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House of Dreams

By Jeffery Cohen

As my parents approached their sixties, my Dad wallpapered the living room one more time. Still red, but this time it was fuzzy flock paper.

My folks first and only house was not their dream house – that perfect castle on a hill that only exists in fairy tales, but was, instead, a house of dreams, created over the years. The house they bought was a cookie-cutter model almost identical to the thousands of homes that lined newly paved streets in suburb developments all across the country in 1954 – with one exception. This particular house was slightly different than any on the block. The second story that rose above a shingled front was faced with knotty pine; and a red flower box nestled under the front windows – both of which reminded Dad of a Swiss Chalet. He loved that knotty pine facade. It was probably the reason they chose that model. As the years passed and it became worn and weathered, my father cobbled together a ten-foot scaffold of two by fours and spent weeks meticulously sanding and varnishing it back to its original glory.

My parents weren’t at all interested in having the interior of their house resemble anything like the sedate pastel look of the neighbors, so they decided to wallpaper with patterns of their dreams. My grandfather had emigrated from Russia at twelve-years-old and became a wallpaper hanger. His claim to fame was that he’d hung Chinese silk in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. My father, having had the secrets of the trade passed on to him, wallpapered every room in the house. Having an artistic flair, he chose a red paper with gold print of exotic places like the Great Pyramids and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon for the living room.

My mother, not to be outdone, bought lamps in the shape of pouncing panthers accompanied by black planters in which she grew ivy that gave the appearance of a surrounding jungle. The lamps were topped with square, scarlet lampshades to match the paper. The furniture that they settled on had the straight, flat lines of the “modern” look of the fifties, but my mom, needing just a bit of pizzazz, picked a sectional set that had shimmering strands of colored cellophane woven into the turquoise and wheat fabric. Dazzling to the eye, but not exactly comfortable.

During the day, as my mother stared out into a still barren backyard, she began to envision a sun porch, so my father started scrounging around, collecting scrap lumber in a pile. When that pile grew tall enough, he started construction. In a month’s time, he’d built a back porch that was larger than our living room, but he wasn’t satisfied. That’s when he began his daily routine of carting home trunks full of rocks the size of my hand. Like a seasoned mason, he cemented them in place, giving his porch a face of stone.

When he finished, a huge pile of rock still remained. Not one to waste, Dad began constructing an outdoor backyard fireplace. As he slapped mortar around stone, he shared his dream of this grand barbecue pit that would one day support a pizza oven on one side, and a rotisserie on the other. I don’t recall if he ran out of stone or ambition, but he never did get beyond that main fireplace. It was good enough to burn fires on summer nights as the family sat around its glow, singing old favorites and toasting marshmallows.

There were other dreams that remained just that. Dad had envisioned transforming the unfinished attic in to a recreation room, equipped with a pool table, a ping pong table, a wet bar, and a TV, but like so many dreams, they don’t disappear, they just fade with the years.

As my parents approached their sixties, my Dad wallpapered the living room one more time. Still red, but this time it was fuzzy flock paper. He felt it had the elegance of a castle. I saw it more as a New Orleans bordello. To complete the royal decor, my mother chose throne-like velvet furniture with white and gold carved wood that made me think of King Arthur’s court, promising that this set would last the rest of her life. She died just a few years later, my father to follow by seven years.

My brothers and I decided to sell the house we’d all grown up in. I have to admit, it wasn’t easy for me to leave all of the memories behind, but after two years, I had decided it was the right thing to do, and the house of dreams passed on to new owners. I would occasionally pass by the place to see if anything had changed; different windows, a new roof, or a paint job. Then one day, I spotted a “For Sale” sign on the lawn and made an appointment to see the old homestead, just for curiosity’s sake.

The first thing I noticed as I approached was the knotty pine that my Dad took so much pride in. It was now buried under a thick layer of paint. As I walked inside, I was shocked. Walls had been knocked down, a once-hidden staircase stood in plain sight. The unfinished attic had been transformed into a maze of odd shaped rooms. I felt lost, barely recognizing anything familiar in the house where I’d spent my entire young life. I left in a daze.

What had they done to my folks’ house of dreams I wondered. They had destroyed everything I remembered. Then it came to me, and suddenly, it all made sense. The people that came after…after we’d moved on…those people simply had dreams of their own.

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One response to “House of Dreams

  1. Funny and tender and the type of story anyone who has lived in a homeplace for a long time can relate to! After new owners took over my mother-in-law’s wonderful old place in the Driving Miss Daisy section of Atlanta, we went back and the new owner invited us in. From the outside, the place was the same, but that was all that was the same. The house had been gutted and completely redone! And you know what? The changes were for the better, and I understood why they were made. BUT….it wasn’t the same. I couldn’t put myself back in these rooms, these scenes. I could no longer smell the mothballs on the Oriental rugs, my father-in-law always sprinkled about to preserve his treasures. So, even the smell of the house was better and yet…the memories evoked by the old feel, smell, sight, etc. didn’t come.

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