Being a Mostly Accurate Account of New England's Oldest Continuously Lived-In House
By Sarah Messer
Shortly before Sarah Messer was born, her parents purchased "Red House," a home that had been owned by nine generations of the Hatch family near Marshfield, Massachusetts. For over three hundred years, the house had been passed down through the family, as stipulated in the will of Walter Hatch, who built the house. Messer and her siblings grow up among the relics of a family they aren't descended from, with old photos of the Hatch family hanging on the walls and letters and linens passed between the Hatches crowding the closets. The house is often somewhere between a state of disrepair and renovation, as layers and years are peeled back, revealing the evolution of the home with each new owner and era.
The book explores the history of the house and of the Hatches, while weaving in the story of the Messer family. As a child, Messer didn't realize it was strange to live in a drafty house with few modern amenities and no wall-to-wall carpeting until she started to going play at friends' houses. As an adult, she questions what right her family has to Red House, when there are still Hatch descendants interested in the property. She helps to restore the house, and becomes interested in documenting its story and establishing a timeline of its life. As she says in the epilogue, the house has no baby book and cannot speak for itself, so this book is her attempt at giving it a voice.
I picked this book up at a thrift store for a quarter and I'd say it was worth it. It's interesting for me to think about how when family and place get so tied to each other, what happens to the family when the place is gone? At some point, it seems that the place becomes another member of the family, and in the case of the remaining Hatches, when Red House was sold, it was almost as if they had lost a close relative. Messer's memoir goes beyond the history of a home to explore the meaning of place and how we draw on history, both of family and culture, and place to create our own identities.