This weekend my parents and I retired to our family home in Falmouth, Massachusetts to begin demolition. The kitchen had grown out of date in both form and function, and with my sister now firmly graduated my parents can shift their attention to renovations.
Our Cape house and community are something of a secular religion to me. The home is the one thing I share with my paternal great-grandparents. Lifelong friendships were formed there, coming of age rites passed, our family grown and bonded. The idea of modifying this chapel felt borderline sacrilegious. How could we mere mortals improve upon so perfect a place? Though the updates were long anticipated, I was anxious and hesitant to begin.
I arrived late Friday night and already the character of the house was changed. My parents had already moved everything not bolted down from the kitchen into the living room, leaving only empty cupboards. My memories of the house are primarily of warmth, coziness, and unquestionable belonging. Now, we remarked, we felt like we were lamming it – strangers hiding in the skeleton of a home.
Desecration began the next morning. At first I moved gingerly, treating the room with well-worn respect. Then I slowly accepted my role as destroyer – using a sledge hammer and crowbar was unexpectedly joyful. Physical labor often becomes meditative.The final give of a cabinet coming off the wall was pure exuberance. However, there was something undeniably treacherous about gleefully taking to pieces the cabinets that had held together your childhood – holding your cereal, hiding your secretive liquor. Cupboards that had served so well and so long as to become anachronisms now turned to kindling.
Yet in the destruction I felt a more intimate connection with the home than I’d ever had in twenty-seven years of living in it. To go from acting within the house to acting upon it brought a better sense of knowing than I’d thought possible. Instead of seeing the house as a completed, singular thing I saw the many constituents – the pipe carrying your water, the cables weaving under the stairs, the black steel supporting the second floor. These things that before seemed magic are now understood. My former knowledge of this place, the lodestar of my youth, now felt superficial. I came to understand how the home made such a beloved childhood possible, and to respect our home all the more.
Like archaeologists we also uncovered clues about the past generations – two generations of (to me) unknown Prides. I ripped up linoleum and learned their taste (or lack thereof) in tiling. I tore down drywall I saw the fifty’s fashion in wall paneling, or a mount where they’d hung a picture eighty years before. In one portion of the floor the wood was rotted – the result of some previous generation’s cataclysm. Here was proof that these ancestors had lived where we lived and renovated the place they loved, as we do now. And proof that this place has always changed in its constituents yet always remained the same in its sum.
This history and this intimacy would have remained hidden without our undertaking, lovingly, the demolition. And now we leave our own imprint on this sacred yet changing place.