The House Song

There’s a song that Peter, Paul and Mary used to sing called The House Song.  The lyrics trace the singer’s steps through the rooms of a house, paralleling it to the stages of one’s life.  This week, as I’ve watched my son pack his entire life into a white Hyundai Accent, the strains of that song have filled my head, stinging my eyes and creating a lump that catches my throat when I try to speak.

This house goes on sale every Wednesday morning
And is taken off the market in the afternoon
You can buy a piece of it if you want to
It’s been good for me if it’s been good for you*

Over the years, I have lived in many houses, each with memory filled rooms.  The house on Green Street where I grew up was an old New Englander, with walls made of plaster and horse hair held together by layers of wallpaper patched with cardboard and masking tape.  It was bursting with the energy of eight children, two adults, one dog, four cats, two rabbits, and a turtle purchased from the Five and Dime.  The rugs were threadbare and the furniture falling apart, but it was easily the most popular hang out in the neighborhood. There was always food to feed one more mouth.  There was always coffee to refill one more cup.  There was always time to sit at the kitchen table and chat with someone who needed a kind heart and a willing ear.  It was home.

 Take a grand look now; the fire is burning
Is that your reflection on the wall?
I can show you this room and some others
If you came to look at the house at all*

When I joined VISTA and moved to Idaho, I rented a room in an older section of Boise.  My room was furnished and just big enough for a twin bed and dresser.  The walls were painted a garish pink and the en suite bath was tiny, but it held all my worldly belongings and served me perfectly until I moved to the second floor flat that served as a honeymoon suite for my new husband and me.

Careful up the stairs, a few are missing
I haven’t had the time to make repairs
First step is the hardest one to master
Last one I’m not really sure is there*

The next several years were a flurry of moves from one apartment to another.  A two bedroom in Flagstaff Arizona was spacious and bright, but after three months we packed everything we owned into the back of a station wagon and drove to Massachusetts so I could be closer to my family.  With each new home came an accumulation of hand-me-down furniture, and one room at a time, we built ourselves a life as a family.  We bought a tiny doll house at the end of a cul-de-sac for less than thirty thousand dollars.  One September evening, queasy with pregnancy, I straddled the roof peak during a rainstorm and held a flashlight so my husband could nail the final shingles into place.  The following May I brought a tiny pink bundle home to the freshly painted second bedroom and the two of us became three.

This room here once had childish laughter
And I come back to hear it now and again
I can’t say that I’m certain what you’re after
But in this room, a part of you will remain*

Within a year, we sold the little house and moved to New Hampshire.  We added a blue bundle and another pink to our family, and finally settled in a three bedroom townhouse that smelled of wet paint and new carpeting. Peach comforters and curtains for the girls’ room washed the white walls with the color of sunset at the end of the day.  Pound Puppies kept my little boy company on sleepless nights and provided a refuge from Barbie dolls and tea parties.  Countless bedtime vespers were said in those rooms, countless tears dried, countless adventure stories read, countless goodnight kisses planted on rose petal cheeks. When fifteen years later, a broken marriage forced us to leave, I sat in the empty rooms and listened to the ghosts of my children past.

Second floor, the lady sleeps in waiting
Past the lantern, tiptoe in its glance
In the room the soft brown arms of shadow
This room the hardest one to pass.*

Divorce is never easy.  I wear it like Hester Prynne’s scarlet letter.  It is a reminder of failure, of what was, of what will never again be.  On moving day, I returned alone to the empty townhouse.  The bedroom we shared was the last space to check.  I silently stared at the indentations in the carpet where our bed used to be, and then quietly walked down the stairs and out the door, locking it behind me.

How much will you pay to live in the attic?
The shavings off your mind are the only rent
I left some would there if you thought you couldn’t
Or if the shouldn’t that you’ve bought has been spent.*

Now I live in a two bedroom apartment with white walls and beige carpets.  The children are adults. They come, they stay, they go.  It is the way of life. I complain about the mess when they are home.  I complain about the quiet when they are away.  Gone are the stuffed animals, the bikes thrown carelessly across the sidewalk, and the tiny toothbrushes that used to mysteriously fall into the bathroom drain.  But this is a new house.  It is a place where there is always food to feed one more mouth. A place where there is always coffee to refill one more cup.  A place where there is time to sit at the kitchen table and chat with someone who needed a kind heart and a willing ear.  It is home.

*The House Song Stookey/Bannard- Neworld Media Music Publishers-ASCAP

Leave a comment


  1. I love it. Both sad and happy. You forgot Ricky’s bird and Ethel! How could you forget Ethel?
    Speaking of animals, you could write a good post about Joey. LOL


  2. I can still hear you singing harmony on that song. My mother had a saying, “Bloom where you are planted.” And that’s what you are doing, my dear friend.


  3. Gerry Hailer

     /  July 7, 2010

    And therein lies the difference between a house and a home.

    Someday, I’ll tell you about hockey pucks through window panes, and eight-foot sections of six-foot privacy fence taken out with one miraculous fly wiffle ball catch against the outfield wall. Of claw marks scratched like canyons beneath the sidelight windows of the front door, which I do not view as neglect, but that I view merely as where the wood met a big dog’s claws every time the mailman came, or that Paula pulled into the driveway.

    Because that’s the kind of stuff that makes a house a home, too. I hear what you’re saying. In my realm, kids only crash through fences for a little while, and dogs get even less time so to remind you that they were there.

    Just like tears, shingles, pound puppies, and cars loaded up and driving off into the sunset. All part of the continuum.

    Thanks for reminding me never to forget.

    Stay warm,


  4. Kathie Pettit

     /  July 9, 2010

    the ebb and flow of life; good/bad/happy/sad. the total picture: it’s beautiful Garrie.



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