I’ve been talking a lot about houses lately. Buying. Selling. Relocating. Renovating. A few friends and a strong percentage of my siblings are all working on new homes right now, so it’s been top of mind.
It’s a big decision, choosing a house, because ultimately – at least in all the cases of the people I know – we’re talking about a home for their children. And what’s more important than that?
When KJ and I bought our house over five years ago, it was still being built and was (is) located on a busier street than we wanted. (How will our kids ride their bikes around our cul-de-sac if we didn’t live on one?) It didn’t have everything we thought we wanted – the basement wasn’t finished, it was missing that one key bathroom, the kitchen was a little bit dark… yet, it just felt right to me. Maybe because it did meet my #1 criteria – be close enough to walk to Starbucks town – or maybe because I just got a vibe that this could be Home.
And it is. I love that my iced coffee is a walk away, but more importantly, I love things that I didn’t see during our initial tour. Things that have revealed themselves over the years. For example…
- … our fantastic neighbors in every direction.
- … the loop around the first floor rooms that the kids use as a track for their races and LAUGH SO HARD they can barely run.
- … our “woods” (and by “woods,” I mean three trees, some plants and a bunch of dirt) which have become one of the Loud One’s favorite places to hang out.
- … how the step that leads from the kitchen to the family room has become the perfect launching pad to jump onto the couch and initiate Wrestle Baby.
- … the 194 perfect hide and seek spots throughout the second floor.
Five+ years ago, with one 18-month old daughter, KJ and I couldn’t possibly have envisioned any of this, yet in the words of Penny Lane, it’s all happening.
All of this makes me think of about the house where I grew up, 6 Valley View Drive.
I lived in the same house for my entire life, until I went to college. And then I lived there again sporadically throughout the years, in between moves, travels and assorted adventures. That’s a lot of time in one house.
These are my brightest memories about some of the rooms in 6 Valley View…
The Living Room… was mostly all white and fancy and sort of forbidden except at Christmastime when the [fake] tree was set-up and we sat in there to show our cousins all of our presents.
Also, in the living room, the full set of Encyclopedia Britannica sat on the bottom, right-hand shelf and the small space behind the leather armchair was a favorite basket-hiding spot for the Easter Bunny.
The Dining Room… had this awesome dark-brown and white paisley patterned wallpaper. For my entire life, that wallpaper stayed on the dining room walls. My Mom redecorated the entire house over the years, except for this room.
I wonder if she preferred to leave it as is, because it was at that table that our family was at its best… holiday dinners where kids wandered in from the “kids’ table” and sat on laps or squished between chairs and everyone picked at the desserts. From my eyes as a child, that table was completely stress-free.
I have that table in my dining room now and I only hope it brings the same magic to my current home.
My Bedroom… was AWESOME. It was redone by a decorator named Roz when I was 10-years old – the wallpaper was peach with mauve flowers and I had a bed set up sideways, like a couch. I also had – get this – a table that seated four people in my room. A table for four! I can’t remember one single time that I actually had four people sitting at that table, but it was great for homework and art and generally looking cool. Also, it was covered in a peach and mauve and magenta floral fabric that matched the curtains AND the bedspread. Like I said, AWESOME.
My Brother and Sister’s Rooms… When I think about my sister’s room, I think about lying on her bed and watching her curl her hair in front of the mirror and thinking she was the coolest girl in the world. As for my brother’s room, it’s mostly the sound of Styx blasting out of it that I remember.
The Basement. The evolution of the basement was similar to that of many Hollywood starlets – it started off as an unpolished, blank slate with lots of potential. Then it was discovered, dressed up and revealed to the world. In its heyday, it was adored, lavished with gifts and surrounded by admiring crowds at all times. Then, it fell out of favor and became an old, damaged, hollow vessel that had only its memories in which to bask. Ah, the cycle of life.
My only memory of the unfinished basement was roller-skating with my friends around the cement floors and flinging ourselves to spin around the poles… wait a second, that did NOT sound right. We were very young and those poles were probably holding up the entire house, so get your mind out of the gutter.
Then it was refurnished and BAM! INSTA-COOL. Ping pong table, pool table (although it was too close to the walls and on certain shots, you had to hold the stick straight up and down to fit), a record player, a TV with Atari, a BAR and a sliding glass door that led straight to the pool. Two words for you: PAR. TIES. (Dad, I’m talking only about parties you knew about and approved. Actually, that’s a lie. But come on, you put a BAR in our basement. AND FROGGER.)
Sadly after many years of neglect, the basement fell into a state of disarray and it became habitable only by the ENORMOUS jumping cave crickets that used to camouflage into the rug and scare the shit out of anyone that was forced to go down there (which only happened if we were taking out the fake Christmas tree or resetting the circuit-breaker because I blew a fuse using my hair dryer, curling iron and boom box at the same time).
Oh and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Scary Storage Room I and REALLY Scary Storage Room II that were situated in the depths of the basement. They were dark (lit only by single-bare bulbs, with chains that were usually too short for a normal person to reach…right out of a horror movie, right??), dank, and very, very cob-webby. These rooms were where things went to die. And I mean that literally. Like there were definitely dead things back there.
The Pool and Deck. Always a show-stopper, friends loved our pool and three-tiered deck. We spent many hours by that pool, with hydrogen peroxide (to bleach our hair) and baby oil (to fry our skin). There was never a summer day that someone didn’t end up with splinters from that deck, but it was still a great place to hang.
Finally, the Kitchen and the Family Room… impossible to separate, because even before my Mom knocked down half of the wall separating the two rooms, they went hand-in-hand.
The family room is where we sat, where we watched TV (Little House on the Prairie, The Facts of Life, The Love Boat, Friends and Sex & the City, until it was too embarrassing to watch with my mom and brother in the room), where we read People magazine, where we napped, where the snacks were laid out, where the photo albums were kept, where the stockings were hung, and where the extra, straight-back chair was brought in when Poppy was over.
It was warm and inviting and cushy and have-a-seat-and-put-your-feet-up comfortable. It was a Great Room, before great rooms even existed.
But if the family room was where we hung out, the kitchen was where we lived. (Does that make sense? In my brain, it makes sense, but when I read it out loud, it sounds like I’m trying to be all arty and profound… and failing. But whatever.)
In all houses that have a kitchen island, the kitchen island is the center of life. Or dumping ground. Whatever you want to call it. Backpacks, art projects, mail, flowers, socks, crumbs, drinks, mittens, sunglasses, medications, groceries, dirty dishes, food, packages, keys, hats, wine… all the evidence of busy families lives on the kitchen island. 6 Valley View was no exception.
On the other hand, the kitchen table is where all the PEOPLE lived. The aunts and their coffee; the cousins and their stories; the grandparent and his Scrabble games; the friends and their updates; the kids and their laughter…the people (and the Entenmann’s doughnuts) could be found around the kitchen table.
So many of my memories are set in the kitchen… my Mom cooking her giant pot of sauce (yes, with sausage for flavor) by the stove; my Dad coming home after work, hanging his tie on the door to the basement and opening a jar of peanuts; my aunts coming in and out, all the time. The holidays, the meals, the conversations… the years flew by while we sat at that kitchen table.
Time blurs in my memories when I think about that kitchen and family room. Those rooms saw our best family memories, and some of our worst. So many tears shed in there, but also so, so, so much laughter and joy. Babies and kids and happiness… so much life. But also, death.
After my Mom passed away, we waited a long time before selling the house. As you can imagine, packing it up and moving out was difficult in so many ways. There was over 30 years of stuff in that house and it all had to be sorted and dealt with. Emotional doesn’t even begin to cover it. I could write a post as long as this one just about that weekend. (Don’t worry, I can hear you saying, “Please don’t…” from here.)
At one point, I was loading something into my car when a young couple walked down the driveway. One of them said, “We’re probably not supposed to do this, but we saw you out here and we couldn’t help but introduce ourselves… we’re the new owners of this house.”
I thought I might burst into tears right in front of them so I ran inside to get Tom and Lori.
The couple told us that the price of the house was a stretch for them but that it was their dream house. They told us that the broker had told them about our mom and they wanted us to know that they were going to love this house and take good care of it.
That was that. We finished up, left a bottle of champagne in the fridge and walked out.
(We probably also left some really gnarly stuff in Really Scary Storage Room II… but let’s get out of it.)
To this day, most of my dreams take place in that house. Probably because it was the setting for so many of my life stories. I wish my kids could know it.
But instead, we’ll hopefully build the same kind of life and history and stories and memories for them where we live now… in our Home.
PS. I tried to find more pictures of all the rooms I write about here, but the problem is most of the photos I have include people. And in most of those photos, the people would probably be very, very embarrassed about their hair. So, I left them out.