Close To Home
I love to sit in my bedroom, adjacent to my father’s office, and hear him laugh. More often than not he is listening to Monty Python audio tapes from the 1970s. His spurts of chuckling echo across the whitewashed walls up to the small skylight in the ceiling. My dad has lived in this house for nearly 40 years. Everything—from the gaps in the floorboards to the scratches on the kitchen door—has a story. The house has gone through so many changes over the years that it has developed a personality of its own. It is an eclectic collection of memories and a reflection of the life that my father is living.
He moved here from New York City with my two brothers, Gavin and Trevor, in 1978. The city hadn’t been an easy place to live in. On one occasion my brothers were walking to a nearby toy shop and were promptly mugged by older adolescents. Gavin secretly had his money tucked away in his sock but Trevor was forced to hand over his hard-earned savings. My dad was held up at knifepoint in Manhattan and the neighborhood they lived in was a total wreck with dead chickens rotting away in the streets. Despite the countless explosions, shootings, and daily civilian attacks that occurred throughout the city, my dad and brothers created a life of their own from their loft on Washington Avenue in Brooklyn.
Jimmy Lulu Costantino, a retired Italian boxer turned bar-owner with a lilac Cadillac, rented out a loft in a nearby building to my dad. Jimmy’s restaurant next door had a horse and stable in the back, likely to have been illegal in Brooklyn but no one really bothered to do anything about it. Cops would come on Sunday mornings and shoot rats in the parking lot with their service revolvers. The club across the street, called the Cycle Scouts, had live bands playing every night. R&B music would drift out the windows into the loft where my brothers would be bouncing a paddle ball back and forth.
After 15 years in the city, my dad found an advertisement in the New York Times for a house with 40 additional acres of land upstate. They went from buildings falling apart at the seams in Brooklyn to a rural farm in none other than South New Berlin, NY. It was actually the middle of nowhere.
The first hot summer day that my father and brothers visited, the house was a wreck. The problems consisted of but were not limited to wooden panels peeled off of the exterior, half the rooms weren’t sheet-rocked, there was no central heating system, and the windows in the front room were mostly shattered bits of glass falling out of their frames. As beautiful as the land around it was, it was far too big of a job to fix it up, so my father decided that he would most definitely not be buying it. Before leaving, the trio decided to go for a quick swim in the pond up the hill from the house to cool off. That, my father explains to me, was the moment that changed everything. Something clicked and there was no going back. He often says that that singular swim in a pond changed the course of his entire life.
Countless hours of work have gone into this house. The kitchen was the first part to be repaired. Cabinets and counters were built along with a 400 pound cast-iron stove that my dad installed by himself on an afternoon when my brothers were at school. He planted cornfields and built gardens from scratch. He bought chickens, pigs, sheep, ducks, geese, turkeys and guinea hens, even a calf on one occasion. Most importantly, he bought an Australian cattle dog, otherwise known as a dingo. As the years have passed, the other animals have disappeared but the dingo dogs have stayed. Signs of their presence are all over the house, from those scratches on the kitchen door to the putty holding the glass window together.
I love every inch of this house with all of my heart. I love the splinter the floor gave me when I was 5 years old, causing me to run out of the house in panic as I was chased by my parents until bribed to stop by a bag of blue gummy whales. I love the carpet bought from a junkyard on the floor of the front room that was previously a storage space for baby chicks raised in refrigerator boxes. I love the living room where my father has blasted countless records until the entire house shook from the vibrations of a deep bass. I love the stained glass window in the bathroom that reflects red stripes onto the black tile. I love the shower that turns ice cold if you run the kitchen sink. I love the strange art collected over the years that used to frighten me when I was little. I love the smell of the musty old wood and antique books. I love the turquoise paint dropped into different splotches on the stairs.
Over the years, changes have been made but the energy of the house has remained the same. With every visit, new oddities jump out at me. Rather than dwelling on the surprises though, I simply let them hang in my memory before returning to the white walls.
Photos by Sophie Peters-Wilson