A house we lived in for a few months had been first a barn, then a church, and finally a duplex. One of my favorite books is Elizabeth Goudge’s Pilgrim’s Inn, the second in a trilogy about the Eliots. The story is of a family purchasing a house and discovering slowly that it had once been an inn for pilgrims and that a pantry had once been a chapel. The house, it is suggested, had such a holy atmosphere that the people who lived in it were protected and the marriage saved. The first novel of that trilogy was about a grandmother purchasing a house to make into a sanctuary for her children and grandchildren during World War Two.
When our daughter went away to university, we spruced up the bathroom, nothing extreme, just a new tub surround, wallpaper, and flooring. I thought how pleased she was going to be, but instead, she burst into tears, “I knew you would change everything while I was gone.” I felt that way myself when my parents’ house was purchased and renovated. The renovations were necessary and tastefully done, but the memory I had in my mind of a cozy, rosy interior was discombobulated.
I remember very little of living in the former church. My father repeated anecdotes of our living there, of the funny things my two year old brother did there, but I remember these repeated anecdotes, not the house itself. Our village had many lovely colonial and Victorian houses, but in fact the church/duplex was then and still is one of the two ugliest, poorest houses there. Five or six years after we left, a large family moved into one of the duplexes, and some of them are still living there. Although they were poor and rough around the edges, they appeared to be a happy family and much admired.