There's no place like home

Kate Grigg, Special to the Packet & Times

The timeless view from the author’s soon-to-be home in the heart of Orillia. KATE GRIGG/SPECIAL TO THE PACKET & TIMES

The timeless view from the author’s soon-to-be home in the heart of Orillia. KATE GRIGG/SPECIAL TO THE PACKET & TIMES

Congratulations, they said.

Everyone's response to the news that we are, at last, moving from Toronto to Orillia — something I have pined for for the last 30 years — much lighter and less complicated than mine.

It's a domino effect, Joan (who moved last year) said, once you make up your mind to move after years of living in the same place, knowing some day it will happen but that day seeming distant and vague. Until one day your house is listed and in contrast to the long, gradual lead-up everything suddenly takes off and you can't get off the conveyor belt that is rushing you through showings, and offer night, and estimates from movers, endless sorting and packing.

Pushed relentlessly into the future and having to decide what to discard and what to take with you. More to let go of if you're older. And sadder, because you have to pare down when you're heading into what could be the last chapter, the last house you'll own, the last garden you'll create.

Joan didn't say all that, of course. She's more accepting, less melancholy than me. She hasn't, like me, dreamed of houses all her life instead of weddings and husbands and children, instead of fame and fortune. Hasn't collected books on houses, painted them over and over, pored over floor plans from the Antique Homes website.

She doesn't, like me, literally dream of houses, rest her head on a pillow and find herself in a house she's never seen before, a place that will stay with her after she wakes. Once, a house bathed in beautiful greenish light, the kind of sublime light Turner or Constable or Vermeer might paint. And once a stucco cottage that contained a door leading to a secret wing of rooms, unexpected, lovely chambers.

Houses that gave me an elevated, expansive feeling. As if, like Dorothy, I had left behind a humdrum life in Kansas and landed somewhere over the rainbow. Or perhaps there were houses in heaven and I'd died and gone there and would never yearn again for something I couldn't name.

I don't know why I dream of houses. Perhaps because architecture is the mother of the arts, or because a house symbolizes the whole human saga. Or because when I was small my mother used to encourage me to climb onto the limestone wall bordering the stately old home at the corner of Peter and Neywash. Let me walk along that enduring stone, balanced between past and present, my head in the wide blue sky, the piercing scent of lily of the valley making me lightheaded. Or perhaps, because a house is a private place and I like to have a place to hide.

Miss Reynolds' apartment was like that. Miss Reynolds had been hiding in her apartment for 30 years when she first employed me, a recluse I was companion to before I started at the paper.

I think I loved her apartment as much as she did. The solid feel of the dark-brick apartment building she inherited after her mother's death. The dignified proportions of the rooms, the quiet, private depths of the hall leading off to unseen quarters. The way a flowering almond bush in a neighbouring yard looked so vividly alive seen from the window of the shadowy dining room.

When I walked into the dining room at the house we recently bought, I felt something stir inside me. Not a big house, not fancy, but substantial in a modest way. Built with honest hearts, unhurried hands, for more than monetary gain. For the love of craftsmanship, in response to the privilege and wonder of being alive.

Felt the same inner shift when I gazed out the dining room window and saw the world beyond somehow more beautiful framed in its peaceful depths. And when I turned down the hall found myself turning down the hall in Miss Reynolds' apartment. Felt the back of my neck tingle. Opened a casement window in the kitchen and was inexplicably happy.

And when I stood on the front porch and looked across to a house often passed in childhood -- the witch's house, we called it, old and overgrown and spooky -- I felt the barrier of time slip away, the years between the 1880s and today somehow vanish. Felt something timeless and eternal rising from the rooftop and the trees and the lake beyond that made a chord in me play as if I were a violin and a shivery tingle run up my spine.

Made me hold on when other buyers threatened to top our offer, wanting, despite the pressure cooker of the housing market, despite the nervous flutter in my stomach, to keep hold of that connection, the unnamed thing that has drawn me as long as I can remember.

We move in this summer. And perhaps whatever made my life about houses, whatever made me paint them and dream of them, and long for them will be over. Or perhaps I will open a door in a hall and find myself in a new, unexpected world.

Kate Grigg is an artist and writer who grew up in Orillia and tells stories of local people in her weekly column. If you have a story you think she might be interested in, email

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