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A love letter to my house

August 30, 2012
by

I’ve had this post rolling around in my head for a few weeks, but every time I sit down at the computer I push it into a dark corner of my brain.  Part of me doesn’t want to feed and water it, to look it in the eye, as if the words on the screen make it more real than it already is.  I’m conflicted about admitting that, because what I’m avoiding is also a positive opportunity, and a choice that we’ve made as a family.  A choice I’m excited about, even.  I’m also slightly embarrassed that this melodrama is simply about us moving.  Selling our house, packing our stuff, and driving it to a new house in a new neighborhood.  People move all the time.  We want to move.  And our move isn’t imminent.  We’re just preparing to list.  Getting ready.  But this is hard for me.

Because I love our house.  I feel bad admitting that, too.  It’s just a house, but to me, it’s more.  It’s the house Kyle and I, eight months married, bought to begin our lives together in.  I remember following the Realtor through the back door and seeing the old kitchen with gleaming (impractically, old-fashionedly low) wood counter tops.  I fell in love before we got to the second room.

2002

There were pastel walls that clashed with the warm orange tone of the gleaming crown molding and baseboards.  There was faded blue carpet and funeral-parlor drapes.  Between overgrown bushes and huge awnings, no daylight reached the living or dining rooms.  The house cowered under multiple towering, rotten-to-the-core maples just waiting to smash it to bits.  The only bathroom was very, very pink.  The plaster had peeled off the walls in one bedroom from heavy humidifier use.  The chimney from the behemoth antique furnace in the basement went up through the kitchen in the space that a refrigerator should be, and so the fridge was in another room.  But the woodwork was pristine.  The built-in cabinets – incredible.  The yard went back forever with the promise of a summer garden I couldn’t see under a foot of snow.  The linoleum kitchen floor was the same pattern as the house I’d grown up in.  This could be home.

Kyle and I, with the naivety of a young couple in love whose only home maintenance skills were painting, saw Possibility and jumped at the chance.  Excited by our accepted offer, we drove to our future home under cover of darkness to make covert snow angels in the front yard.  The day we closed, we celebrated with take-out Italian fare on the dining room floor.

Snow angles made while trespassing

We had no idea what we were doing. We also appear to be about 16.

Kyle’s first major accomplishment was adding shelves to the empty kitchen pantry.  Our good friend Jason spent an afternoon lying on the floor to ground each outlet (I still don’t understand what this involved or the reason it was necessary, but I remember and appreciate it).  We ripped out the carpet and discovered a crumbling dusty pad that had gummed up the wood floors below.  We retreated back to our apartment at midnight to sleep on couch cushions – the only soft thing we hadn’t moved – when the stink of the fumes from the refinished floors tried to kill us in our sleep.

The residue the carpet pad left on the wood floor gummed up the contractor’s sander. He was not amused.

We bribed our families with beer to tear the chimney down from the roof to the basement to make room in our kitchen for a fridge (they carried a zillion tons of bricks to that dumpster).  My dad had one afternoon to figure out how to patch the new hole this created in the roof.

Kyle’s dad removing plaster from around the chimney in the kitchen

Guess who carried a chimney up from the basement, one bucket of bricks at a time?  Hint: they aren’t smiling.

Hey Dad – it’s gonna rain tomorrow. How’s that roof patch coming along? No pressure.

We added one bathroom with help from family.  We tiled a shower without resorting to name calling (possibly).

Obviously the wrong mask – I was seeing dancing spots 6 minutes after this was taken.

We wisely hired help to tile the second bathroom.

Bathroom before and after (blue hadn’t been an improvement over pink – it took awhile to learn to pick paint colors)

We tore down a rotting fence.  We removed wood paneling.  We hired a plaster guy.  We (sadly) took down the deadly trees and planted new ones further from the house.

Taking down the I-Will-Crush-You-In-Your-Sleep Tree = more expensive than flying to Thailand

Kyle became a ceiling fan installation expert.  We painted the house a few times with my mother-in-law’s help to reach the high spots.  Then we paid someone to do it for us after we had kids.

Kyle, not as afraid of heights as I am

I painted *only* from the ground. And for some reason the downspout was really funny.

The public shame of a newspaper article telling the world I’m a wimp

Kyle and his brothers and mom re-roofed the garage, while Tea learned some swear words listening to pros roof the house.

Roofing is a dirty business

Roofing the garage

We weeded, but not often enough.  We dusted almost never.  We carried the storm windows up from the basement every fall and hung the screens every spring.  We shoveled 42 trillion feet of snow.  We added some veggie gardens late in the game.

Literally embracing a weed. The first year, we couldn’t tell friend from foe so we let everything grow.  I was *sure* this was a perennial for so long it became a running joke.  I wouldn’t let Kyle pull it even when it became apparent it was indeed a perennial…weed.

I will miss the veggie gardens dearly

We could never have done it alone.  We will be forever grateful for all of the weekends spent helping us with projects, the trips to the store in pick-up trucks for large supplies, the random hey-the-furnace-just-stopped-what-do-I-do!? phone calls.  We could never have made this house the home that it is without our family and friends.

But what makes me the most sad about leaving this house is not the house as a physical space, as beautiful as it is to me, but the house as a home for our memories.  The first year Kyle and I were married.  Hanging our Eau Claire antique store finds in the living room.  Our first dog sitting-charge-turned-full-time pet Pooka, wrestling her pillow before bed.  Games of chess at the dining room table.  Candy making in the basement.  Our second dog, the cat-like Punkin, sleeping on the back of the couch in the sunny window.  The murky fish tank I never cleaned.  The never-annual, “annual” croquet parties.  The 8-foot snowman we built in the front yard.  Cleaning for the social worker’s home visit.  A bedroom for first one little boy, and then making room for a second.  Cooking our favorite roasted garlic and pasta dish together in the kitchen.  Watching the 4th of July parade from the front yard with friends each year.  Reading chapters of “Laura and Mary” at bedtime.  Kyle baking us “Special Breakfast” every weekend morning.  Hanging diapers on the line to dry.  Little feet scampering down the steps on Christmas morning.  Watching the birds at the feeder while we eat.  Boys pulling handfuls of peas and basil out of the garden to snack on as they run to play in the yard.  The smell of Kyle’s beer brewing in the basement.  Giving haircuts in the driveway.  S’mores at a backyard campfire.  The boys racing to the window at every siren to watch the emergency vehicles from the station down the street.  Evening knitting while feeling the cool air through the window, listening to crickets.  Late night phone calls with too-distant friends until the phone battery dies.  Playing Chopin on the piano.  Early mornings with mugs of tea and slippered feet tucked up on the rung of the dining room chair.

Tea’s first day home

Pea’s first breakfast at home

My whole adult life, more than a decade, is framed by this house.  As excited as I am to see what we find in our future, I am also grieving the loss of this space.  As we clean and organize and purge in preparation to list the house, I feel as if I’m also cataloging my memories, scrubbing away the sad and polishing the happy.  Loading boxes of good-will donations into the car, I am also trying to prepare myself to let go of the house I love.  I am struck by two opposing thoughts.  How could anyone walk into this house and think that it could be as much a home to them as it has been to me?  How could they not?

We bought this house in 2002 from Helen Martin, age 90, who had lived here for 50 years.  Sitting in the bank conference room, she cried as she signed the closing paperwork.  I totally understand.

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. August 30, 2012 2:01 pm

    Yep. I’ve been thinking the same things about our house. It’s hard to leave but impossible to stay. You’ll love your next house just as much, too.

    • August 31, 2012 2:09 pm

      I know, and how sad we’ll probably miss each other in Madison by a few months.

  2. August 30, 2012 3:28 pm

    Robin, this is so beautiful and so well written. You and Kyle, and Tea and Pea, too, have a lovely, bright future ahead. You all will find a new, wonderful house and turn it into a home in no time. Cry those tears and grin those grins as you pack and sign the paperwork. You’re allowed. ~Kayla (former co-worker of Kyle’s, in case you don’t recognize the name)

    • August 31, 2012 2:10 pm

      Thanks, Kayla. We’ll always think fondly of our time in Rock County!

  3. August 30, 2012 3:38 pm

    Bittersweet like so many things in life. I’m sentimental about places and spaces too. The good news is –the people you love will follow you to the next space to make it even more of a home. (PS wow that’s a lot of home improving.)

    • August 31, 2012 2:14 pm

      Doesn’t it seem like most sweet things have a bit of bitter? Nothing lasts forever so we try to focus on enjoying each day. And yes, I was surprised to see everything we’ve done to the house written down all in one place. Once we made it cozy, we forgot the pain of getting it to that point. Which is good news for the next place we go, I suppose.

  4. August 30, 2012 10:10 pm

    What a beautiful post! I’m sharing the same grieving feelings, since we are selling the first home we ever bought and where we brought Penny home to become part of our family. We only lived here half as long as you were in your house and I’m already sad to say, “Good-bye!” I’m especially sad to say “Good-bye” to small-town Fort Collins to move to Denver, since I was born and raised in rural S.D. But, I’m learning to let go and trust that for both of our families it’ll be a positive move!

    • August 31, 2012 2:17 pm

      Thanks, Chandra. It is hard. I was feeling low – writing this helped me feel much better. I’ve been impressed by your attitude – it seems you’re handling your move with such grace. Best of luck in your new home!

  5. Nancy permalink
    August 30, 2012 11:37 pm

    And soon Tea’s off to f.t. Kindergarten. It’s all hard, very hard. Thanks for sharing. I can relate. Let me know if you’d like to come over after school starts. . .

    • August 31, 2012 2:19 pm

      Last night was kindergarten open house. Yikes. We’d love to come visit once school starts. Poor Pea is already lamenting Tea’s absence before he’s gone.

  6. Sharon permalink
    September 4, 2012 3:43 am

    I LOVE IT!!! Had tears in my eyes as I was reading as I was thinking about our life on our little bit of paradise here at Caterpillar Gully.

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