Dawn Chandler's childhood home in central New Jersey.


Wednesday, June 19, 2019 would have been my parents’ 65th wedding anniversary.

It’s also the day that I learned my childhood home has been destroyed.

My home of 42 years.

My tiny bedroom with the astonishing bookshelves wrapping around two walls and concealing a secret passage into another room, all meticulously handcrafted by my father. How many hours of labor and love he put into those each evening after returning home from the hospital. How many weekends were spent hauling boards up two flights of stairs from his workshop in the basement to my little room at the end of the hall.

The study, where my father spent many a night peering into his microscope and dictating into a tape-recorder. Where he planned Appalachian Trail adventures for family, friends and Scouts and later, tandem bicycle excursions with his beloved across the back roads of New Jersey, New England, France. Where, if they ever had anything serious to discuss, my parents retired to converse in private. I never, ever heard them raise their voices to each other — in that room or any other.

Every hallway… every bedroom…every bathroom, lined with books. Books. Books. Everywhere, books.

The large screened-in porch off the dining room and kitchen, where we supped every meal from May to September. Where Thanksgiving leftovers were kept in cold storage. Where the best naps in the world were had lounging on the long glider. Where my mother would sit at the long table my father had built, always in the chair to the left, closest to the kitchen’s Dutch door. Here she read the paper each summer morning, her tea turning cold as she became absorbed in a story while scratching the ear of a beloved dog sitting dotingly beside her.

The living-room with its enormous stone fireplace and stone mantel — as long as my father was tall and surely ten times as heavy. Where my brothers and I learned to build a dependable fire and then, by its warmth, know the pleasure of conversation by flamelight.

The dining room where lively conversation sparkled among wine glasses and beer steins, mugs of cider and impossibly strong black coffee and Red Rose tea. Where on winter weekends pages of the Sunday New York Times were made sticky with maple syrup from my father’s “justly famous” sourdough pancakes.

The kitchen.
All those apple pies… loaves of breads… Tollhouse cookies.

Those dozen rooms vibrating over four decades with symphonies and sonatas, cantatas and operas, vespers and bluegrass, rock and roll and folk, all from speakers wired throughout the house.

The root cellar transformed into wine cellar, pungent of earth and must, curtained in cobwebs, its dirt floor covered with corks and bottle leads from hundreds of dark green bottles from France.

The fieldstone front stoop where my mother would sip her afternoon tea and sort through mail while she waited for us to walk home from the school bus.

Fragrant paths that lead to hidden forts, hidden hideaways.

The goat barn, where my mother’s natural gift of animal whispering came to life as she assisted my brother with his small herd of French Alpines.

My father’s near acre of vegetable garden.

The old stone wall.

The tractor trail where we spent snow days sledding, Surely it was a mile long!

The berm that became a firing range, where my brothers and I learned to respect firearms.

The daffodils. The lilac. The forsythia.

The Lily of the Valley.

Mint for iced tea…..and gin and tonics.

The sandpile under the crabapple.

The chestnut trees. The dogwood. The willow.
The magnolia. The birch. The maple. The sycamore.

The hemlocks.

The holly.

The Christmas trees.

Four decades of Christmas trees planted each year in the early days of January, in holes dug in late autumn in anticipation of another addition to the arboretum of our yard. By the time the house was sold in 2006, our Christmas tree from 1965 — our first year in the house — soared with so many others high above the attic roof.

The pool where my brothers and I and any number of our friends learned to swim. Where we had nighttime games of Marco Polo, bats skimming our heads. And where, in my college years, I became lusciously acquainted with the sensuousness of midnight solo skinnydips.

All gone.

We knew this was coming. With my mother’s breast cancer and my father’s leukemia (which at that point was still asymptomatic and more of a nuisance than a daily worry) my parents had come to the realization that the house and property were just too much for them to manage by themselves anymore. That the time had come for them to sell the house and move into a nearby retirement community.
The man who bought the property just before the market tanked in 2008 had plans to “develop” it. And with its perfect proximity to New York and Philadelphia — each about an hour’s drive in opposite directions — you could pretty much bet that they were going to be McMansions.

But for twelve years after it sold, the house sat as it had pretty much always been, shaded by majestic trees, set back from the main road, with various families renting it here and there.

And I guess I wanted to believe that it would always remain there that way in the shade.
That maybe the developer would by some astounding miracle have a change of heart, and let this house that was such a beautifully tapestried home and haven continue to stand in perpetuity as a testament to lives well lived and a deeply happy and respectful marriage.

Of course all of that does still remain — if only in our hearts and memories.

 

And maybe that’s enough.

 

It has to be.

 

Watercolor sketch of artist Dawn Chandler's childhood home.
watercolor sketch of my childhood & deepest heart’s home . . . in central New Jersey
. . . painted wednesday evening, 19 june 2019 . . .

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Artist Dawn Chandler at the age of 4ish taking control of the situation.

Still bossy after 50+ years, Dawn Chandler is an artist and avid outdoorswoman who celebrates life and her love of nature via her writing, photography and most especially through her traditional & abstract landscape paintings. She feels blessed every day to live in New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment. Learn more about Dawn, her art and her story on her website at taosdawn.com. Or simply go here for a quick link to shop her art.