making friends with the ghosts in the walls

Maybe it is the season, but I started thinking of ghosts the other day.

Ghosts haunt our summer cottage. We heard them though never saw them.

We hope they like us.

It is easy to be a ghost in our cottage, built in 1896 in a clearing off a river on the border with Norrland, and with only a handful of owners and occupants. Each seems to have passed on the house more or less intact, meaning furnished. So there are handmade rocking chairs and phone books from the 1950s with my children’s great-grandfather’s name and phone number listed. There are Archie comic books from the 80s (Matt Dillon posters!) and two numbered cast iron wood stoves built into the walls. Plus, we have all the original paperwork, handwritten deeds and tax papers.

It keeps a ghost comfortable, and gives us a real sense of place, even if we only bought the place in June, and now face a winter away from our uninsulated cottage.

We had much the same situation back in Port Jervis, New York, our gritty railroad city on the Delaware River. We bought an older house with an attic full of old hangers and an ironing board from Sears in the 1920s and high school yearbooks from the 1930s, complete with plays written by the kids who grew up in the Victorian house on the city’s grandest street. At our closing, the lawyer for the seller told us he used to get his hair cut in our basement, which explained the extra door, the too-nice wood cabinets, and the dangerous, built-in space heater.

But that family left bad vibes, abandoning the house essentially for life on Long Island, as far as I could tell, renting it for decades with no upkeep. Its context came out of that neglect.. And that haunted us, even without any ghosts – the dead rats in the ceilings, the bat infestation in the attic, the lead paint chipping and peeling and seeping into our daughter’s blood.

Our Swedish cottage in the clearing surrounded by pine and apple and birch trees has a more humble (no water in what was once poor countryside versus big Victorian in a thriving (now decaying) railroad hub) feeling. In our Swedish cottage, we felt all summer the accumulation of quiet years and fires in the stoves and of lives lived simply, even if they were not simple.

I think I like our ghosts already.


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