Re-post from August 2015 when I wrote this for One Big Table.
AN UNFUSSY TOWN
My apartment in Astoria is in a dark, cold, basement with a white tiled floor in need of some character. A place that doesn’t ever talk back, it simply exists as a space where all my stuff lives. There is little that I’ve placed on the walls—a Harvard mug in a square cube, a sketch of my face that a busker drew on the Subway that I purchased for two dollars, and the drawing of a brownstone in Brooklyn side-by-side with a San Franciscan Victorian showing my true, divided self.
During the drive upstate to the LongHouse Food Scholars Program in Rensselaerville, New York, I am nervous and excited. I don’t know what to expect from a large, country house full of women in an unfamiliar town. Within hours of arrival though, our small group feels completely at ease; the product of settling in to a place that’s already worn in.
The weathered, red screen door of Molly’s house bangs against its frame dozens of times a day with hurried footsteps of students and mentors, cooks and teachers, visitors and admirers. This door has seen better days but it sees all of the days, dark and light, heavy snow and bright sun. Paint peels off of it like the top layer of a stubborn sunburn that exposes the vulnerable, bare white skin underneath.
The town limits may be large but Main Street is small and the residents know the whitewashed brick house with the climbing ivy and its reputation as a sorted, summer camp for writers and cooks. The turn-of-the-century house groans with the aches of old age and the bright walls of each room blush with stories they wish to speak. Molly acknowledges her distaste for the house when no one is it in. The near-constant drumming of feet creates chaos in place of silence.
The walls swell with artifacts of trips taken and art that’s been snatched from any number of Midwestern towns, European shops, or South American villages to form diverse cliques that evoke a distinct feeling when you walk into the room. Built-in bookshelves scale the rest of the foundation holding an all-inclusive library that is ripe for reading and paramount to literary inspiration.
The house that keeps its front door swung open at all times is the looming, silent mother of us all; the ultimate hospitable host. Not without her flaws, she shows them to us without apology. The couch is formed from the familiar lumps and divots of past butts, the rug has coffee stains dripped throughout, and the planks of the dining room floor display a mess of knots.
Her staircases creak wildly when you add your weight, some more outspoken than others. Throughout the house the scholars tend to scatter and pair off like ants escaping the hill but at dinnertime we bound down the squeaking stairs with relaxed shoulders and tongues sharpened for conversation. The lure of an unfussy town where no one locks their doors borrows energy from the rustic landscape and beckons us to the table with bare feet and open minds.
After witnessing the intangible way Molly and her house create community out of a group of strangers, a pile of ingredients, and a few writing sessions, my lonely basement will never feel the same.