Legacies Longing for the Magic of My Childhood Home
Frarieville was the safe space on which I could plant my flag.
In March of 2021, I went to say goodbye to my childhood home—the one my parents were in the midst of selling—with a to-do list in my head. The house was white and chunky with the bones of an A-frame, its modern shape a tribute to my parents’ endless DIY renovations and additions. On my penultimate evening there, I opened a fresh box of Cheez-Its Extra Toasty, my mother’s favorite snack. The sound of crackers tinkling into a bowl summoned her from the woodwork and she said, entering as if by magic, “Feeling a bit peckish!”—her play-British catchphrase for justifying the act of eating just before dinner. I nodded and lifted my gaze toward the window. Deer were sneaking their way across the winding driveway, searching for their own snacks in the thawing ground. “Whatcha been up to?” she asked, noting my bright cheeks. Like the deer, I had also been on a covert mission outside.
“Oh, you know. Just a little goodbye ritual.”
“Uh-huh. Joey asked me why you think you’re a witch.”
Joey is my older brother by five years, and we look so alike—pleading brown eyes, olive skin—that he can unlock the Face ID on my iPhone. This type of comment, which is a question in disguise, is normal in my family—especially when times are tense. Small talk about the day’s activities can abruptly change course to a light interrogation that is meant to feel like friendly banter. When my parents are anxious, I prepare to be the subject of analysis for sport; they have to put their stress somewhere.
The house inspection was scheduled for the following day. My mom worried that the future owners—a young couple—would declare the septic tank a dealbreaker, or find the March landscape of stripped brown trees prohibitively depressing—how she has felt for the last five winters. I was not worried for her or the house’s prospects. It was a self-sustaining homestead offered during a global pandemic. A queer artist commune could radically nourish themselves off of my dad’s potato plants. The neighboring farm is zoned as agricultural land, so there is no risk of unwanted development. In the golden hour, the field of wheatgrass shines golden green, an earthen coast that would sell the property if it were a hovel.
“So?” My mom waited for my response. I knew that if I agreed to the implication, I would invite a debate about what defines a witch.
“I don’t consider myself a witch. I connect with the divine through nature.”
She nodded by tilting her head sideways and raising both eyebrows. “Yeah, well, I said to Joe, ‘Remember Frarieville?’”
The new owners will also inherit Frarieville, or a scrubby patch of trees at the back of the property that, at ten, I christened Frarieville because Fairyville sounded too mainstream. As the youngest of three by a wide-enough margin so as to be excluded from my siblings’ big-kid activities, like playing pirates on a rotting wooden deck that jutted out to a hillside full of thornbushes, Frarieville was the safe space on which I could plant my flag. I drew a humble boundary and gave it the power of a name.
Frarieville was a place for cooking: I mixed wild garlic and ground mint soup in a cast-iron cauldron that I found in the tangled edge of our property line, sometimes wearing my sister’s high school graduation robe as a wizard’s cloak. And it was a place for rest. On a hammock that my dad rigged, I would set our black cat Tasha on my stomach and sway to a light sleep, waking when the flies around me buzzed in my dreams. I cultivated such a dedication to Frarieville that my parents began to refer to that section of their property with its name, like, “The pitchfork is in Frarieville.” Frarieville also had certain offshoots that held space for magic—possibilities and new realities. My favorite was—is—Quartz Rock, a cold crystal streaked with orange veins that juts out eternally from the top of the field, visible only after the harvest.
I like to think I get my pagan leanings from my dad; he has bathed in natural springs, and I have never seen him so alive as he is in the midst of a powerful storm. He once wrangled grapevines out of the rocky, sloping ground next to Frarieville to make red wine and woke everybody up when he used a jackhammer to carve a cellar out of the basement. After thirty-eight years of renovations, the house boasted a dozen decorative arches, some fitted with busts of curly-haired angels to evoke ancient Rome.
In August of 2020, I left New York City for Kingston, New York, with my partner Monica in search of a larger alternative to our one-bedroom apartment. We were privileged to be able to leave the city. By then, I knew that my parents were selling their home, and while replacing that house with its landmarks of my childhood was impossible, some elements of country living felt within reach—like looking out of our kitchen window to the sky instead of a concrete wall.
In the midst of our search for a new place, we quickly learned that real estate agents greatly prefer for the sellers of a home to make themselves scarce during a showing, with advice ranging from “ Sellers not welcome ” to “ If you cannot leave, sit quietly in a corner .” If a house is a body, the current resident would be the window to its soul and the black mold secret. Running up against a previous owner invites feelings that can complicate the flow of transaction. Yet even in an unoccupied open house with no homeowner in sight, I felt invasive, certain that my presence would later be felt. I lingered over traces of life, looking for clues to the memories that we would eclipse with our own. A child’s small bedroom would double as a writing nook and a cocktail room. A neglected mulch bed would be turned over and planted with daffodil bulbs dug up from the ground around Frarieville, making room for my old home and magic. In a small rancher, I stared at a photo of a blonde girl in a soccer uniform, wondering how she felt about her parents’ decision to move, and the real estate agent asked: “Are you a therapist or something?”
Our final stop as we searched for a home in Kingston was at a converted carriage house. Walking toward the front door, we saw the owner leaving with her dogs to give us privacy. She had long silvery hair, and she waved to us as she left.
Inside, each room felt like the set of a quirky period film about female friendship—the book-laden office for me, the writer character, to ruminate in. The yellow parlor for quiet evenings with a bottle of wine and conversation, or for sipping coffee in a wash of morning light. Here we would not need so many screens; Monica and I would instead be entertained by the rambunctious playtime rituals acted out by our dog and cat. A narrow staircase led to the bedroom, which featured an exposed claw-foot bathtub that overlooked a cobbled walkway and herb garden. I imagined myself under a rim of hot water, watching snowflakes fall over a more manicured, more adult Frarieville.
Inspiration overrode imposed boundaries, and we waited for the homeowner to return. In the parlor I asked with excitement, “So you don’t have any TVs?”
“Nope. There’s nothing like winter around the stove.”
We complimented her on her taste and left with sinking hearts. Like a great love squandered, the timing was not right. Monica saved the address to her Zillow account and mourned the day it went to pending.
In preparing for the move, my mom was generous. She did not throw out my boxes of precious junk collected over the years but saved them for my sorting. In my old bedroom, I rattled a plastic container and opened it to find my baby teeth.
Here’s how I am a witch: In moments of acute sadness or joy, I feel an immediate urge for ritual but I have no plan. I look for objects that wave to me, and I make them interact with each other. One of the tasks on my to-do list was to leave a bit of myself on the property. I had already left a lock of my hair under an apple tree, but upon learning that the tree had only been planted ten years prior, and so never bore witness to my childhood, I turned to the obvious location: Frarieville.
Next to Frarieville was a tall black walnut tree that littered the ground with hard shells every autumn. At the request of my parents, my siblings and I would clear the walnuts so that they would not turn into high-speed projectiles when my dad mowed the lawn. I was never a reliable worker; I would stop for minutes anytime I came across a half shell. Its heart-shaped interior reminded me of a fairy’s home, and I would stare until I saw myself inside, comfortably situated as a tiny, enchanted being.
The walnuts were tougher than I expected. As I stomped on one, I told myself that it was the intention, not display, that mattered. I pressed a few of my baby teeth into its woody nooks and crannies and smashed the halves together. I found the poplar tree with a metal hook sticking out of its trunk from where the hammock once hung, and I buried the nut at its base.
While saying my goodbye to Frarieville, I looked out to Quartz Rock in the distance and, to the right, a no-man’s-land of sharp grass that connected our property to the neighboring farm. In past autumns, when that grass was at its crunchiest, my dad would bribe us to rake leaves with the promise of play. He would lay out the electric-blue tarp that he used for gathering the leaves in the no-man’s-land. I would line my body up at the edge, hold it to my forehead, and roll until I was bundled like a chunk of lunch meat inside a crinkly cheese roll-up. My dad would take hold and sprint across Frarieville while I shrieked, feeling my stomach in my face and pebbles in my spine. There was no beginning or end in that moment, just a rapid, unforgiving, wonderful spiral.
After I tucked the walnut under a clump of moss, leaving a bit of myself in the place I loved, a breeze rustled the wheatgrass until it undulated into a sea of whispers. I assigned this wind with the role of some god, said thanks, and left my magic in Frarieville for the last time.
The next day, the inspector lingered over the furnace while the young mother walked with mine. She gestured toward Frarieville and said, “We want to turn that into a chicken coop.” I pictured a rooster prancing around Frarieville with his hens, shitting on my walnut. I crossed paths with them once, as I left to take my feelings out for a walk. “This is my daughter,” my mom said. “She is here to say goodbye.” I squinted my eyes into my best masked smile and marched away from them. I could hear my mom whisper something like it meant a lot to her ; I could hear a murmur that sounded like aww .
I think back to that real estate advice: Sellers not welcome. And yet I see that my feelings did not interrupt the flow of the inspection; they did not disrupt the transaction. The family was not disquieted by the emotional thirty-something walking around their future property, and paperwork moved accordingly. They moved in one month later to spring unfurling. Having only seen the house during winter, they would crawl up the steep driveway in their moving van, smiles widening with budding excitement as a crest of flowering trees swayed in its celebration of beginning.
A year after our Kingston search for more space, Monica and I again began our search for a new home. In a quaint Hudson Valley town, we stood on a concrete driveway cracked like peanut brittle. “This is the original. Should probably be paved,” the home inspector told us, cocking a smile. His eyes were trustworthy and bright, like a sheet of printer paper.
In the basement, the inspector swiveled his flashlight toward the floor, exclaiming, “Woah, cool!” Scratched into the epoxy were the words May 2, ’42. Monica and I exchanged a glance; we would plan to welcome all residual spirits with the same priority as getting a fresh coat of paint. She has her brujeria, I have my slapdash witchcraft, and both would be necessary; I was certain that we would find proverbial walnuts and buried teeth as we made the house our home.
The front of the house was built on stacked granite stone embellished by one pale, snaking imprint of an English ivy vine. Fissures crept up the stucco; the rear staircase slipped slowly due to time and chipmunks. The balcony was unsafe. The roof betrayed leakage. A spacious yard sloped upward, itching to host vegetables or, hell, grapevines. When asked if we wanted to keep the owner’s electric leaf blower, I nearly shouted “No!” Here, I could see the spiral. Here was the continuation. Maybe here I could have Frarieville again.
The home I share with Monica rests on the ancestral homeland of the Weckquaesgeek tribe. My parents’ new home rests on the ancestral homeland of the Nanticoke-Lenni Lenape Tribal Nation. Visit https://nlltribe.com/ to learn more.