Caroline Adderson on the Lives of the House


Adderson uncovers the lives of those earlier inhabitant of her house @ Geist. The house we bought had a shrine in the furnace room. I discovered it only after we moved in, when I made the room a catch-all for the things I’d been unable to part with during the move but that we didn’t really need. My son’s first crib, for example, which he slept in for the first three months of his life. I’d rescued it from the dump, stripped away its many layers of pink and blue paint, and now I was attached to it.

I attach to things in general, particularly old things, not just sentimentally but out of a belief that stories accrue like an electrical field around even ordinary objects, stories about how and where the object was made and all the people who used it. I could picture the boy babies and the girl babies who once slept where my son also had. And now I had discovered a secret shrine in my house tucked around the corner of the chimney. If anything radiated a story, it was the long black rosary beads from Italy, and the wooden crucifix hung on two nails in a way that made the small bronze Jesus seem twice crucified, and the tin medal that read I will bless the houses in which the picture of my sacred heart shall be exposed and honored.

I wondered who had placed the shrine there, but I was busy with the move and a six-month-old baby and my vague dream of restoring the house, which had been built around 1925, but had been so wallpapered and brown-carpeted that little of its original character showed. Through our next-door neighbour I asked the people we’d bought the house from, an older Czech couple, what they knew about the shrine. They’d been aware of it, but not its provenance and, though not religious, they’d left it intact because, my neighbour reported, “They felt it was protecting the house.”

Over the next few years I peeled away more than ten different wallpapers. We took down the wood panelling in the living room and the mirrored wall tiles in the stairwell. In the tiny attic room that was to become my office, I catalogued these layers: Read More...