The house I got to know it’s not the original house built by our grandparents in between wars.
It’s the reconstructed version, somewhere in the early ’70s, when my father and his older brother decided it was time for a major repair. It was the soil, clayey after rains, crumbling in dried seasons, that caused the old house walls to crack, as it was built in the middle of a hill’s slope and the terrain was constantly moving.
This “new” house shares, these days, the old one’s path. It managed to last much longer before giving signs of failure, as the two brothers built it not just with a soul, but also with much more know-how than their parents had. Since the ’70s, it opened every summer to a next generation, us toddlers, rather interested in making a playground out of it. And, in this respect, it certainly proved itself a dream house. Literally.
It’s the kind of house that grows in dreams. It only has a hallway, three rooms and a small, hidden stairway that goes up in the attic. Its large windows overlooking the lands had at first green wooden blinds, open each morning to let cool air inside. When rebuilt in the ’70s, the house was also provided with new furniture, the classic one made of varnished wood, and had a big mirror placed inside each of the two front rooms. The smell of “new” soon gave in to the delicious flavors of homemade bread and pies grandmother used to keep in a trough, covered in hemp blankets to keep them fresh. We used to sleep in those rooms, long beautiful nights with skies full of stars and grass full of crickets. Once in a while, we could hear dogs barking and night birds making their hunting calls. And there was this ancient clock hanging in the hallway, that was supposed to announce the hour every thirty minutes, in deep voices of chimes, but rarely did.
The hallway and our grandmother’s room were kept as before and smelled of medicinal plants, some potted, and some left to dry on newspapers, up on the wardrobe. During the long, hard winters, a warm wood fire was set in the big iron stove placed in the hallway, and Grannie installed her ancient loom to make carpets, blankets and curtains from linen, hemp and wool.
All of these filled the rooms with a wonderful scent we always associate in our minds with times long gone. And it still fills our dreams too. Dreams in which the house doubles up its rooms, as it grows from the yard to the orchard, up to the wooded hill, down to the clayey road. It’s the kind of house that never actually breaks.
And there is also this summer kitchen with small windows, when we used to have our dinner, all seated around a big wooden table, from large wooden saucers, under the yellow light of an oil lamp surrounded by night butterflies. Under the table, on the clay floor, chickens and hens were napping heads under wings; at the front door, shepherd dogs were drooling, eyes at our big portions of polenta and cheese; crickets and frogs were filling the air outside with their chants. First, Grannie used to say grace, then my dad’s brother used to say jokes. Sometimes we laughed, some other times we cried.
Those were the house’s glory days.
Today, it still stands. But it fades away. Like our memories of it.