Wild City // A house alive?

I’ve never thought our house was haunted, but at times I’ve wondered if it is alive. Young kids draw a house with a peaked roof, and two windows on either side of a door, giving the house a face.

In the early years living in this house with my husband, we had one of those domestic disasters, the kind that catches you off guard, seems dire at the time, and costs you a lot of money to fix. 

Driving home from work one day, my husband heard a song on the radio he loved. He had to have it. He veered off course, went to a music store, bought it on CD and brought it home to play for me. It was a gospel song by Sam Cooke, “Jesus gave me water.”

My husband, I should say, bonds with people either by cooking for them, or playing music for them. All those days when he drove our now-grown daughter to and from school, he would play music for her and talk with her about it, time she will most likely cherish for the rest of her life. Even when she was very young, when asked what kind of music she liked, she would say, “Jazz and blues.”

The evening he brought the Sam Cooke song home, we played it over and over. I loved it too. There was so much feeling in it.

The next morning my husband headed down to the basement, to where our “guy bathroom” is, to take his shower. “Honey,” I heard him call out. “Would you come down here?” The hot water heater had croaked, and a couple of inches of water covered our carpeted basement floor.

The plumber came, and convinced us, in our shocked state, to have him replace all our pipes with copper ones, as well as install a new hot water heater. When things settled down, my husband and I looked at each other and said, “That song!” I think of this event now as our house laughing at us.

When we told this story to a friend, he said he wished he could go out and buy a CD with a song on it called, “Jesus gave me money.”

When a contractor or a fix-it guy is working here, and they ask how old our house is, I never have to stop and think. It was built the same year my husband was born. Every so often we comment on that alignment.

A couple of years ago, around the time of my husband’s cancer diagnosis, two uncanny house-related things happened. One day I noticed a brown stain on the dining room wall that went from the ceiling to the floor. I called the contractor who had recently replaced our roof. He sent his troubleshooter out to take a look. 

The guy checked the stain, then went out and climbed up on the roof, then came in again shaking his head. The roofing appeared sound, and the leak, if that is what it was, made no sense to him because it was on an inside wall. In over a decade of checking out roof problems, he’d never come across one that stumped him like this one did. I wiped off the stain, and it has not returned.

I think of this event now as our house crying.

A few weeks after they called from the oncologist’s office to tell my husband he had cancer, he got a pinched nerve in his neck, apparently from the stress. The doctor gave him a prescription for potent pain pills and told him to go to bed for a week.

Our daughter came out of her bedroom one night during that week and said there were sparks arcing out of, if you will, the neck of her ceiling light fixture, and they were shooting across the room. So it was an electrician we had to call this time. A nerve misfiring, a wire misfiring, the correspondence was just plain spooky.

Around this same period, we were riding in the car one day, talking, when our daughter piped up from the back seat, “What was that noise? And what is that thing on the front window?” There had been no vehicle ahead of us to kick up a stone, but the windshield of my husband’s car had just suddenly cracked. There was now one long, jagged scar on it that stretched from one side to the other.

My husband’s cancer has been dormant, and we have rebounded well from this period of struggle. I suppose physical objects cannot express feelings, or register sorrow. These events I have related have got to be coincidences. But the number of them, during that dark time in our family life, left me wondering.

Mary Jean Port writes at home, near Minnehaha Creek and Lake Harriet, and teaches at The Loft Literary Center.