When I first met Karin, she was not in the room. I stood in her kitchen with my realtor, getting to know the woman and her family merely by the furnishings of the listed farmhouse —the missives and magnets on the fridge door, the art on the walls, the joy in each beloved photograph, and the welcoming comfort of each room. She had me the minute I crossed the threshold, and spied an enameled plaque below the window, which read, “ENTREE DES ARTISTES.” Later I’d learn, Karin viewed each of us as an artist, whether we did or not.
As I walked through the house, I envisioned the comings and goings of this lived-in and well-loved house, known on the island as the Peach Palace due to the unlikely color of its clapboards. On the north wall of the living room, opposite the fireplace, hung a large black and white photo of Karin holding hands with her young son Andrew, spinning in circles in a courtyard in Italy. Karin looked as if she had stepped out of the pages of an E.M.Forster novel with Andrew as her dapper muse.
When I fell in love with the house, I fell in love with Karin. For me, it was an package deal. I approached Karin and her beloved husband Buzz with my best offer and a love letter to the house. I have never been more earnest in my life and spelled out what the house would mean to me, and how I would honor its century-old legacy and weathered facade with a passion reserved for family and friends. Fortunately for me, it was also a time when anyone with a pulse and a bank account could secure a mortgage loan that today would be considered a fiscally-irresponsible offense. We came to a mutual agreement and the only working key to the house was passed on, but not after joking they had no idea where it was or the last time they used it.
A month or so later, I moved into the house, and Buzz and Karin relocated just a block away, but in truth their spirits never really left. Their indelible stamp remained and I was glad for it. Augie their cat took a more literal approach. As a regular visitor, he enjoyed dual residency between houses old and new. Buzz and Karin’s walks to retrieve him made for perfect visits and updates. Karin and I gushed about ‘our’ house, and she would often visit her former home when I was away at work, as I had invited her to do.
When I think of my house —of Karin and Buzz’s house —I’m reminded of a note from Mark Twain about his family home in Hartford, Connecticut. It seems to sum up how we felt, too:
To us our house was not unsentient matter–it had a heart and a soul and eyes to see us with, and approvals and solicitudes and deep sympathies; it was of us, and we were in its confidence, and lived in its grace and in the peace of its benediction. We never came home from an absence that its face did not light up and speak out its eloquent welcome—and we could not enter it unmoved.
– Letter to Joseph Twichell, quoted in Mark Twain: A Biography
Karin holds a special place in my heart, one that grows even dearer with the sad news of her passing. I have never met anyone like Karin, and she embodied love, creativity, moxie, insight and generosity. I write this from a table in the house where she raised her family, and her presence is felt everyday. Her name is painted above my kitchen door, “To Karin with love,” a beloved vestige from her days here, and a gentle and lovely reminder she will come and go as she pleases and find peace in her world with Buzz. My deepest sympathies to her family and friends far and wide.
Her nickname was little Gemma , and what a little gem she was.