Thursday, July 28, 2011

Travis's House

I have been crabby all day. It started with a "Why can't I access my e-bill" utilities battle that made me late for an important meeting. I know, we all have those days. But it doesn't mean I have to like it.

Fast-forward to this evening when I met the paralegal in charge of my landlord's affairs and we did the final walk-through of the house we rented last year. She asked about the house we bought, I told her, she thought for a second and said "Oh, Travis's house." We talked about Travis for a minute (I only know him by posthumous reputation), then parted and I headed to the grocery store.

Some [really jerky] guy did one of those obnoxious parking-lot cut-offs. The kind where car A (me) is traveling down the aisle while car B ([jerky guy]) cuts through and does a near-miss. It is a lucky thing that I didn't encounter him in the store, because I had a loud diatribe prepared for him. It was about the development and propagation of [jerky guy] cultures, and how I'd just moved AWAY from one of those places and I was by God not going to live in another one. I was ready to let him have it, which is completely not what I would normally do. But I've been pretty crabby today.

I paid for the five things I went in for, and drove home. To Travis's house. I put things away, started wiping down the counters, and realized that while this will always be Travis's house, it will also always be my house. For the first time in my 40-some years, I'm not looking around the corner to see what else, what more interesting place, is waiting. I'm home. And suddenly, like a quiet breeze through the kitchen window, I'm not crabby anymore.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Little Pink Houses

We are the proud owners of a slightly sprawling, slightly ramshackle pink house on Main Street. The floors dip, the roof sags, the porch has been painted over so many times we can count the layers in the peeling chips, and did I mention that it’s pink?

After we had signed the papers, Commuter Dad and I walked into our house and stood there, both shell-shocked and thinking “What have we gotten ourselves into?” Our previous houses were new builds, with even floors, central air, new appliances and professional landscaping all conveniently located in homogeneous neighborhoods where, frankly, we just didn’t quite fit.

We have too many books and not enough televisions; more interest in cooking, or reading, or playing, than in cleaning and keeping up appearances. “She kept a clean house” is not what I want as my epitaph. But the funny thing about where we choose to live is that we, often unconsciously, try to fit ourselves into the gestalt of that space. Our houses never quite fit, even when we tried to force ourselves into those molds.

The story of this house—our coming to this house—starts before we’d even started looking. I was at the grocery store one afternoon, loading up the back of my mom-car when an older woman with bright red hair and a small child in tow stopped to ask about the Coexist sticker on the back of my car. It let to a long conversation about the nature of “alternative” religions and lifestyles, and the ways we find acceptance and peace in our varied beliefs. During the conversation, she mentioned her daughter-in-law, how she and her late husband had owned a new-agey shop in town (one that I had quite liked). It had recently closed, and her daughter-in-law was trying to sell her house because she was ready for a new beginning. The woman expressed sadness that the daughter-in-law was leaving, but hope that she would find what she needed to move forward.

Two months later, our real estate agent brought me and Commuter Son to this house. The moment we walked through the front door, I was overwhelmed by a sense of utter joyfulness. It wasn’t the furnishings, or the d├ęcor, or any other tangible thing. It was simply a part of the mortar and bricks of the house itself.

The homeowner was present and did the walk-through with us, pointing out what had been some of her favorite things (the library with built-in bookshelves, for example). She pointed to some boxes in the middle of the floor and commented that they were from her shop that had recently closed. When she named the shop, I realized that this was the daughter-in-law and I told her about the meeting in the parking-lot, which made her laugh and say that, yes, it sounded just like her late husband’s mother. Then, she opened a door under the stairs and said “We call this the Harry Potter potty.” It is a tiny powder room, just a toilet and sink, tucked into the empty space under the staircase. I laughed, because really, who wouldn’t? When I laughed, she looked at her friend who was here that day and said “She gets it.” The friend nodded—I had passed a test.

Later, they walked us out to our cars (our agent’s and mine), saw the same Coexist sticker, looked at each other and nodded. “She gets it.”

Some wrangling and legalities later, the house is ours. It is quirky, and in need of TLC and paint, but one of my friends who helped us moved walked through and grinned. “This is your house; it’s so you.”

But the story of our house is just beginning.

Today, I took the kiddo and some of his friends to the water park. It was hot and sunny, and its summer break, and they were desperate. While we were gone, Commuter Dad (bless him) hauled some more stuff over from the house we were renting, then spent some time in our new garage. Our seller’s late husband was a potter, and the garage is still home to his kiln and some other supplies. There were also, as CD discovered, some of his clay pieces. One is a large bowl that now lives on our bookshelves; another is a happy, hand-built dragon springing to life from a small block of clay. He is the Labrador retriever of dragons—wanting nothing more than to have his ears rubbed and a ball thrown for a game of fetch.

Out of curiosity, CD then did a search for the late potter and learned that not only was he a husband, father, artist and a shop-owner, but he was integral in designing and rebuilding what is one of our son’s favorite parks. He was respected and active in our community and in charitable organizations. And he died at the age of 36, after a 13-year battle with cancer.

If it is true that where we live shapes us, and if we work to live up to the expectations of that space, then this house is going to challenge us to be the very best that we can. It will push us to grow, and to love, and to give. The joy and the peace that reside in the mortar here aren’t happy accidents; they are reminders that what we give comes back to us often in the most unexpected of ways.