“At night, who has not heard ghostly steps upon the stairs, the soft closing of unseen doors, the tapping on a window, and, perchance, a sigh or the sound of tears? Timid souls may shudder and be afraid, but wiser folk smile, with reminiscent tenderness, when the old house dreams.”
Author Myrtle Reed wrote this passage in her novel “Lavender and Old Lace” well over a century ago, which was a good fifty years before my own home was even a blueprint. And yet, I have found that my house dreams as vividly as any.
The most unusual of my house’s “dreams” is the sound of barking dogs that comes from a particular bathtub drain as it is emptying. The bathtubs are one of the features that drew me to this house originally. They are deep, long, old-fashioned, porcelain, unpretentious, made for soaking until your skin wrinkles. I alternate bathing between the two of them. Only one has the dogs in the drain. The same one that has a shower head with a startling sense of humor.
There is also a creak in the hallway that peeks in on me at night – just to see if I am truly asleep. And a kitchen floor that, even though it has been replaced all the way down to the studs, still talks back when it’s walked on (and often when it’s not). I wonder that more of its scarred and well-worn old floors don’t complain and call out under the weight and worry of the piles of books I force them to uphold. All of its corners and crannies and nooks are filled with them.
The stairs to the attic are an especially vocal dream at night, verging on the point of threats and retaliations – perhaps for being relegated to keeping company with unused things and unregulated temperatures.
Not all of my house’s dreams are audible, however. Some are visual in nature. Like the tears that streak and stain one corner of my bedroom ceiling – when there is no trace of any roof leaks ever having occurred there. I have yet to paint over them. I am hesitant to banish them from being – perhaps in doing so to dismiss and discount their significance.
My house dreams its doors into opening, rather than closing. If not latched tightly, its doors all drift open again ever so slowly yet persistently until the dream is free to move unhampered from one place to another, wherever it wants to be at that moment.
Most psychologists believe that when we humans dream about houses, they are representational of ourselves, our own lives. Different rooms and conditions of those rooms mean different things. But, for the most part, as we move through the house in our dreams, we are exploring our own being – seeking increased self-awareness, peering into the corners of our lives. Perhaps we are searching for something, or simply shifting the furniture a bit and cleaning out cobwebs.
I suspect it may be the same for old houses. Perhaps when we hear them “dreaming” at night, they are simply searching within themselves – and remembering. Past lives, past experiences, old loves, long-forgotten regrets. Perhaps they are reliving moments from pajama parties and first days of school, summer mornings and movie nights, first kisses and last goodbyes. They may be hearing laughter and singing and secrets being shared, and maybe a few new babies crying and the barking of old dogs, which – just for safe keeping – they tuck away in a corner above a bedroom and down the drain of a great old bathtub. And, occasionally, they bring them out to live again in their dreams.