One inhabits a hotel room briefly, for a night or a week.  And yet one can return to the same hotel year after year, requesting the same room or trying out different ones.

One can leave a rented apartment and, some time later, sign a new lease for that same apartment.  One might have to wait for someone else’s lease to run out, but return is possible.

Buying and selling a house is a lot more permanent, in both directions.  No landlord can kick you out (assuming you’re making your mortgage payments).  But once it’s sold, you’ll never pass that threshold again.

(I suppose this might be different in small towns, where everyone knows who bought the old Harrison place, and new owners might welcome Harrison grandchildren in for a look around.  Or where you get to know the people who bought your old house.  This is not my life.)

It just seems odd that the most short-term and casual stay can also, in some sense, have the best chance of enduring over time.

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11 thoughts on “(im)permanence

  1. And yet there is also a certain beauty to not knowing, and not crossing the threshold. I live in a smaller city where you might know the person who bought your house. You certainly will find out when the new owner puts a pool pavilion over the grave of a much loved family pet (happened to us), or cut down the fruit trees lovingly planted (a friend’s house!). Is it sometimes better not to know?

  2. When you put it that way, yes, it’s better not to know. It’s just the strangeness, or at least it seems strange to me. A building my parents once lived in (after I left, though I spent a couple of nights there) burned to the ground some while back, and it now exists only in memories. I have vivid memories of it, and yet it is gone, completely beyond my family no longer holding title to it. Maybe it’s just because I live so much in my head anyway (is this a lit-person sort of thing?) that it seems peculiar not to be able to visit a place that seems so real, and in the case of houses still standing, is real—just inaccessible.

    We didn’t bury pets here, but the thing that gives me the biggest pang about leaving is that five cats who lived here are now dead, and while of course I can remember them from anywhere, they are more easily summoned up in the rooms where they were living presences. They have nothing to do with the new house. That makes me sad. My beloved-and-departed tabby, my grad school cat, lived the last two years of her long life here. She’s been gone a long time, and it felt like the end of an era when she died, but leaving the scene seems like even more of an end to her.

  3. I recently had a vivid dream about the house I left 5 years ago, in which it was completely transformed (unrecognizable) and I was furious. I know that the new owners changed things, and destroyed some of the really neat features of the house (I think) but my dream surprised me. I haven’t gone back to that house, or to my previous house… I would miss my husband far too much.

  4. My grandmother died a few years ago. Her house was sold to a young couple, who did extensive redecorating and remodeling. They not only let my parents come see what they had done, they also opened their doors several more times over the next year when the (multiple) grown grandkids came through town. I am amazed that they did that — I would not really want the past owners of my house to come tromping in with the whole family to look at everything I’ve done to my house. (All this, by the way, was in a city of about a million people — definitely not in small town USA.)

    It may help that we all oohed and ahhed over all the changes — Wow, look at the new wood flooring! Oh, see how taking out that wall really opened the living space up! Oh, the rooms look so much bigger with the new paint colors! It is nice to think of my grandmother’s house really being taken care of by new people.

      1. 🙂 I am a Californian in exile. But had I not gone into exile, I would not know about la chose créole.

  5. We could drive by our home that we sold in 2011, but the time we’ve had after the move was so full of regret that I just can’t bring myself to see what changes if any have been made. My custom wood working is there, I hope, but I hated leaving it. Too many good memories. I haven’t felt like anywhere I’ve lived has been “home” since.

    Re: small town–my parents bought property that was the “Martin’s property.” for years. Even after building a home and living there for 10 years, that’s still how we had to give directions to locals.

  6. Sometimes I think as academics many of us are in exile, either stranded from homes we once had, or people we once had community with.

    But thresholds are also deeply symbolic in literature and mythology. Being invited in. Thanks for the past DE.

  7. The home I grew up in (and also lived in for several years as an adult) was razed for development almost a decade ago. In fact, not only was the house razed, so was the hill on which it stood (and, of course, all the trees, shrubs, gardens, and other features of/on said hill). It was, and remains, traumatic, and I have wandered through the space in various ways and moods in dreams ever since. The family situation which led to the house’s destruction are also, separately, traumatic, but the destruction of the house, and the place of which it was the center, is traumatic in and of itself.

    I’m pretty sure my grandparents’ houses (sold in the early ’90s) are both still there (they show up on google maps street view, in any case), and in the case of the one that means more (extensively remodeled by my grandfather, an architect), we had reason to hope at the time we sold it that the situation would be like the one Veronica describes — a sympathetic renovation by a young family that loved the house and yard, but/and had some ideas for some perfectly sensible changes (my grandparents’ design was admittedly quirky, occasioned in part by their living circumstances — for instance, my grandmother did not want a kitchen big enough for her mother, who lived with them and helped buy the house toward the end of the Great Depression, and who was used to having servants, to sit in and “supervise.” From everything I have learned of my great-grandmother — and this was one of my grandmother’s few hints of just how difficult she could be, and even then I don’t think she specified to me who she didn’t want in the kitchen with her — this was a very wise, in fact probably a sanity-saving, decision). I have occasional fantasies of getting a job at the (very good) university in the town in which that house is located, and buying it back.

    Of course, familiar commercial landmarks can disappear, too. I’d always assumed that, if I married, I’d have a reception at a “country inn” near our church (easy logistics if nothing else). But the area has transformed from a country crossroads to suburban-becoming-urban, and the inn is now yet another “upscale” housing development (the one bit of good news about all these developments full of houses I can’t afford is that I don’t actually like the houses, or, especially, their lack of yards, anyway. The bad news is that I’m now in a position where I’d have to choose between a community to which I’m quite attached — and the relatively-secure if not ideal job I currently have — and the kind of housing I like, and have some hope of affording.

    For academics, our best hope for preserved familiar places may well be the historic buildings on the campuses to which we have been attached in one way or another (and even those sometimes change over time, though they are usually not razed entirely). A few big independent research libraries may serve the same function — though, once again, change comes there, too.

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