Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Going Home

Home. If there is a word around which my life swirls it is this one. Home spirals down from the outermost shell toward an unseen core, ending at a space so small and personal that it exists only inside us.

Home is not always easy to find. If what you seek is a home for your spirit or soul, you—paradoxically—first must have faith to find it. 

As for our physical homes, sometimes they are lost to us. We try to build new ones, but our minds go back to a certain home from the past. In dreams and daydreams we walk the halls, meeting pets and people long gone, but our loved ones are changed, somehow insubstantial—the houses, too, exist on a mysterious plane.

Yes, these shells are powerful places where we invest our energy, shaping the space to suit us, to keep us safe.

Here is a story that testifies to the place that home—as a place, idea, memory—held in one woman’s heart. It is a true story, as true as a story can be, because isn’t it also true that only fiction tells no lies?

One late afternoon not at all long ago, as January drew to a close, an 87-year-old woman in the first stages of Alzheimer’s disappeared from her seniors’ residence; no one saw her leave.
 She took a taxi to the home where she and her husband had raised their children. Those children are middle aged now; the husband, in a veterans’ hospital; the house, a vacant mansion at the end of a long drive locked behind rusted gates. Pillars flank the roadside entrance to the property; you can see where a plaque was once mounted bearing the estate’s name, “Lakewood.” 

The home is aptly named. The property is extensive, about three acres, almost unheard of in a city. It’s a heavily wooded lot perched on a cliff that overlooks another cliff that overlooks a lake that looks like the sea.

Two years ago the woman and her family sold the place to a developer. The property—prime real estate in a real-estate-ravenous city—is slated for subdivision. Acres of giant spruce and oak and maple trees that stand vigil over the now crumbling Georgian-style house will be replaced by three oversized McMansions destined and designed to overwhelm the semi-wild landscape. 

The place has a lonely feel. The road itself—Pine Ridge Road—is hushed. It is both wistful and gentle, sheltered by century-old trees but also buffeted by winds off the nearby bluffs. A paradoxical landscape.

The gracious old house is emblematic. Its days are numbered. It stands empty, green shutters askew or missing, grey stucco discoloured and damaged. It is barely visible through the bent iron fence, thick trees and bracken gone wild that screen it from the quiet road.

It is here at the old gate that the taxi leaves our lady, who, so the reporters report, is ”well dressed, carrying a purse and keys, makeup carefully applied.”  

Though she had slipped unseen from the nursing home, her arrival at Lakewood is witnessed. A man working at a nearby house approaches her offering help, but she tells him no, she is fine, this was her home for over 40 years and she just going for a visit. He returns to work.

A neighbour sees her, too, recognizes her as the former resident and watches as our lady limps down the long driveway to the front door of the abandoned house. When she reaches the door the neighbour turns away, assumes she is okay, thinks that perhaps she’s just back for a visit, and, after all, help isn’t far if she needs it. 

At 4:30 the next morning, our lady is found dead, lying right outside the faded green six-panel door—on the very threshold of her home.

Police say that though temperatures were as low as -10 C that night, she did not freeze to death, although the cold was a factor. They did not say what was the cause of death.

Her distraught son is interviewed. He talks of his own passion for the area, this bit of urban wilderness. A paradise, he calls it. He talks of his mother’s love for her home and the happy years the family shared there. Of her last journey to the house, he says: “I think it was her last wish. It was almost like a mission. Destiny was calling her and she was going home.”

You’ve guessed, perhaps, that I know the house. I do, but I did not know our lady, though I share her name—Kathleen.

Her road, Pine Ridge, is a favourite walk of mine, a short distance from my own home. Her house has always intrigued me, it is one-of-a-kind, a rare bit of yesterday in a city where shiny and new reigns supreme.

The geography of the ridge on which her home is so prominently positioned has a powerful energy. The massive stands of old trees, the cliff that’s just beyond, the lake so far below, and all the space it consumes across the horizon—sacred. I would dare say so. Hallowed ground.

Had it been my home on the ridge, where the wind whips off the bluffs only to be shushed, shushed by the pines, I would have returned. To those trees, I would go home, and I would not be alone.

Brave woman, wise woman. She lay down under the boughs. Though the door is closed to us, she crossed the threshold and is home at last. 


  1. I wonder if you left these flowers? What an incredible story. I kind of wish she had got inside her house one last time. Such a mixture of sadness (that it is slated for demolition) and wistfulness (of a time gone by) and slight happiness (that she got home one last time).
    This story should be a book. Perhaps beginning with her last journey there and then going to the life she had there, raising her kids and the noise and activity. But that's been done hasn't it?

  2. No, not I. Yes, I agree. One more visit inside would have been right.