The Thing About Mansions

Years ago my sister and her husband bought an old historic house on the lakefront at a time when their upkeep was so prohibitively expensive that the selling price was low. I think it was originally planned as more of an investment than a long-term move, but then some love for the brick and mortar ensued, and years later, they are still there.

Thank goodness.

The place is huge -– six bathrooms, seven fireplaces, two complete side-by-side kitchens (one for the servants), a ballroom on the third floor, front and back staircases, a winter garden room with two glass walls and a little fountain-– also known as “”the place houseplants go to die””. The house has a huge labyrinth basement, once creepily reminiscent of the Silence of the Lambs, until my sister had it painted bright blue. Most people get a little disoriented the first time they visit. The weird thing is that the longer you stay there, the smaller and homier the place feels. Partly it is because of my sister’’s decorative changes. Mostly it is because you simply feel welcome there the minute you walk through the door. Some homes have a ““Look but don’t touch!”” feel to them. You sit on the edge of your seat and are afraid to put your glass on the table because it might leave a stain. My sister’’s house shouts ““Go ahead – – plunk yourself down anywhere!””

And that is what we have done –on  both sides of the family. Over the years, various relatives have moved in with them for a while. Half of us have stuff stored in her attics. I stayed there for almost a year during grad school and if you add up all the summer visits since then, I have probably lived there for over two years all tolled. The house has also become the family gathering place for holidays, round birthdays, reunions . . .

On one of the first such occasions, my brother came with his two boys – now both grown men, but at that time they must have been around 8 or 9 years old. It was their first visit to the house and they began their exploration all wide-eyed. ““Is this a mansion?” “This is a mansion, isn’’t it?”” they asked me. And then they took off. I was sitting in the kitchen and every 10 minutes or so they would tear through the room on their way to the next foray, sometimes stopping to get their bearings. “”Oh, we are back here again . . .” ” On the next trip through, the younger one stopped and took a Coke from the refrigerator and then tore off again. Ten minutes later, he was back again, opening the fridge and about to grab another can.

““Andy,” ” I said, “”didn’’t you just take one 10 minutes ago?””

“”Yeah. But I don’t know where it is.””

““Tell you what. Why don’’t you go look for it first before you take a new one?””

Andy sighed and closed the refrigerator door.

“”That’s the thing I hate about mansions,” he said, “You can never find your Coke.””

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