The Chelvin House

I am a ghosting a home that my heart has never left.

Often when we think of a place inhabited by spirit — whether you believe in that or not — books, films and people come to the assumption that the souls that wander have unfinished business.

I have this fixation on my grandparent’s home that I may never shake.

Their fate was based on the flip of a coin.

My paternal grandparents immigrated to Canada with my father from England when he was very young. They left their fate up to the flip of a coin – heads they’d move to Canada, tails and they’d move to Australia.

Upon their arrival they purchased a small bungalow in Georgetown, perfect for their little trio. When their family expanded by three more sons, they quickly outgrew their cozy dwelling. Rather than moving to a new abode, they tore the roof off to expand.

My grandfather and his four boys added a second level, a garage with a space above for a photography studio, and a little atrium connecting the two.

Peter Jones, a photographer and antique-collector, had dreamt of having his photo studio and it’s vaulted ceilings, next to their home. Like his family, his collection of antiques had expanded, with ambitions of renting them out as photography props. Skeleton keys, unique instruments from violins to brass horns, old trunks from England, and a multitude of other curiosities.

Granddad’s vision never came to fruition when he was instantly killed in a car accident in April of 1993. Being the last grandchild to meet him, and only a year old when he passed, the house in its nearly completed state felt like the closest thing I had to getting to know him. There was something about having a relative who I never got to know, who had such an impact on my family, that left a yearning for connection.

I grew up away from my extended family. My earliest memory of the house – whatever age that was, is forever fixed in my memory – I was taken with it immediately. I can remember the humidity in the air, the sound of the cicadas chirping in the night, and the glow of stained-glass light fixture in the kitchen.

I got to visit the home every few years, if I was lucky. It was so vast, and I felt so small, that it seemed upon every visit I uncovered something new. There was something about the house that was shrouded in mystery. What could’ve been, a death that wasn’t discussed openly, a scene frozen in time pre-tragedy.

It wasn’t just the history that made it particularly captivating. The home had its own secrets. A small cubby built into one of the rooms, that myself and my cousins would hide trinkets in, a room with a pully-system which would reveal a trapped door with an emerging ladder to the attic. The attic itself was its own type of magic. I could explore every nook and cranny, and it wouldn’t have been enough. The attic was the type with exposed beams that you could walk around in – one that you see romanticised in TV shows with treasures galore. The one time I was up there is burnt into my mind.

One of the last times I visited before my grandfather’s prop collection was inevitably auctioned off and my Nana had to be moved to a home, I went down to the basement. As previously mentioned, it seemed like every time I visited, there was something new to be discovered. Only this time, I found my grandfather’s dark room. Somehow all the time I had been there, I had never seen stumbled across this room. It still had remnants of his presence – some developing trays were left on the counter, and if my memory serves me correctly – some dried garlic. With no lights, I had to use my phone’s flashlight to uncover what was hidden in the darkness. How had I never known about this?

When the home was staged and sold in 2013, I begged and pleaded that someone could save me a crystal doorknob, a scrap of wallpaper, any way to have a little piece of the home as a memento, but no such luck. It got purchased and flipped. All its character on the outside had remained the same, but the inside was modernized and rid of all its unique attributes. Heartbroken, I added it to my bucket list as something I would buy back one day.

It is around this time when the reoccurring dreams begun. I would envision exploring the home but given that dreams are a wild distortion of reality, it was never the actual house. Just an abstract representation of it, often crumbling around me as I tried to preserve it. I would end up there as I slept, multiple times a year, that is until I had my first lucid dream.

If you know anything about lucid dreaming, it can be described as a dream within your control. Sometimes referred to as a hallucination because it can feel so vivid. In my partially conscious state, I dreamt of the home, exactly as it was. I started upstairs and made my way down the narrow staircase. Everything was dimly lit as if being illuminated by candlelight. I ran my palms along the banisters and went through the door at the bottom stairs, that had often opened on its own when I had visited. It all seemed so real, I felt melancholy when I came to the breakfast nook. Something so simple, but I had completely forgot about until rounding the corner. I was engulfed in nostalgia as I remembered enjoying deserts there with my sister and Nana as a child. She was very traditional with her British nuances – tea and deserts were always at the ready.

It was a comforting and emotional experience as I departed, saying goodbye to all the places I never got to. There were certain details that I was unable to recall that showed up as blurs, as if my mind was buffering. I felt like a ghost wandering the old familiar space, my hands caressing the walls as I drifted from room to room. The visit was sad but beautiful and haunting – the most closure I will get of a space I’ll always long for.

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