A new house is going up on my block for the first time in maybe 70 years. We live on a quiet, historic street where the sound of birds wakes us up in the morning and moonbeams float through the windows at night.
A June 1908 article in The New York Times recounts the purchase of a 650-acre tract of land by the Hewlett Bay Company for a residential community between Hewlett and East Rockaway. The land, purchased by attorney Joseph Auerbach, was originally owned by the Hewlett family, and was established by land grants to the Hewletts from Queen Anne of Great Britain (1665-1714).
We go back a ways in these parts. I always loved living in an area not defined by tract housing, but by the occasional hitching post. Willow Pond, which is just down the road apiece, was once the watering hole for livestock owned by John Hewlett, the patriarch of the family that settled the area.
The property lines are irregular, and harken to a time when surveys included landmarks like creeks and trees. The houses on our street settled a long time ago; any creaking on the oak stairs is the sound of solid woodwork, well used and well cared for, taking a bit of a stretch.
Nothing has changed much in the 47 years we’ve lived here. Then, some months ago, a crew came in and demolished a house down the block. One day the home stood on the property, in disarray and disrepair; next day it was gone. I knew that house. I sat down to dinner in that house with friends in the 1980s. Those friends moved away many years ago, but I remember stopping to chat with my girlfriend as she bent over her daylilies, which lined the long driveway. She tended tomatoes and zucchini vines, and she wore an old straw hat with pink flowers around the brim while she worked in the sun.
Everything changes, and people come and go. After the friends moved, the house had a succession of owners who let the property go to ruin and weeds. It was vacant for a long time, an eyesore and a sad remnant of an expired friendship.
Two weeks ago, an awesome earthmover with giant metal jaws rolled onto the block. It moved onto the site of our friend’s old house and began digging a giant hole in the vacant lot, apparently for a new foundation. From my house down the street I could feel the ground trembling from the ponderous weight of the machines slamming into the ground. I walked by often and saw the hole grow, deep and wide.
Then a gloppity-gloppity machine rolled onto our block and began pouring the foundation. I wished my kids were here to watch the action. Of course, I’m thinking of my kids when they were kids. I can’t imagine that at 45 and 47 years old they would scream at the sight of heavy machinery.
Then the carpenters and stair builders and others came to do the rough framing. As I walked by on my daily strolls, the smell changed from earthy soil turned over by the tractor to the smell of wood. We haven’t had that aroma on the block for years — the wood chippy smell, redolent of deep forest. The outlines of the walls revealed the different rooms taking shape, the dreams of the owners and the vision of the architect coming to life. It would be a house, and it would stand for decades, and it would shelter the new people who came to live on our street.
For me, it is a thrill to see this new home going up. Especially now, as autumn sets in, building a house feels positive and optimistic and a wish for happy years ahead.
Perhaps it is especially poignant because we’re selling our house on this peaceful street, ready to downsize, ready to face the clearing out and divesting that will be required to move into a smaller space. We’re shedding and letting ago as the new house down the block is just settling in.
It is the story of replacement. As large posts are set and beams are fixed into place, the work seems elemental and important. Hammering fills the air; it is the song of new beginnings.
Copyright 2019 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at email@example.com.