It started as innocent curiosity and bloomed into unabashed voyeurism. This spring a 1950s-era Cape Cod across the street was torn down and replaced by its new owner’s home.
It was loud. Really loud. But since one of my favorite parts of summer is moving my office (a laptop) to the old granite-topped table on our front porch, I had better get used to the noise.
From my neighborly perch, I began a benign surveillance, taking notes about the unfolding scene. These varied wildly in tone and content, beginning wistfully: I walked the property before the house was torn down, taking in the tire swing on the big old maple. The sweet little screened porch. The basset hound’s broken down doghouse.
As construction progressed, the observations became quotidian.
Roof tresses going up. The new house will be handsome and huge. We are so grateful the owners ensured the magnificent oak trees will be saved.
There is one last peony in bloom on the property, a small cloud of deep pink next to the old driveway.
The crew arrives promptly at 8 a.m. and works without pause until the brief lull in hammering that signifies lunch, when they sit in the van with the doors open. They exchange very little banter. I never hear them swear. I resist the urge to relay all of this to the owner, like a teacher sending home a progress report: “The carpenters were especially diligent today!”
All the neighbors, of course, were curious as well, driving past slowly for long looks. Even our cat nosed around the house’s perimeter, as if resetting his territorial GPS.
A handful of people surreptitiously walked through the open frame now and again, appraising the floor plan. As actual walls went up, this began to feel less like innocent poking around and more like the blatant trespassing that it was.
Some of my logs were downright peculiar.
Port-a-potty was serviced today. Maybe these guys don’t even notice.
One of the workers sneezes a lot, quite loudly. Allergies?
Every day, a bright blue water cooler perches on a ground floor windowsill.
And there was this: While the cement truck is impressive in a giant-rhino-rolling-in-mud kind of way, my favorite piece of equipment is that thing with the huge conveyor belt carrying shingles to the roof. It’s imposing, yet graceful. A giraffe with the strength to crush buildings.
My husband and I have never built a house, but 14 years ago, we built half a house. Embarking on a renovation that nearly doubled the size of our Cape, we essentially invited a crew of highly skilled men wearing tool belts to move in with us for five months.
Every evening, we’d tour our evolving home like prospective buyers falling in house-love, exhilarated by the assemblage of raw materials being shaped first by machines and finally by human hands into a home with miraculously squared corners, all poised over the open maw of a basement.
At one point in my notes, I appear to confuse my house with the new one going up: Yesterday I brought the crew chocolate chip cookies, still warm.
This I attribute to muscle memory. My mother fed anyone who walked in the house carrying a screwdriver. Custard pie, peach cobbler, chili. To bring someone standing on a ladder a paper plate of cookies that came from a tube seems but a pale iteration of a noble tradition.
Most telling was this: The reliable blue cooler has disappeared from its proper spot on the windowsill. The entire equilibrium of the place is off, as if a color square has been slashed from a Mondrian.
Clearly the cooler obsession suggests that living in a place for 30 years makes one a bit resistant to change. When people set down stakes, they usually want things to stay the way things were when they moved there, because that’s why they moved there.
In the 1940s, a young couple bought a vast spread of old farm fields at bank auction and carved a private lane through it. Part of that land would evolve into our neighborhood, a handful of modest post-war dwellings, for the most part, built by people who loved them enough to stay put for many decades.
My husband and I moved there in the late 1980s. Twenty years later, it took everyone some time to adjust to the clearing of woods that made room for new homes. Later yet, a small, overgrown orchard gave way to another home.
Every one of them is beautiful, owned by gracious people who love this lane as much as I do.
So why was I stopped in my tracks the other night by a sudden twist of longing? Standing in our backyard, I caught myself mourning that tire swing. Walks along the cool stretch of woods. The orchard’s scraggly old trees. And where were the lightning bugs? Do they even hang out here anymore?
As if on cue, a pageant of tiny moving lights appeared.
Here is what’s missing from my porch diaries: The red fox that slips through our yards now and then. The white-speckled fawn on gangly legs, skipping round her mother. The flock of wild turkeys strutting blithely down the lane.
Each of us living here belongs to that shared beauty. All of us occupy a parcel of our common history.
The structure taking shape across the street isn’t a building covered in white Tyvek anymore. It’s my neighbor’s home.
I wonder if they want that peony?