Saturday, March 28, 2015

Waldheim: Naming and Claiming our Arden Home

People in Arden give their houses names. Or their houses come with them. I have heard of The Castle, The Burgess, The Pine Nuts, Arden Pottery and Weaving Shop (which is a name derived from the house's original function) among the many home titles which are usually accompanied by some sort of hand-crafted signage. I don't know where this propensity for naming houses comes from exactly, but I tend to believe that people name their vacation homes sooner than they name their everyday homes. Like naming a boat. And, as Arden started as a summer community, this could explain it.

Gramps standing in front of the cabin he built.
In the 1950's, my grandpa built a getaway cabin on some forest property fifteen minutes from his home. Gramps felled the trees and built the fireplace himself. He called his place The Bush. He made a sign that hung on the outside of the cabin which read, Waldheim, in a Germanic font. We are Pennsylvania Dutch (German) and the word means Forest Home or Home in the Woods in German. I don't know why we called the cabin The Bush when the sign read Waldheim. I never asked Gramps about that little discrepancy.

I remember summer get-togethers at The Bush. We would truck in the side dishes and desserts, and Gramps would set up a charcoal grill for hamburgers and hotdogs. White-haired Grandma Elsie (Gramps's mother) would sit on a rocking chair on the porch and tell us stories about her youth. My grandma (Gramps's wife) would shake her head at Elsie's stories, so we never knew if the world Elsie was telling us about was real or a product of her growing dementia. Did it matter? I learned about outhouses and Daddy-longleggers. Gramps rode us around the property on Gomer, his old tractor. He would drive and the pipe smoke would waft back to us. (I refuse to believe anything bad about pipe smoke.)

As we got older (and Gramps did too) we would have clean-up days to fight back all the weeds and encroaching forest that were a constant reality at The Bush. I guess we didn't do nearly enough of them, because when Gramps decided that the property was getting to be too much work, he sold it without telling the rest of the family. I don't know if he retrieved the sign before he sold it, though I don't think so. Nobody in the family seemed to know where it was when I asked.

When we found our house in Arden, I knew about the Ardenite habit of naming their dwellings. I loved that habit. I had named my previous house La Porte Violette, even though nobody ever names their copy-cat house in a sub-division. La Porte Violette was more of a state-of-mind, a name I thought I would take to every house I lived in, so long as I painted the door purple. I did not ask if our new Arden house had a name. Or maybe I did and accepted the first "No" I got without digging any deeper. I knew I wanted to name the place Waldheim. Our last name is Wood. We live in a wood home on the edge of the woods. What could be more poetic than Waldheim? (Well, perhaps the Italian translation of Forest Home would be more poetic, but none of us are Italian.) I painted the the name Waldheim on a sign that hangs above our outdoor chalkboard.  I used a script that was a cross of the Pennsylvania Dutch Fraktur and the Old English font that appears on signs around Arden. Though it isn't Gramps's original sign (I would love to have that), the painted board looks good; the name feels right.

I am not quite sure if that is how naming a house works in Arden. If you can just come in and name your house, and people will accept your dominion over your dwelling. Every square inch of this village comes preloaded with its own history, so it is a bit brazen to think that any newcomer can play with that. It takes a while to become part of the lore here. I still tell people I live in the del Tufo's old house and probably will for years. But I am writing this blog, telling my stories publicly about this place where I landed. If my goal is lore, I think I am on my way. I can just about see my grandma shaking her head. And Gramps is here, too. There are occasions when I can smell his pipe tobacco. Even if I have not gone through the proper channels naming our house in Arden, at least I know he is with me and he approves.

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