Feature

The Forever House

Behind peeling paint and a forest of shrubbery, a long-neglected house on Main Street stood waiting for the Rice family to come home.

Everything happens for a reason. The phrase is almost always meant to provide reassurance in the face of an unexpected turn of events, but Marresa (Reese) and Nate Rice found little solace in the words when they found themselves with only thirty days to move, with their three children, from the home they were renting in Charlotte, NC.  Panicked and overwhelmed, Reese called her mother in Summerville.  What were they to do?

They were still reeling from the news of the abrupt displacement, when her mom called to tell them of a house she had serendipitously discovered while chatting with a realtor at the Flowertown Festival.  Reese and Nate had hoped to someday make their home in her hometown of Summerville, but did not see that move in their immediate future.  They were skeptical.  Relocating to another state would be a huge upheaval, especially with Nate’s business firmly established in North Carolina.

“The house is incredible,” Reese’s mother, interior designer Jean Cotton reported. “The inside is a mess. It hasn’t been cleaned in twenty years, and it’s falling apart.”  The recommendation left them dubious, at best.  But she continued, “The bones are there—it’s a diamond in the rough.”

Her mother was adamant; she had walked through the house, and what she described was enough to bring them to Main Street to see it for themselves.  On their very first visit to the historic house, both knew instinctively that this house was something special.  It took some imagination, but immediately they saw what it could be. The house had been badly neglected, and had fallen into disrepair; with damaged ceilings, dark, depressing wood paneling, and an overgrown yard among the many obstacles it presented. Its unkempt appearance lent credence to its reputation as one of Summerville’s most fabled haunted houses.
But despite the drawbacks, the house seemed to speak to them, with its wide entry and hallway, large bedrooms, and a kitchen brimming with potential. Nate, an arborist, was immediately besotted with the two large oak trees in the back yard.  Reese recalls the two turning to each other and clasping hands, whispering almost in unison, “It’s perfect.”

She becomes emotional when she describes the words the owner of the house spoke to her as they walked through the rooms.  “Your children will love it here.”

If there had been any doubts, that statement dispelled them all.  “We could just see our girls on the porch in prom dresses,” Reese says. “We could see our children growing up in this place, and us on the porch in rocking chairs. We knew this was where we belonged—that this would be our Forever House.”

Things moved quickly, and in whirlwind of only forty days, they were the proud new owners.  From the very start, the house seemed to open its arms to embrace the family.  With each passing day and every improvement, they could almost feel the home stand a little straighter, and hold its head a little more proudly.

With her mother lending expert advice, each room received a facelift—leaving it refreshed and renewed.  Dark paneling softened under the brushstrokes of the creamy pastel palette of Reese’s chosen color scheme, and tiny windows seemed to expand when framed by yards of bright draperies.  Hardwood floors took on a patina of warmth, and a tangible sense of permanence and home began to form within the walls, with each room revealing the family’s vibrant presence.

The children’s bedrooms are portals into their distinct personalities.  Ella, the oldest at age ten, prefers order, keeping her bed made and her room impeccably straight. Their eight year-old, Grayson, “could talk all day to a ladybug,” and the scattered clothes and toys adorning her unmade bed and floor are additional proof that she marches to her own drummer.  The youngest of the three is Sawyer; a quintessential six-year old boy, full of mischief and rarely still.

“You won’t believe this,” she says of her favorite room in the house; revealing that the living room’s baby grand piano and framed, full length antique wedding dress, were among the items they assembled from auctions and Craigslist.

Today, with the front steps re-bricked, the original brick walkway unearthed from beneath a concrete sidewalk, and Nate’s taming of the jungle of tangled shrubbery and trees, a new wrought iron gate invites children to play in the yard, and visitors to sip cool drinks on the open porch.  Many who have stopped by admit that they passed by the house for years, never imagining this beyond the façade of peeling paint and sagging windows and roof.

Built in 1883, on the site of what was reportedly a Civil War hospital, there is too much joy and light here to properly entertain the spirits rumored to have been seen here through the years. And though the home’s root cellar may or may not be home to “a brown man named Ezekiel,” Reese says that she has never felt the slightest spooky sensation or been visited by anyone from the spectral realm.  Instead, love and laughter fill the air of the historic house on Main Street.

“If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard.”   The declaration was once made by a girl named Dorothy, when arriving home from a place called Oz. Dorothy found her heart’s desire on a farm in Kansas.  The Rice family found theirs in Summerville; in the backyard of a long-neglected house with two oak trees, and a brick walkway waiting to take them from Main Street to the front porch of their Forever House.

By Susan Frampton