My Architectural Friends
I WONDER if to others, as to me, houses seem to have names expressive of their characters, — names universally of the feminine gender. I do not refer to the absurd and high-sounding abortions of misspelling given them in baptism by their parents or guardians, — “ Mayplehurst,” “ Wyndwold,” “ Hylholm.” No, I mean good honest Christian names, suggested by the personality of the houses themselves, like “ Margaret and Mary, Kate and Caroline,” to quote the May Queen’s list of defeated candidates for the regency to which she herself was chosen. To an old man who has been robbed of human companionship by the relentless years, these friends of wood and stone are among time’s compensating gifts.
I have lived — for more years than the psalmist would allow me to consider free from labor and sorrow — in a country town where each dwelling is to me a distinct personality. Of course houses express the individuality of their occupants and are saturated with associations which, to the octogenarian, are so much cud for the toothless jaws of memory to chew. That goes without saying, — but what I cannot go without saying is that to me each house has a name and a character of its own, not of its owner.
Across my street is a matronly-looking colonial mansion with yellowing complexion and a pleasant look of experience, whose name I am sure is Deborah. Her broad brow beams benignly upon me, and the smile of her hospitable front door, cordial and affectionate, recognizes that we are contemporaries. Close by is a little cottage whose eyebrows are always raised in an expression of surprise, and whose hair seems tightly pulled back on her roof. Neat, trig, and compact, this little house is always “ Ellen ” to me, for I once knew an Ellen — sixty years ago — whose personality was the same.
All the way down the street to the post office these friends of mine stand, cordial, smiling, intimate. That fat, comfortable house who seems to recline rather than to sit up like her neighbors, is called “ Lizzie,” as any one with an ounce of imagination can see at a glance. Poor Lizzie’s eyes are half shut under their swollen lids, and her rather cumbersome bulk emanates indolence. I know she is rheumatic from lying in that damp hollow so long, and the thought gives me a sympathetic twinge.
Of course there are some houses for whom I have not the same affection as for these intimates. For instance, there is a prudish little gray house on the corner whose nose is in the air, and wTho is too prim to smile at any man, even when he is almost a right angle in shape, and leans upon a cane. She is thin, angular, and old-maidish, and I know her name is Sophia, and that is all I care to know about her.
Next door is a flirtatious little Queen Anne cottage peeking coquettishly out from a tangle of flowers, her hair hanging picturesquely over her eyes in curls and tendrils. Dear little Flossy! I can’t look at her beguiling personality without regretting that her unsymmetrical prettiness has been superseded by a more classic type of beauty. Yet who can look at her dignified neighbor Helen and regret anything! Helen, the pride of her architect, and of her town, pure in line, stately in bearing, perfect in beauty. To her I take off my hat, while to Lizzie, Ellen, and Flossy I informally nod and smile.
Of course in architectural circles, as in others, there is the vulgar parvenue who tries to get into good society by imitating her neighbors. Close beside Helen, peeking at her through an ornate fence, is one of these pretentious little upstarts. She is shockingly overdressed, blatantly pinchbeck, and shows hybrid inheritances. Her hair is done àla Fran false (Frençh roof), she has the real English complexion (red brick), and she has decked herself with inappropriate Florentine furbelows and Roman mosaics (Italian garden and pergola). Her name, I need hardly say, is Gladys.
Of course I understand that one of the many pleasures which dwellers in cities must resign, is this sense of intimacy with inanimate things. Who ever heard of houses in blocks having names or personalities, — with their red faces all alike, and never so much as a profile among them! There is no variation of type. I feel like saying to them what Humpty Dumpty said to Alice when he felt the hopelessness of ever recognizing her again. “ Your face is the same as everybody has. . . . Now if you had the two eyes on the same side of the nose, for instance, or the mouth at the top,—that would be some help.”
As one grows callous and cold with age, one welcomes anything that brings back the glow of life to organs almost obsolete. So when I leave the monotonous characterless city, after my annual visit t♦o my grandson, and get back to my dear oldfashioned town and look in the friendly faces of Deborah, Lizzie, Ellen, et al., I feel the cockles of my heart warming with love, and the muscles of my throat tightening with emotion. And if I can keep my “ cockles and mussels alive, all alive,” like those in the old song, till my shell of mortality falls from me, it will be owing to the silent influence of my architectural friends.