As of February 2012, I have lived in this house eighteen years. Eighteen years! I moved here as a child bride of twenty-five, and I swear it was yesterday.
Like most young married couples, the house we really wanted was just that wee little bit out of our financial reach, so we had to settle for the house we could afford. Actually, that’s not true. We could have afforded more, but we factored in that one day I hoped to take
a few sixteen-plus years off with our imaginary future kids, and we didn’t want to be dependent upon my income to pay our mortgage. That way, just in case I wanted to stay home a little longer to work out, have lunch with my friends, and start a food blog work on the next great American novel, we could do so.
The lady who lived in this house before me, Diana, was quite the neighborhood Martha. I’m sure I shook things up around here when I moved in, this young chippie stockbroker with a job in the city. Now, with the wisdom of age, I see that no one was the least bit impressed or intimidated by me and my “credentials,” they were merely confused. Did you hear she is twenty-five? they all whispered. I learned that women in their late-30s, early-40s view twenty-five year olds with some inherent suspicion. As they should. It’s amazing I made any friends. I’m pretty sure I would have hated me back then, or at least not have rolled out the red carpet. But all of my neighbors were always very kind, and some have become dear friends over the years.
We wound up looking at this house three times before we figured out we wanted it, so clearly not love at first sight. More like love after a few beers and midnight approaching. It is on a corner lot, not the coveted top-of-the-cul-de-sac position. My bathrooms are small and not the Barbie Dream House bathroom with a nice tub that was on my Must Have list. Every room was wallpapered or sponge painted within an inch of its life. But it had a good vibe to it. It felt like a loving family lived here, and I liked that. The clincher was a little framed calligraphy saying that read:
Rich is not where you live or what you have or what you wear. Rich is who’s next to you.
Or something like that. It WAS eighteen years ago, and I’m no longer a spring chicken. It’s funny, the silly things we remember, but I did remember that little sign. It felt like a sign. Like home.
I remember walking the yard from all angles and thinking, “It’s an odd yard, but it seems like it would be a fun place for kids to play…to sled in the winter, play baseball in the summer, run through sprinklers.” I hated that it was on the corner, but we figured we could plant some evergreens to block the road. It’s hard to explain the feeling, years later, pulling into my driveway past sixty-foot tall trees, and seeing kids playing basketball in the driveway and running around the yard. I remember the person I was when I first saw the house and envisioned my family, and now here they are. Very rarely in my life have things turned out exactly the way I pictured they would, so when I see my kids playing in the yard, it’s hard to not smile.
Back when we were young and optimistic, we deemed this our starter house. We figured if fortune smiled upon us, we would trade up one day, and if not, this would be an acceptable house to stay in. We tried to move in 2001, but many forces conspired against us. It was almost supernatural; we fought off obstacle after obstacle in an effort to buy our dream house, but eventually we accepted defeat.
Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck. — Dalai Lama
We were meant to stay here, I really believe that. And the house we deemed our dream house? Turns out it would have been a very wrong choice for a variety of reasons (not the least of which is a nasty mold problem). Whenever things don’t work out the way I want them to, I try to remember this. But there are other times, more shallow times, when I feel disappointed that we never bought the “we’ve made it” house. I feel ashamed admitting that, because the rational part of me knows how incredibly fortunate we are. Sometimes Geminis aren’t always rational.
Fortunately, every spring, as the seed catalogs start arriving, I fall back in love with my house. Diana set me up with some beautiful flowers and trees which continue to thrive to this day: dogwood, wisteria, irises, and — best of all — peonies. We have had a vegetable garden every year since 1994 (note: before it was trendy). I give Ed full credit for this. It’s possible I might have fought the garden for a few years, resenting it like a mistress. I might have called it a few unprintable names. I definitely didn’t help nearly as much as I should have. It seemed like a lot of unnecessary work to me when we have five grocery stores in a six mile radius. It took me a few years to get it.
There is something so magical about growing your own food on your own land. I am hardly a beacon of clean eating, but the fundamental purity of that act is so fulfilling. It feels almost holy, creating food from seed, and I think it becomes even more magical when you use it to feed your children. This year, the garden will be undergoing some necessary renovations. When you live in one place for so long, you inevitably learn nothing lasts forever.
I moved around a lot as a child. Moving was something I always hated and wished to spare my own children. I hope when my kids look back on their childhood, they will remember this house fondly with its flowers, trees, vegetable garden and odd backyard, and I hope they will know that despite their relatively modest home, they were rich.
Dogwood in the front yard
Vegetable garden in the back yard
Pink peonies — short lived but gorgeous