Its Memorial Day weekend, and I’m spending a relaxing, lazy weekend at my beach house in California, after a couple of weeks of hard work. The weather isn’t great, and I just took a nice walk under gray skies, enjoying the scenery, and saying hi to my neighbours, as I walked along. Until a few years ago, I owned a second house across the street, which allowed our whole family to come to the beach, with spouses and significant others and friends. We’re a big group, and having two houses worked well. And even with two houses, on many occasions, both houses were bursting at the seams. (I keep fold up rollaway beds everywhere, and inflatable mattresses, and can turn a room into a dormitory in the blink of an eye!!!) It’s the kind of overcrowded family weekend I really enjoy (you have to enjoy crowds, if you have 9 kids!!!). Although admittedly, in recent years, it doesn’t happen often to have all of us together, only on holidays or for special occasions.
As many of you have read or heard about, I discovered a few years ago that I had been embezzled for many years by one of my most trusted employees. It was a terrible blow in a lot of ways, financially of course (I’ll spare you the details), and emotionally, it is a powerful form of betrayal that affected and upset me in many ways. One of them was that on the advice of that trusted employee, I sold the second house at the beach. (I closed my beloved art gallery, on advice from the same source, and the homeless street outreach program I had run and worked on for eleven years, losing that was especially hard, and I still miss both the gallery and the homeless work enormously, but things change and you have to move on.). I trusted her implicitly, albeit foolishly, and when she told me to sell the second beach house, I did. It was a lesson in not being so trusting thereafter, and not following advice I assumed was better than my own. There are upsides and downsides to everything in life. The upsides are not negligible in this case. And despite advice that may have been questionable in motivation, I sold the house when the real estate market was still solid before the downturn in the economy, and doing so allowed me to add to my apartment in Paris, and my kids actually use the apartment in Paris a lot more than the beach house, which they only came to a few times a year by the time I sold it. And I like having more space in Paris too. So some of the results of that sale are good things for me. There’s a blessing in everything. The downside is that when we all do get together at the beach now, I have to rent a second house to accommodate everyone. But it’s easier and more sensible to rent a second house a few weekends a year, than to maintain a house that is seldom used. So maybe selling that house turned out to be a good thing. But I’m sentimental about the places I live, and every time I saw that house since I sold it, I had a little niggle of regret and sense of loss. Even if we didn’t use it much, we loved it, and it was home to us.
I always have strong feelings about my homes, even if they’re just rented apartments, and especially if they’re homes I own. Who lived there before? What happened to them? Why did they leave? And who lives there now, after I leave or sell them? Do they love them as I did? Oddly, I have always lived in old houses, and not modern ones. I am a master of restoration, and have never built a new house. The house that I lived in for many years when my children were born was built in 1895, the one we have lived in now for 22 years was built in 1910. A tiny jewel of a house that I bought years ago, and one of my kids lives in now is one of the oldest houses in San Francisco, and was built in 1863. The property we owned in Napa was a Victorian ranch built in 1857, and the building where I live in Paris was built in 1812. You can feel the history in an old house, seeping through its pores, and I love the sense of that, and imagining who lived there before, even recently. My apartment in Paris was supposedly lived in by Prince, the singing artist, before me, and he left a multitude of fabulous closets (rare in a Paris apartment), and we’re about the same size so the closets work great for me. I’ve also heard rumors about a family who lived there before me, and a marriage that ended unhappily. I found papers suggesting that on a high shelf when I moved in, and had a priest come in to bless the apartment and get rid of any ‘bad vibes’ that might have been there before. My homes are important to me, I spend a lot of time in them, and work there, and I’m always intrigued by previous owners or residents and their histories. (I wrote a book inspired by that several years ago, called ‘The House’, about a young woman who inherits a house). I think of houses and homes, and even apartments as living beings of their own, that hang onto those histories. And I always hope that future residents will enjoy those homes as much as I did.
We didn’t have many years of history with the second beach house I sold, but I liked it anyway. And as I said, seeing it always gave me a slight sense of loss. It was a luxury, we didn’t need it, but we had good times there and it was nice to have, and it’s a pretty house. Not huge, but cozy and nice, with a peaceful view of a lagoon. I never met the people who bought it, although we corresponded when they bought it, and it was a second home for them too. All I knew was that they had three young kids, but we’d never met. Today, when I was out walking, I saw a man drive up, park outside that house, and about to go in. In a rare bold moment (I’m usually very shy, and prefer to go unnoticed), I asked if he was the owner, and he said yes, and I told him who I was. He was extremely nice, and I asked if they’re enjoying the house. “We couldn’t love it more” he said simply, and I could see it in his eyes. And that simple phrase did it for me. Any last regret, or sense of loss, disappeared in that instant. The house had found its rightful owners and was in good hands. We rarely used it, and we really don’t need a second house at the beach. My kids are grown, many live in other cities, some have country homes of their own now. Whatever the reasons for our giving it up, it was time to let go, and let someone else enjoy it as we had. I was sooooo happy to know that the house was in good hands, and much loved. It was like passing the baton. I didn’t need to be grabby and hold onto it, or regret it or miss it. It’s now in the hands of this young family who “couldn’t love it more”, whose kids will grow up there on weekends and create memories there of their own. It is truly theirs now, and no longer mine. I don’t need it, we’re fine with renting a second house a couple of weekends a year. As I walked away, I felt lighter than I have in a long time. I had no regrets, no sense of loss at last, in those few moments of chatting with the new owner and hearing how much they love the house, I wished him well, silently gave him and his family my blessing, and passed him the baton.