We love this house, this grand old barely insulated thing. We love its original windows. We love the woodwork and the nine-foot ceilings downstairs and the heart pine floors that our dog, New Dog, has all but destroyed. We love the porch and the yard; we love the neighborhood. It’s been our dream house the whole time. What we covet, though, when we’re in other people’s homes, are closets. Ours — except for the lone downstairs coat closet, added as part of a sympathetic addition circa 2006 — are very, very 1922. If you are a grown-up in 2023, you are a sad, stooped person in our upstairs closets. You are a person muttering about shoe storage. About any kind of storage. You are a person who thinks about a sympathetic upstairs addition circa next week. If you are a kid, though, in those nook-and-cranny closets, you are absolutely golden.
Not one of them has a flat ceiling. Each is cut into the slope of the roof up there, and because of the way the dormers and gables work, each of them has funky angles and secret corners. We have no tree house out back, in part because the closets are the kids’ hideaways, even in summer, even on those days so hot that the upstairs A/C can’t keep up. My older son has, at times, had his desk set up behind a huge dresser that fits inside the closet in his room. My younger one has an unusable-unless-you’re-quite-wee space in his, a sort of half-hallway kind of thing chasing back four or five feet, three feet wide but with the roof cutting through right to left, down to maybe waist height. What would you store in there, if not a child, lying on his belly, reading cartoons and mysteries? Tents? Dimensional lumber? Beach umbrellas?
The boys cycle — well, cycled; it’s probably been a year since they did this — through phases of building sprawling forts out of PVC pipe and blankets and sheets, and almost without fail, the forts funnel(ed) into their open closets. They’ve written on the walls in there: marked days; marked their initials; misspelled, as very small children, each other’s names. They pile pillows and sleeping bags in there to read and listen to podcasts. They had walkie-talkies for a while, called from closet to closet. They’re passageways, those closets are — if not to some magical land, then at least out of our big, open downstairs and into a world that a child can manage, can track, can maybe more easily understand.
There’s a window in my older son’s closet, and there’s a window in ours — the spaces are bigger than I tend to think of them, his especially, and useful in the sense that they do, in fact, hold clothes. They’ve got character, I’m sure our real-estate agent told us. And while both parents in this house would like a fancy, adult closet, that’s not truly where we live. We live in the kitchen, in front of the fireplace, on the porch, on the folly of a sectional we bought to watch basketball and football and baseball and movies.
Though the boys are aging out of blanket forts and walkie-talkies, I don’t think they’re aging out of the closets themselves. They do live there, at least in part. A weird space is a cool space, or it can be, even when you’re not so little a kid anymore. Maybe one of them will turn his closet into a darkroom. A recording studio. A space lined with snapshots, assuming we’re still printing those. A kid of any age needs a space all their own. That’s what our crooked closets became, what they’re still becoming. So what if they’re not so great for us grown-ups? The house isn’t only ours.