Friday, April 10, 2015

Sniff, sigh, wipe a tear from your eye

My children were four and five years old, my first husband named John was in Chicago for three months training for his new job, and my job was to find us a house. And I did.

It was a charming little house with character, a repossession that FHA had cleaned up. They’d cleared out trash (left by the previous owners), painted, reroofed, and refinished the hardwood floors. It was a bargain—but for a young family just out of the Air Force, expensive—$13,500. Whoa baby, it was scary to think we were in so much debt after we signed the mortgage papers. This was 1967.

The only pictures I have of our little brown house.
It was our first house after six years of rentals near military bases in California and Massachusetts.  There were two small bedrooms and bath on the main floor, a tiny dining room, and likewise, a tiny kitchen, a finished attic bedroom, and a garage you couldn’t park a car in because there were two big oak trees in front of it.

My kids grew up there, and I grew up there too.

I loved that house. When my first husband named John when out of town for a week to six weeks for more job training, I always had a surprise for his return. Once I took out all the upper cabinets in the kitchen and put in mirrors and open shelves. Another time I removed the plaster from the outer walls in the cold, cold bedrooms, insulated and put up new plasterboard. I built a concrete sculpture on a chicken wire armature in the back yard.

My children opened Christmas presents under the tree in that living room. They played with our dog, Teddy. They dressed up for Halloween there. Sue learned to play the clarinet, and Jim built a telescope out of a cardboard tube. They went though grade school and junior high while we lived in that house. They survived their parents’ divorce when they were 12 and 13, and still that house was their home. The summer after Sue graduated from high school, and Jim finished the eleventh grade, I sold the house.

I sometimes drive by “our” house. I don’t know why. Maybe just to check on it? In Spring I check to see if the twenty mail order 6 inch azaleas that I planted are still blooming. Last year they were huge festoons of shocking pink, at least 5 feet high, surrounding the brick front terrace that Sue and I built.

A few days ago, I drove by and a high cyclone fence that came out to the front sidewalk surrounded the house. Why, I wondered? Was it condemned or what? I didn’t see any notice in the window.

Then the day before yesterday, not even thinking about the fence, I was on my way home from Costco and just turned down North Connecticut. I was confused for a moment. Something was missing.

It was the house. Totally gone. Gone. I felt weepy. I looked at that small bare lot and thought about how big our lives were when we lived there, and what a small about of space we took up in the world. Our four lives were full and rich in less than 700 square feet.

The three big oaks still stand, will they disappear too.

That night I called my kids. They were both distressed. Sue talked about how her elementary school and her junior high school were both gone, and her high school was now a junior high...nothing of her childhood still existed. Jim said he still had dreams about that house (I do too).

Maybe I shouldn’t have told them? Maybe they never do drive-bys? But it mattered to both of them, and in my sadness I had to talk to someone who’d share that loss.

I won’t drive down our old block again. I don’t want to see the big-foot that will replace our little brown house, but then promises.