The Giving House

August 12, 2015 by Jennifer Carsen



Or, if you prefer, The Little House That Could.

Built in the mid-1800s and added onto many times since then – sometimes expertly, sometimes ineptly – this little yellow house took me in and soothed my frayed soul after a difficult divorce. Making an offer on it after seeing just this one house for less than 10 minutes was probably one of the most irrational decisions I’ve ever made…and one of the best.

It is full of old-house charm (wide pine floor boards and a claw-foot bathtub) and old-house problems (the time our indoor cat caught a chipmunk in the basement comes to mind). It features steps worn smooth from a century-plus of footsteps back and forth, a tiny Hobbit-door that leads to my loft office, and a surprising number of closets and cubbyholes for a house that hasn’t been new since Lincoln was president.

It also boasts wonky wiring that has brought our skilled electrician – a man who specializes in working on old houses – to his knees, and a stubbornly invasive wisteria vine that refuses to give up the fight.

From here, we can see the fireworks launched downtown on July 4th and New Year’s Eve (yes, fireworks in the dead of winter, because that’s how we roll here in Portsmouth), the seasonally changing array of the apple orchard across the street, and the landlocked historic submarine just across the back fence. We can hear the bells of the church steeple downtown and, when the breeze is right, smell the ocean brine of the tidal pond just across the way.

And last but certainly not least, the sheer wonderfulness of our neighbors cannot be overstated. We are blessed to have been in their close proximity these past eight years. And I do mean “close.” If you are familiar with the narrow streets of old New England towns, you know that, for better or worse, your neighbors’ lives are lived in inextricable tandem with yours.

This is the house Eric and I returned to after our honeymoon and brought both of our children home from the hospital to after their births. It’s where they took some of their first steps (and, in the case of Lorelei, some of her first scootches). To date, Nicholas has eaten approximately 17 pounds of lint off the old pine floors. We have sung the “Goodnight, Lorelei” bedtime song upstairs over 1,500 times. And we have killed scores of spiders – the big, the small, and the truly shriek-inducing.

The house, much like love itself, is irrational and weird and wonderful. And tomorrow, we’ll finish packing up and move out of it to start our next chapter in a bigger house across town (built in 1952 – imagine that! By any reasonable standard, that’s no new house – yet after living here, it feels like the paint has hardly dried on it.)

It’s a good move, the right move, for our family, and a very special house in its own right. We will no longer be tripping over each other, taking headers down the steep stairs, or cracking our heads on the charming yet vertically challenged ceiling beams. It’s bittersweet to say goodbye, though.

Thank you, little yellow house. You will always hold a special place in our hearts – particularly mine.

But the spiders, you can keep.


  1. martha says:

    Always a sad tug on the heartstrings, but it’ll always be in your collective memories when you remember, “it had to be ‘when’ because we were in the little house.” And the good news is, the BEST memories remain.

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