I spend a lot of time in my house. By a lot I mean that I often don’t even leave the property 4 or 5 days a week. Many people I know leave their homes each day to go to work, to activities, or to the market for food. If we lived closer to town–we’re about 15 minutes, or 5 miles out as the crow flies–perhaps I would go out more. But my work is here, and I’ve always been a bit of a homebody. I definitely have the right job for my personality.
All that time spent hanging around the house tends to make the state of that house kind of significant to me.
Husband and I have never lived in a brand new house. We started out in a hundred year-old farmhouse in West by God Virginia, then moved into a 70s-built two-story in Michigan, and later a 3 (then 4) bedroom ranch in Virginia. I think our current, ranch-style house in Illinois was built in 1989. But the details are sketchy.
I’ve alway been attracted to older houses. But I’ve found that I quickly appreciate the amenities of freshly built houses when I visit one for even a day or two. There’s much to be said for weather-tight windows, and no foundation cracks. Nowhere for bugs or mice or the occasional snake to get in. No rattling A/C systems. No settling cracks in the ceiling. No scary crawl spaces. No painted-over (!) wallpaper. No weird baby furniture of questionable vintage trapped in the attic by carelessly blown-in insulation. (I can’t imagine thinking that was a good idea.) No concrete slab that makes it impossible to have power anywhere but in the ceiling and walls. No septic system that didn’t meet regulations when it was put in.
Of course, we haven’t had every single one of these nightmare issues in every one of our houses. But we’ve experienced them all, and more. Sometimes I want to chuck it all and move into a brand new Southern Living cottage that has marble countertops and cute plantation shutters and reclaimed barn wood floors and smells just a bit of sawdust and fresh paint, and has an a/c system that’s so new the filters don’t even need to be changed right away.
Old houses have character, right? Writers are supposed to love character! An old house has tons of character that a new house can’t even approach for at least three decades. And older houses are often more economical. You can often get better construction or more space in an older house if you’re willing to make updates or live with idiosyncrasies.
I’ll never forgive my friend who scorned our 1950s 3-bedroom, brick ranch on a hilly acre in Virginia. “I would never settle for something like that,” he said. (He and his family eventually moved into a bigger, brick two-story in a historic part of town, and renovated it to a fare-thee-well. Then his marriage imploded. Karma much?) We stuck to our house and spent six months remodeling, adding a new master suite and deck and a kitchen with double ovens that I still miss. Also gorgeous landscaping, and a big flower garden I tilled myself. Our life was never perfect there, but whose life is, ever? My son was a baby in that house, and my daughter was a girl there. It was a solid, welcoming house. I loved it–despite the Silence of the Lambs full basement that we hadn’t yet gotten around to remodeling. But, oh, we would have.
The house we’re in now is more of a challenge. We’ve put lots of money and time into it, and it’s home. I love the garden, remodeled kitchen, and the open floor plan, and the deck the size of Texas on the back of the house. But sometimes, after I clean our recently remodeled master bath, I stay in there for a few minutes, enjoying the neatness and newness of it (Okay. New actually means 5 years old. But I’ve kept it newish!) Forget the weird hole cut into the concrete slab in one of the furnace/water heater closets–a hole that I think may lead to actual hell. Or at least the place where mice and camelback crickets hide. *shudders* Forget that I had to kill two baby snakes within a year, and that we now have a Silence of the Lambs garage. With spiders. Many spiders.
Today I’ve heard tormented mousey squeaks coming from the kitchen. The cat is parked by the stove, stalking. I can only pray that she actually kills the poor mouse and leaves it in the hallway, like she did the last one. Because otherwise they tend to die where we can’t get to them. Ugh. They absolutely refuse my tempting mousetraps. Did I mention we live nearly surrounded by woods. Wildlife in the house is a drag, says Barbie.
BUT. Home is home. There is also much to be said for making someplace your own. For designing your own crazy-deep bookcases, and painting walls yourself. For knowing that your house has stood for almost three decades against tornadoes and storms and families moving in and out. It’s kind of nice to have watched the same young plumbers and electricians mature over the years as they come to work on the third bathroom for the 10th time, or check the hinky wiring in the kitchen ceiling and above the bedroom chandelier for the 12th time. (It’s tough to work in that blown-in insulation!) I’m just kidding. Sort of. An old house gets to be like an aging friend. It needs encouragement and upkeep and, occasionally, a bit of body work. Character, indeed.
I daydream a lot. Sometimes it’s about new stories. Sometimes it’s about paint colors and new closet fixtures. If I sound grouchy, I’m really not. I tell myself that you can’t change things unless you dream them first. And that I can still be happy even if my daydreams don’t always come true.
There’s a quaint phrase that I see often attributed to Mary Englebreit: Bloom Where You’re Planted. Yes. That’s a life goal worth pursuing, wherever one lives.
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