Suszynski: The trappings of a gnome house |

Suszynski: The trappings of a gnome house

Suszynski: The trappings of a gnome house

A successful gnome house has a few things going for it. One, the roof must be sturdy. You must test the roof with water to make sure it only leaks a little. Two, the beds must have mattresses made of fresh grass. If the grass browns overnight, you must replace it the next morning. Three, the kitchen must be usable and the biggest fixture of the house.

These are rules I stipulated in third grade with my best friend Emma. When the school year started, the only thing that could pull us away from making these little homes during recess was when the local firemen visited to play soccer.

We had a few blueprints: the lean-to house that we propped against the fence, the long house with a big dining room table, and finally, my favorite, the gnome treehouse.

I also taught my younger brother, Gabe, how to make gnome houses. We were at the age where he still followed me around and I liked having an assistant builder. One day, as we worked on a single-family home, we set out gnome food to bake in the sun (mashed dandelion paddy). I was lying on my back when I heard rustling and turned on to my stomach to face a very large bull snake. Gabe told me he recalled it a little differently when I asked him if he remembered this.

My family is all home for Thanksgiving: in our physical home and also at home with each other. Every Thanksgiving, we ski together, and then we gather around the kitchen, our legs still recovering from the early season fatigue as we mash the potatoes and slide pecan pie into the oven. This year it will be no different.

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Homes are enclosures for our memories. Homes are places where we house things. Two writers that I greatly admire, Rachel Cusk and Sandra Cisneros, write of home and memory in their essay collections.

In “Coventry,” Cusk writes in her essay “Making Home,” “Like the body itself, a home is something both looked at and lived in, a duality that in neither case I have managed to reconcile.”

This idea is perplexing as Cusk states only if the person is concerned with what people garner from looking. Cusk’s manifestations of home are a little austere, but she is brilliantly calculated in how she formulates them. I have seen pictures of her house, the dull gray color that pervades her cottage by a gray sea contrasts greatly with the loud, ochre yellow house I grew up in. Upon her own observations of a friend’s home who “runs her house with admirable laxity,” she says, “My friend has been able to give her children exactly what she wanted to give them — love, authority, the right advice — where for other people these things got mixed up and snagged on one another.”

Cisneros spends most of her essay collection, “A House of My Own,” moving from home to home. The important note is that while she did write this collection of essays at various times in her life, she is still drawing upon memory to construct homes long gone. The physical act of writing is a backward looking one.

Cisneros states: “The science writer Jonah Lehre claims we never revisit a memory without altering it. If this is true, then perhaps all memory is a chance at storytelling, and every story brings us closer to revealing ourselves to ourselves.”

In the same way I am constructing for you my memories of the gnome houses I used to build, possibly with erroneous details, I am making home. Gabe had recalled that we both emerged from the house to see the snake sniffing our dandelion paddy pies. But it is worth noting that we both remember that the snake liked our food.

In the introduction of Cisneros’ book, she says “We tell a story to survive a memory in much the same way the oyster survives an invading grain of sand. The pearl is the story of our lives, even if most wouldn’t admit it.”

During this time of year, home has always been important and during this year, home has come to encompass almost everything. Home is the gathering place, the haven, the office, the getaway, the place in which the avoidable becomes unavoidable. Home is also the mountains. Home is the snow. It is both the place I have looked at most and lived with longest.

All the invading grains of sand, my brothers, mashed potatoes, the snowstorm, is doing its work to polish the story of our lives into a shining pearl.

A successful gnome house has a few things going for it. One, while the roof must be sturdy, the people inside must be sturdier. Leaks do happen, which is why it is always helpful to have a few hands to place the buckets. Two, while it is important to turn a bed, it is more important that we are always consciously moving toward greener pasture. Three, the kitchen is a gathering place. While this should be the biggest fixture of the house, it is only the biggest because the family that uses it is big with love and needs plenty of space to laugh while they slice the turkey.

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