And I don’t just love this house because the first Sunday we lived here somebody other than Bob and I was mowing our lawn, and we didn’t have to pay for it. Or because the automatic ice maker wasn’t working, and I wasn’t the one who had to call Kenmore to get a repairman out here, or because I just chose paint colors I wanted for the downstairs rooms, and, voila! they were all painted by the time I arrived. No, I love this house because of what it is: a marvelous old house that has re-awakened the ghost-story writer in me (we have a walk-up attic that seems it was at one time the maids’ quarters – a dusty old place with a hallway that mimics the one on the second floor and two rooms off to either side. I’ve placed a big basket chair and a small table at the end of this hallway, right in front of the peaked window that looks out the front and over the huge spruce in the yard. Can you think of a better spot to take a notebook and pen to write? It’s not heated, but I’m hardy when it comes to temperature and will take a sleeping bag up there with me until it gets too cold even for me). Strange knocking noises in the dining room just have to be a ghost, right?
Not only is it a marvelous old house, but it’s also the sort of house I always wanted with its big front porch and nine-foot ceilings. And I’m living right, smack-dab in the center of “town” (such as it is. The real town is Lancaster proper, and I suppose this used to be a village of sorts, surrounded by nothing but farmland). We have hardwood floors that aren’t ruined with wall-to-wall carpeting. We have a space at the end of the upstairs hall with a window just perfect for a reading couch. The dining room is the biggest room in the house. How can someone who thinks food is one of life’s greatest pleasures not be thrilled about that?
I don’t want to sound too unappreciative of our former home, which was a very nice place as well. The problem with it, though, is that it was a very nice place for someone like all our neighbors – the sorts of people who seem to like nothing better, after a long, hard week at work, to spend their weekends cleaning, painting, decorating, gardening, renovating, and worrying about every scratch and knick on the exterior and interior of their homes. That would not be Bob and me. We like to spend our weekends reading books and the Sunday New York Times (which to our horror, we’ve discovered we can’t get delivered here).
I fell in love with that house, too, but I fell in love with it on a very superficial level. It had this beautiful window in the living room, and the living room led into a huge glassed-in sunroom (which we decorated with artifacts Bob had collected while in grad school in Santa Fe and came to call the “Santa Fe room”). Off the Santa Fe room was a swimming pool. It all sounds very glamorous and appealing, and it is if you’re just visiting it for a few days, but not if you’re trying to live there. You see, if you don’t live with one and have to take care of it, you don’t realize that things like swimming pools have to be vacuumed and that they’re sullen teenagers who, when they feel you’ve been ignoring them too long, enjoy doing things like suddenly turning green with algae the week of your pool party. Huge glassed-in rooms have windows that seem to want to show off their dirt if they’re not washed on a regular basis. It was as if the house had a pair of sparkling green eyes that had attracted my attention the minute we first saw it, drawing me away from the rest of its body and making me forget that I really like deep, dark, soulful, brown eyes – the sort of eyes that have a pipeline to the heart. The house I’m in now has deep, dark, soulful, brown eyes.
When we first moved into our former house, we were newlyweds who’d never lived with each other. So what’s really nice about that house is that we grew up and together in it. What’s also nice about that house is that it helped me get to know Bob, whom I now know much better than I did when I was busy being charmed by a pair of green eyes. I know he can’t bear to get rid of anything. That house, despite having this absurd 4-car garage (the former owner had been a pilot and had built on extra garage stalls, so he could build and house his own plane) never had the right kind of storage space. And I was too
The other problem with the old house is that we were house poor when we moved into it. I was only 31 when we got married, and although I had my doubts, still wasn’t sure that my biological clock hadn’t just been temporarily broken and that I might not find myself desperate for children by the time I was 36 or so. And we wanted a room to call a “study” where we both could write. Thus, we had to have at least three bedrooms: one for a baby, one for us, and one for a study. We were living in Stamford, CT at the time and to think we were under the delusion we could afford such a thing there is laughable. But then we discovered this little town that hadn’t yet been “discovered” (it since has, in abundance, and huge houses are popping up all over the place like pimples on a teenager’s face). If we pushed the limits of what we were planning to spend on a house, we could get this sparkling-green-eyed, 4-bedroom colonial that seemed about 100 times the size of the studio apartment I was renting at the time.
We’d sunk all our money into a down payment and mortgaged ourselves up to our necks, before I noticed its flabby beer belly (kitchen that probably still had the original appliances from 1959, the year it was built, with an oven that couldn’t easily be replaced when it broke, because wall ovens are no longer made in that size), its dirty fingernails (wallpaper and wall-to-wall carpeting that was old, dingy, stained, and, in some of the bedrooms, shoddily lain), and its nasty habit of spitting in public (bathrooms that had issues similar to the ones in the kitchen). Within a week of moving into the house, the dishwasher blew up, the pool filter stopped doing its job, and the water tank sprung little pin-hole leaks. Paying for all these things added new meaning to the term “house poor.”
We had no money, and we are not handy do-it-yourselfers, so we didn’t do what most people do. We didn’t remodel or redecorate. We just moved all our stuff in and placed it on top of what was already there. Then we went back to reading books. When we finally did feel we had a little money to remodel or redecorate, things like swimming pool liners needed replacing, or a tree fell on the deck (not once, but twice!) so that it needed major repair, or pipes froze and flooded the basement, or families of squirrels decided that our garage was prime real estate in squirrel land. We dealt with all those disasters and were too exhausted to do anything other than pick up our books and read.
Bob, the more romantic member of this pair, will tell you how much he loves that house, what a wonderful house it is. What I love is the fact we grew up in it together, that it was a great place to get to know and love each other better. We learned that we were the sort of couple that would come together when we woke up to discover the roof was leaking into the laundry room. I learned that Bob is a Master when it comes to researching contractors and repairmen and getting them to do wonderful work. And that house is now in terrific hands, with one of those neighbors who is not the sort who likes to spend his weekends reading books.
Meanwhile, I’ve got to get back to taking