That was not to be my fate.

After I was married, my husband chose the military as his career path and so there it was: be forced to admit that I never wanted to leave my little world around DC, or step out of my comfort zone. Way out. Our first stop was Portsmouth, Virginia.

View from my balcony, if you stretch your neck. Elizabeth River, Portsmouth, Virginia.

The adventure seduced me and I was able to embrace my new life as a wanderer, a nomad. I brought my flute and started a career in music and practiced, A LOT. I did not have any new friends in this place, but I had a family and a baby and a new house. It felt very lonely. I recognize that these were growing years for me. I could no longer live in the all-encompassing world of music. I craved friendship and life at this time was hard. But I had a house and so my love affair with houses began. This house was built in the 1980’s and was the end of a row of townhouses. It was in the city of Portsmouth, Virginia, and if you leaned out from the balcony, you could see the water and the marina beyond. In a military town, there were fireworks for just about every and any occasion; and I could watch them up close from my little living room. We did not have much money, but I painted the walls and dreamed about replacing the carpet. I have fond memories of that first house.

Portsmouth, Virginia: my first love.

Our next house was in Corpus Christi, Texas and only about 5 blocks from Corpus Christi Bay. You could smell the salt in the wind, and if the direction was just right, the nearby oil refineries. There was a gorgeous olive tree next to the front porch and death by mosquito was an entirely real threat. We could walk to the park and listen to concerts in the nearby amphitheater. My husband and I have always craved city life and all the activity that goes with it.

This one always made me think of Snow White.
This one always made me think of Snow White. Corpus Christi, Texas.

The next stop was New Jersey. New Jersey gets such a bad rap. It really was a fun place to live, and after about 4 years, I was able to tolerate the sun and the beach for more than my hour and a half limit. I grew up with trees and woods, camping and playing in streams and could not see the appeal of sand, sunscreen, brutal heat, and waves that knock you over and put salt in your nose. But the beach has a smell that is earthy and real, hours of endless entertainment, and I learned to appreciate it in New Jersey.

My house was a tiny craftsman bungalow. It was full of wood, high ceilings, and it felt right to be there. There was a never-ending list of projects and I learned to tile and embraced ideas that creatively used our small space in the most efficient way possible. It was more important to me that my house be pretty than big.

Craftsman bungalow in Linwood, New Jersey.

Leaving New Jersey was hard. I had succumbed to my original root-growing tendencies with my feet glued to the floor. Once again I felt ripped from my home. But then I arrived in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Duplex in Lynchburg, Virginia.

This was a good four hours west of  Portsmouth, where we had been in our first house. I could see the Blue Ridge Mountains and taste the crisp mountain air when I was walking the kids to the bus stop. And the houses! Preserved from harm in the civil war and so old and big and beautiful. Cobblestone streets and railroad cars, big abandoned brick warehouses and stone retaining walls attempting to hold up the mountainside. It was gorgeous and I threw myself into the neighborhood. This was it, our final home.

This is where I insert the chuckle of life, constantly throwing curve balls, trying to see if I can handle anything more. God testing me or building me up, I am not sure which. We moved again.

Current house in Beltsville, Maryland.

This little house in Beltsville brings me close to home again, but I am not the same homebody I was when I left. I itch for a change. This itch gets under my skin and I am no longer content with staying put. The wanderer is constantly on the prowl and incapable of sitting still. This is a new feeling for me. One of these days, I will have to wrestle with it. I fear the outcome is uncertain and wonder often what the next chapter will be.

© copyright 2012 Mariam d’Eustachio.

7 responses to “The Ghosts of Houses Past”

  1. I have recurring dreams about the 5 houses I’ve lived in as an adult. They go something like this: I pull into town with the kids and, being cheap, hope that the current owners of ‘my house’ are gone. They always are, I make myself at home only to have them return. I can never get them to understand that I would never hurt their house. Also, they have always made weird changes (we had a blue bathroom in one of the houses and in my dream, the new owners have tiled it–floor to ceiling–with blue glass tile and installed an aquarium where the tub should be). Thanks for the post, I enjoyed it.


  2. Mariam, your New Jersey house was a Sears house, mail ordered and delivered in pieces by train. It was an Arts ad Crafts house, and I learned to love it by washing it’s many windows for you and helping you move in, even shoveling the snow off your sidewalk so the moving van could deliver your stuff. I think it was my favorite of your houses. Grandma


  3. Margo, I think it is amazing how much impact a place can have on your psyche. It seems you are still attached to these houses and you just want to make sure they are still in good hands.

    Grandma, you are semi-famous in New Jersey for your snow shoveling skills and I am forever grateful that the movers were able to get in the door with my stuff. Otherwise, Sam would have been born and we would have had nothing unpacked!


  4. I love this post and the pictures of the homes you lived in. Each one is so different (my favorite is the NJ house – at least from the outside)!


  5. One more question…why did you buy and not rent if you knew Kevin would be stationed in different locations?


  6. Ok, Lynn, here goes: We bought for three reasons. 1. We are stupid. 2. We never actually knew when we were leaving. Kevin’s acceptance into flight school was a surprise and so we short toured out of Portsmouth and thought the second time in Virginia was the end since he was no longer on active duty. 3. We have not always bought. We rented in Florida and we rent here in Beltsville too.

    If you are thinking of investing in real estate, don’t ask me for advice, for you will surely lose your shirt.


  7. It’s me, the one that clipped pictures out of ikea furniture catalogues….I still do it ;). I love all of your houses. You have a talent…taking what you have and making it fit beautifully into a space and making it look like it belongs there…


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