The Healy family Michigan house was green and white, in what would now be called cottage style, a big rambling thing with two floors, a bunch of bedrooms, ancient linens, a claw foot bathtub, and a pantry stuffed with Blue Willow dishes and all sorts of popcorn bowls and baking pans. It was a throwback to earlier simpler times.
It came with a handyman, Rudy, who would get things going in the spring and help put it to bed in the fall. There was a grape arbor, a two story outbuilding, and a tool shed. The yard, bordered by two gigantic purple birches, was big enough for baseball, volleyball, horseshoes, not to mention rides in Grandpa’s wheelbarrow, trackball, and general running around. I remember a concrete bench for observers.
The house was available to all five siblings. I married the oldest of them and joined the family just after they acquired the house, so got in on the ground floor so to speak. We could book a weekend with my mother-in-law who kept the calendar. We might share it with them and other family members, or occasionally reserve it for our college friends to descend with cribs, playpens, and Trivial Pursuit for a glorious weekend together. In exchange for such access, we got to help drain the pipes and put up the battens to protect it from winter blasts.
By the time the family got done with the house after 25 years or so, the crib upstairs had the names of 12 or 15 grandchildren lovingly applied with adhesive letters. I came from the smallest possible family of two and joined the flow of the Healys. Such luck.
Across the road was a steep set of stairs leading down to the shore of White Lake and the Healy dock, falling-down boathouse, and boat. Walking down those steps was like entering another world, of cattails, trees, undergrowth, and as my son discovered one day, enough splintered wood just under the surface to keep his dad busy pulling them out of his little feet for a good hour.
But the best part was the huge porch, overlooking the road that overlooked the lake. It was screened and electrified, and occupied from morning till night by someone. The wicker porch swing was the seat of choice, and it was common to see three or four cousins piled up in it, maybe being read a story by an aunt or uncle, or maybe just hanging out. You had to have someone with long legs to swing it though.
It had a table for art projects, chairs for conversation, a small table for games. It was home to accordion concerts, joke and story-telling, always uproarious laughter, occasionally time to just sit and be.
In all my counseling years, every time I was inclined to ask a client to choose the one safe place she could imagine retreating to in order to grow calm, the one in my head was that porch.
It is still a magnetic place. Every time any of us are in the area, we drive slowly past the house, or park down the road and walk past, studying the addition the new owners put on, and remembering the house and our youth. While we joke about getting arrested for stalking a house, what we really want is to be invited inside, just one more time.
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