I think there are houses that get lonely. I imagine Marc and Den’s James Island home is such a place. We knew Marc and Den in two houses in Colorado Springs, their rented beach house at Folly, and finally their home on Godber. Each house a home by virtue of love, memories, and their wonderful encompassing natures.
Godber was different than any place we had seen them in. I recall the warm cottage in Old Colorado (a section of Springs) with its wrap around porch and odd neighbors who at one time had a deer hanging and dressed from a tree in their backyard for a week. We spent more time at their next home on Bijou which was a larger place. The thought of their Victorian home makes me smile and tear. They gave their Godson, Russell (our grandson), his first “big boy” bed there. Marc often told of Russell’s first night in that bed, Russell’s first night without a crib. He said that late at night, he and Den were lying in bed, and as he was sleeping lightly the pad of small feet woke him up. Marc peeked and saw Russell standing there in the dark, looking toward them but trying not to disturb them. Russell then turned around and padded back to sleep. Apparently Russell just needed the security of seeing Marc and Den there in this brave new world without slats. There were many parties on Bijou that we attended. At one of which I asked Jean-Marie to marry me for the first time. She yelled for Marc’s help, to which he told her it was her problem. Thanks, Marc. It took me three years to get up the courage to ask her again. It was a house characteristically full of life even when it held death as when they provided a room, comfort, and love to their dear friend Rick who was dying of AIDS. During that time the house always had people there, helping Marc and Den care for and love Rick. When we visited with Rick, because of the sanctuary and community provided by Marc and Den we could focus on Rick and not circumstances.
Marc and Den’s first South Carolina home on Folly was my least favorite house. It was a beautiful house that came furnished, and as such lacked their personality. It does have one memorable event attached to it for me. During a visit around Easter, Jean-Marie and Den had a late night of conversation, laughter, and general bonding over candy Peeps and Cointreau. I won’t say any more.
When they moved to Godber, we were there to join new friends in moving things in and setting up house. I didn’t hold out much hope for the house. It was a solid practical house, a house with good bones. But it was a basic brick rancher and did not carry the more timeless personality of their Colorado Springs homes. I was wrong though. House became home as they filled it with the memories and moments cherished over their lifetime together. Pictures and paintings went up on the wall. In no time, people that so easily shared their smiles with Marc and Den over the years (including our own) were smiling a greeting to all who entered Godber. Knick Knacks were placed on shelves, antiques took up their positions, statues stood guard, and memories quickly defined and warmed the space that Marc and Den had taken as their blank canvas.
Godber became a nexus for life as was typical of the pair. What resonates most to me are the quiet family moments that we took part in on our many trips to Charleston to visit Marc and Den. Not long after Marc and Den were in Godber, Dennis with longtime friend Chris Vinley in tow, drove to Alabama to retrieve Dennis’s mother and bring her to live in the cottage behind the house. Dennis and his mother would share a ritual of early morning cigarettes and coffee out on the brick patio until she passed. The small elderly dog Penny came with Dennis’s mom and ended up outliving them both. What amazed me about Penny was that she could not have lived a more pampered life, yet given the opportunity she would totter under the gate and take off down the driveway. As the world’s slowest animal, you only had an hour or two to react before Penny reached the end of the driveway and the wide world. I retrieved Penny a time or two as I imagine many friends of Marc and Den did. The brick patio was its own world, we would sit about the teak garden table just talking and drinking and laughing on countless occasions on countless visits. Each visit we would enter Godber and were always greeted with the same hospitality that started with Marc telling us what room we would be sleeping in, and with Dennis taking our drink order. Den would make the first round, after that we were on our own.
Over the years there were so many celebrations and parties at Godber. Jean-Marie and I were at one (it could have been Marc’s birthday), where there was a pig roasting in the driveway with an elderly neighbor attentively sopping it with sauce (a task he was paid for with a bottle of vodka). Marc’s niece Jamie was married in the spralling backyard ten years ago this April. Dennis’s life was celebrated in the same backyard with Marc joining the band to sing Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.
The importance of this congregation of life hit me hardest as I spoke separately with our son Michael, Marc’s niece Jamie, and the dear Trisha Mae - long time renter and friend from the cottage out back of Godber. When Marc passed, our son as executor flew down on a red eye to begin the mechanical process of death. He stayed at Godber, and worked with Marc’s family to; among other things, set up a memorial service at Marc’s church with following reception at Godber. Michael told me how it felt to have the gathering and how the empty house transformed when love was invited back in. One night, with Michael and Marc’s family at the house they had a fire going in the fire place and they lit the outdoor fire pit, made drinks, and talked into the night. I could hear Jamie’s voice over the phone soften and smile as she expressed how important that moment of life and light was in the house that no longer held Marc. Of that same night, Trisha told me it was the night she returned from holiday in her native Virginia where she had been when Marc died. She told me how much longer the ride was made as she carried this sense of dread of coming home to a cold and dark Godber. Pulling up into the driveway she saw the house alight and heard the voices of this family gathering and all her fears were dispelled.
I think some houses can feel lonely. That they can is a tribute to the love and life that made them a home. Godber is such a house. It was as much an extension of Marc and Den as were Marc and Den’s smiles and loving embrace of family and friends. Godber was more than a framework for brick and mortar, it was the framework for the lives of two men who opened their doors (both actual and metaphorical) to anyone that needed them. And though Godber is destined to forget its sorrow through some unknown redefinition by resale, the haven it has been will live with the memories of my missing friends.