Here’s a basic story premise for you, one I’m sure you could tie to a number of books or movies: “A family moves into a new house and begins to discover things about it.”
You’ve already thought of one or two I’m sure. “Poltergeist” is probably in there. “The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe,” maybe.
The reason for that oft-used plot is clear to me now. Stories about previous home owners are almost impossible not to stumble upon.
My wife and I began to move into our first house this weekend. I spent most of that time on the floor, ripping up carpet and pulling up hundreds of staples. My father-in-law joined me, cracking a hammer against pry bars to remove sub-flooring in the front entry and kitchen, all an effort to prep the now-bare boards for new flooring and carpet.
A pile of stuff sat quietly while we worked. We first found the arrangement in the garage. It revealed itself in dramatic slow motion after I compressed the button on our garage door opener and we stood in the driveway and watched it slide back.
The motley of items looked prepped for transport, all pushed into a corner and stacked with Tetris precision. We saw a few key ones at first glance: a small TV, a nice oak entertainment center, a couch, some odd framed maps that looked like they belonged on the walls of a downtown antique shop.
Ours now, we guessed, yard sale highlights we could use to help pay for a washer and dryer.
And then they were forgotten. We had work to do, after all, floors to murder.
Well, some of us forgot anyway. My mother-in-law drifted back out at some point. She started going through the piles, pulled open the attic’s step-down ladder and climbed up to peer into the semi-dark blizzard of insulation. She started making discoveries.
Here’s a khaki-colored Smith-Corona typewriter. Still in its hard plastic case. Still works. Dibs.
And over here, a slide projector. You know, ancient Microsoft Power Point, complete with slides. Still in good condition.
A 1920 mixer. A vintage meat grinder. A record collection, neatly arranged.
Our garage is an antique store start-up cache, it seems. My mother-in-law took to it like an archaeologist to the just-discovered ruins of a city. She looked like a pro while studying them, too, peering through a magnifying glass to identify the tiny writing on some pieces at some points, calling up values on her smartphone during others.
“This fascinates me,” she told me at one point. No joke: her eyes twinkled. Kid in a candy shop. Me at a comic con.
The contrast of that moment strikes me. I spent my weekend erasing a structure’s history while she waded through a pond of its artifacts.
I’ve never been much of a “stuff” guy. My back prickles watching TV shows like ‘Hoarders.’ Having even what feels like an iota of too many things – well, comics excluded, of course – feels suffocating. Sit-and-collect-dust items are not welcome, only the useful inanimate.
Sometimes that philosophy gets a tad out of control, though. This weekend revealed that. My focus was on a new chapter, on putting my mark on this home. And never mind the stories it already had to tell.
Sitting here now, it makes me think of comic book writers, how they’re oft-tasked with telling stories using a character they didn’t invent. They can manipulate, distort, and twist, but ultimately the same foundation stays, history and all. Batman celebrates his 75th anniversary as a character this year, and new stories are still being crafted. And those responsible for the newest chapters, the ones who do it the best anyway, are cognizant of everything that came before. You can reboot all you want in comics, but the previous yarns don’t disappear.
Maybe that’s the takeaway, if there is such a thing to this little prologue on my first house. What happened there before the Pfeils moved in will always lurk in the hallways, rooms and yard, ghosts of a sort.
When it comes to our story, we’re not starting from scratch. We’re a page turn, a sequel.
Not building over, but upon.