There is no measuring the shock that the loss of a house can cause. Margaret Anderson
Any shelter where you find comfort, contentment, safety, and refuge – however temporary it might be is your House of Belonging. Sarah Ban Breathnach
When you purchase a house, you also purchase the sounds it hears from the outside and the sounds it holds from the inside. In buying Simplicity, we inherited the jet noise of planes as they begin their descent into the Madison airport, the train horn as it slowly moves through the village center, the sirens of emergency vehicles that call home just three blocks away. These loud noises are balanced by the softer sounds of children at play in the school yard, the birds chirping as they call out to each other, the squirrels clucking as they sit on a tree branch. Inside the house, the sump pump belches, beginning with a wheeze and ending with a thud. The old stairs creak and moan, each having its own unique squeak. When we first moved in, these noises heightened our awareness of our surroundings. They informed us about our home, our neighborhood, our village. Now they are familiar and expected.
There was one sound, however, that was most mysterious. It occurred in the early days of living here. We heard people talking inside the house. Had we left on the television, a radio, or were we hearing the neighbors talking in the yard? No. We narrowed down the location. The voices were coming from the bathroom on the first floor, a room that had received extensive remodeling after the house had been moved. The moment Don or I would step into this space, the voices stopped. Did we imagine this? No, they were real. Why would we have voices in the house? Did they live here? Did they belong to the house? Where did they come from? Were they going to stay? Questions filled our minds.
Rather quickly we realized we were not frightened by these voices. There was no crisis or alarm in them. We listened more intently. Could we detect any specific word or phrase? Decipher a clue to help us understand what they were saying or why they were here? Not a single distinguishable word could be heard, just a murmur. Were these men’s or women’s voices? They seemed to be women’s. Men’s voices would have lower tones. These had a higher pitch. They were neither soft nor loud. There was no inflection. Rather it was like background noise, except the background of what, of where? It was curious that we only heard the voices during the day, never at night. We continued to listen. We also began to wonder what we were going to do about it. We had heard of house exorcisms, but these voices did not seem to be mean-spirited. Were they lost? What did they need? Were they asking something of us, and if so, what?
Suddenly the voices made sense to us. One of the prior lives of Simplicity was a hair salon located on the first floor. These were the voices of the women who came to have their hair done. These were the conversations they had with each other as they sat in the stylist’s chair or in the waiting room. They were comfortable here. This was a place where their stories were safely spoken and shared.
We had what some people might call ghosts or spirits although we never saw them, only heard them. Both Don and I acknowledge that there is so much in this world that is real, yet not explainable, observable, understandable. We believe that spirits can exist, however, we‘d had no personal experience. Were we to learn from them, release them, honor them, ignore them? We could not ignore them!
I will admit that I was ready to have our house be totally ours, not shared indefinitely with these voices of the past. I was also uncertain as to what to do about it and whether I had any power in this happening. One morning as I heard them speaking, I walked into the room. They became silent, but I spoke out loud. “I want you to know that we hear you and understand that you must miss your familiar space. This move, these changes have been difficult for you. I promise that we will care for this place. We will always remember that your story is part of this house. Stay as long as you must. We will not harm you. ”
I never heard them speak again.
Fourteen years later we were hosting our annual block party. The village police had been invited to talk about neighborhood caring connections. One of the officers recognized our house as the one that had been moved from the village center as he had been the police escort. He commented that he had heard the first purchasers of the house had done some remodeling, but never moved in and within months had backed out of the deal. This we already knew. Then the policeman paused. He took a deep breath, raised his eyebrows, quieted his voice, and looked directly at us. He had heard that a possible reason was that the house had ghosts. Don’s and my ears perked up. We had never heard anyone speak of this.
I am unclear as to what really happened that day I talked to them. I do not know where they went, only that they left and have not returned. It seems that a peaceful exchange occurred in our mutual space, both for them and for us. Perhaps the spirits were a reminder to honor all the stories people bring, as well as the importance of having a place for sharing them. Perhaps this was a reminder to us that Simplicity is a place of storytelling and story holding.