Staying Put

SOJ

There was in the eyes a look of anticipation and joy, a far-off look that sought the horizon; one often sees it in seafaring families, inherited by boys and girls alike from men who spend their lives at sea, and are always watching for distant sails or the first loom of the land.–Sarah Orne Jewett, The Country of The Pointed Firs

The big brick house has been for sale for over a year, stately, patient in its parklike setting.  It has a broad and welcoming doorway with sidelights and a transom; there is a big second story dormer right above that hints at a spacious landing where one could sit with a book in a chaise, cozily afghaned, while the snow flutters down…

I look the listing up on-line; I see a grand staircase with a gleaming bannister, and I see really bad, bad wallpaper throughout.

It would be this house all over again, Mark says.  Every wall would have to be changed, every room. And this house had good bones; we don’t know what that house’s bones are like.

He’s right: we are slowing down.  Another enormous project–probably not now, not for us.  Still, I watch as the price falls lower and lower, and I think: Three FULL bathrooms.

My own bathroom!

A bathroom for each one of us!

Five bedrooms, three and a half baths, over an acre of land…and the price falls down to 104,900.  My heart yearns. And then: the open house sign goes up.

I talk the boys into a tour before our Sunday sojourn to Half Price Books.  Mark agrees, interested; he wants to see the inside.  Jim agrees, reluctant; he loves our current house and neighborhood and does not want to move.

So we take a trip into the past; into bathrooms with pink sinks and turquoise tiles and a houseful of knob and tube wiring.  Old coiled metal radiators provide heat; there is no central air.  The basement is portioned into tiny musty rooms, and where the washer-dryer should be, the plumbers have excavated the floor down to bare dirt, tracking in new plumbing.

The wonderful antique tile, the grand and welcoming staircase, the bold and gleaming mantle over a working fireplace, the incredible park-like space…they can’t compete with the amount of work that needs to be done.  The plaster walls upstairs are crumbling; the raucous wallpaper is all that holds them in place. The slate roof must be replaced.

“It’s a gut job,” says Mark.  “It would take a couple hundred thousand just to get it livable.”

Of course, he’s right; we thank Jay, the nice realtor, and we climb into the car and head to Westerville.  But a little part of me yearns–for all that space; for all that challenge. For that new landscape.

I have a perfectly lovely house, a house that has all I need, and that offers plenty of projects I can undertake.  It’s in a lovely area; we have amazing neighbors.  But a little voice natters on about having been here four years, almost five.  “When,” it pokes, “have you ever lived anywhere for five whole years?”

Why can’t I just be happy where I am?  Why am I always looking toward the next move?

Maybe it’s time to settle in, to embrace the place, a place that welcomes and engages us.  It is, for me, surprisingly hard.

*********

When I was six months old, my parents bought a big house on the main street of our little town.  We lived in the house for ten years; we added a downstairs bedroom for my brother Dennis as he grew older, more serious, in need of a quiet place to study and read.  The house had lovely features–a stairway encased in French doors, gleaming hardwood, spacious, stately rooms.  The backyard flowed out into a ‘way-back’ yard, and that butted up against a field which led to a woods.  We loved that house; all of us did.

But, the year that I turned ten, the bottom fell out from family finances, and we had to sell the house. We moved to a neighboring city, which meant changing schools. Some of my brothers, entrenched with friends and activities, baseball teams and paper routes, were not happy. But we were moving to a rental near the lake; it had a big yard and a willow tree.  I would walk to the beach (if Mom would let me) and I would start a whole new school–a public school, which would be vastly different from my life, to that date, with nuns.

I really couldn’t wait.

I loved that new house, too, although the spiders were enormous, the basement dirt-floored and scary, and the location far, far away from even a corner store to walk to. Still, some summer days, my mother would pack up a picnic lunch and I would walk to the park by the beach with my younger brother; we would swing at the playground and wade in the lake, conscientious about our pledge not to go full-out swimming.  We would eat our lunch at a glossy, green-painted picnic table, and trudge home, tired but happy, having had a summer adventure.

I fell asleep at night to the sound of the water pounding the beach.  Stormy nights were thrilling.

We stayed a year and moved into town, into a duplex shared with the owners.  That neighborhood had three girls just my age; we formed a gang; we read books together, we wrote plays, we knitted. In the green seasons, we played Capture the Flag and Red Rover Red Rover (until Amy broke her collar bone and the game was unanimously banned by all parents); there was a troop of kids, always enough for kickball or wiffleball, enough to put on plays and carnivals. But. We had two fires in that house because of antique heating; there were relationship problems between my clattery family and the quiet, prim landlords.  Before two years went by, we moved again.

That new house, also a rental, became somewhat permanent; my parents stayed there until they moved to the tiny retirement apartment where they lived out their lives.  I enjoyed living there until college; then I tried out a series of apartments, learned that partying and housekeeping were incompatible, tried hard to grow up and get responsible.  I’d fly back to that semi-permanent roost; move out, explore, enjoy, reconsider.  I got married; that three-year adventure involved two rented homes.  From there I moved to a tiny bachelorette apartment until meeting Mark and deciding, after a somewhat lengthy courtship, to make it legal.

**********
My mother’s family came to the States from Scotland; on one side of the family the men were seafarers.  On the other side, they were innkeepers.  I always thought that was a nice intertwining: the roving and the rooted.

When they settled in the Buffalo, New York, area, the men got jobs on Great Lakes freighters, or on the docks, close to the pulsing waters if not on them.  I often thought you could see the water in their eyes, which were blue and changeable, stormy at times, and serene at others.

My mother had those eyes.  I have them, too.

I have never been a world traveler; my journeys have been from the western side of the Northeast to the eastern edges of the Midwest. I just love the adventure, and the possibility, of another move.

***********
Mark owned a snug, sturdy little bungalow when we got married; it was the only home Matt remembered, and we stayed there until he graduated from high school–some ten years.  That was a long time for me, but not for Mark, whose family created a homestead in the house they moved into when Mark was six. His mother still maintains that big, red-shingled house, a home base for scattered siblings.

When Matt graduated from high school, we moved; Mark had changed jobs, I had always had a commute, and Jim’s special needs were best met in a different system anyway. Although we loved our neighbors and community, there were compelling reasons to go.

We rented an old inn for a year; it was built in the 1830’s, it had broad plastered rooms, gleaming woodwork, a scary cistern in the dirt-floored basement, and a pathway through the vineyards to the woods.

We bought our house on Orchard Street then and settled in until Mark, four years later, went off to law school.

There, in that law school village, we transformed a trailer on a corner lot, abutting a prairie cornfield; it offered a little more autonomy and a little more equity than a rented apartment would have, and it was a fun experiment in downsizing.

We bought a rambling old house in the town where Mark found his first job after graduating; then, when Mark changed jobs, we were blessed with the chance to buy the house we live in now, with its lovely neighborhood and double lot, its sturdy bones.

I figure I have lived in 13 homes throughout my life–it averages out to a new home every four years and three months, give or take.

Some nights, I look out the window, at the familiar landscape, and I feel a yearning to uproot, to move forward to a new building, new walls.  I look at ads in the newspaper, thinking–wouldn’t it be nice to have three full baths?  There’s a whole lot we could do with those two extra bedrooms…

**************

I think about blue-eyed wanderers.  It seems true in my immediate family–my blue-eyed brother Dennis, too, was a rover, moving as his career dictated; my blue-eyed brother Michael stayed in the same house for a long time, but his naval years might have planted the travel bug.  He relocated after retirement, to another state altogether, and as I write this, he and Mary, my sister-in-law, are visiting friends overseas.

Do brown eyes signify an attachment to the solid earth that grounds us? My brown-eyed brothers seem more settled and place-bound; my brown-eyed husband and son want no part of another move.

*******

I sit at my comfortable dining room table, and I write this early on a Sunday morning.  Maxie, the feline mayor of the neighborhood, is sleeping mulchily in my flower bed; a troop of five deer tiptoe daintily down my drive.  They stop, momentarily, and regard Max; some kind of message slides among them; they ramble off. My dog rumbles lazily at the wildlife outside, but she’s too content to take any kind of action.

Mark spent yesterday re-wiring the old garage, swinging a long metal light fixture to another situation, enlisting James and me as holders and steadiers as he mounted  a ceiling fan.

The garage will become his workshop; he has plans to repurpose the paint room downstairs for my craft room; and the south side of the basement is becoming a living suite, an efficiency apartment, a man-cave, for James.

We have carved out a guest room; we have plans to make the two half baths full. This house has all I need, all I want, and then some: character and charm, a lovely community, proximity to work. We have good friends here; there is good food here, and there are some very nice museums. It is an easy hop onto the interstate when a road trip is needed.

It is time now to stay put, time now  to claim this particular horizon as my lasting own. No more uprooting, no more home-base exploration is needed (although I reserve the right to make this spot be my true north–the place I can return to from trips far afield.) Now, it is time to say: We are here.

I have a chance, now, to explore my innkeeping, house-holding, heritage. I will hold this house. I will turn my eyes to the possibilities within; I will see what it’s like to stay.

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205 thoughts on “Staying Put

  1. I can so relate Pam – moved many times as a child. Divorce, remarriage, moving up – blah blah blah! Hubby and I have had 4 homes so far in 33 years, and are contemplating downsizing. I don’t get as attached to brick and mortar as many – the best thing about my home is the people I share it with. I actually have that hanging in TWO places. You see I bought this plaque because it was TOTALLY me, and my BFF MADE me the same exact plaque not knowing I had bought it. Nevertheless – I often feel stirring – mixed with wanting to settle. Beautifully written once again!

    1. I love that plaque, Jodi, and I love it that you have a friend who knows you so absolutely perfectly well! I hope I am not sexist, but it truly does seem to me that men get more attached to the bricks and mortar… Mark still gets misty-eyed when he talks about the homes where the boys were little. I know it’s the associated times, but emotion for the place is very tangible for him! Do you find that to be true?

  2. “… the roving and the rooted” — love this. I liked this journey of house hopping through time and places. Has me thinking of my own home history…though I know I’m not yet at my true home to hold yet…

    Also, the Jewett quote sparked a sudden memory of reading “The White Heron” long ago…time to re-read again, and now “The Country of the Pointed Firs” too.

    1. And what was her book about the doctor…(Just looked it up: The Country Doctor)–I read that eons ago, and need to re-visit that, too. I like the idea that your true home to hold is still to be discovered, Nancy!

  3. Vibrant

    “transom; there is a big second story dormer right above that hints at a spacious landing where one could sit with a book in a chaise, cozily afghaned, while the snow flutters down…”

    What do ‘transom’ ‘afghaned’ and ‘dormer’ mean?

    I am sorry for being so ignorant with words 🙂

    Thanks,
    Anand

    1. You are not at all ignorant… We are just translating. And—sometimes I play with words, making new ones. ‘Transom’ is the window above a grand doorway; ‘afghanis’ is wrapped up on a knitted blanket (we call those afghans; not sure why), and a dormer is a window that juts out from the roof of the house. I am glad you asked!

      1. Vibrant

        Thanks Pam. I would again read this story and ask again until I understand it fully. I guess ‘Afghanistan’ exports those quilts and knitted garments and that might have caused the name. Thanks for explaining. Anand 🙂

  4. As a kid, my dad’s job moved us all over the US, pulling up stakes and putting down acceptable roots every 2-3 years. And as a new-ish adult (I feel like 30 ushers in some kind of sickly adulthood…sort of maybe perhaps?!) I’ve dragged my poor never-ever moved husband all over for my training. I adore it. OH, that itch. I so get it. You SO captured it. And I SO enjoyed it!

  5. Thanks for a fascinating read, with such rich details on the psychology of moving and the remembered feel of the string of houses. The yearning to uproot again.. ah yes! I’ve moved from country to country 14 times, and you’ve inspired me to try to bring up more memories of the actual houses I lived in.

  6. ‘ I often thought you could see the water in their eyes, which were blue and changeable, stormy at times, and serene at others.’ I’ve just recently begun reading random, freshly-pressed blogs and am so happy I came upon this one. I’ve been wanting to move for years but it wasn’t possible and my husband is probably more of a ‘rooted’ than a ‘wandering’ type. Moving takes a lot of effort too, doesn’t it? That’s the only thing that stops me, in addition to the fact that I’m not sure where I’d like to live now. I was born in London, grew up in Ireland, worked in London and Tuscany for a couple of summers, met my German husband, moved to Germany, then to the U.S. and then back to Germany where we’ve been for the past two decades. He’ll be retiring in six years, so maybe then we’ll move somewhere else. By the way, I don’t have blue eyes.

    1. I’m pretty sure the blue eyes are not a prerequisite! You adventures sound amazing. I look forward to visiting your blog! Thanks for your visit and talking the time to leave a thoughtful, connecting response!

      Pam

  7. This was very interesting 🙂 Don’t normally read about house blogs, but will eventually have to consider these issues in my personal life. Thanks for sharing.
    My Blog –> jenzpic.wordpress.com

  8. Pingback: Blue eyes is forward | tommarter

    1. I hope the baby twins are thriving–they an be such tiny bundles of life. And I loved your studying image. I work at a two year college, and I know many people who could hang that on the wall where they should be studying!

      1. mypersonalteenlife

        LOL! Thank you! 🙂
        The twins are doing fine. In fact I think I here them crying right now?

      1. You know I have received several comments about that and could not figure it out. Lol the theme is selected was not so viewer friendly. Anyways I did change the theme feel free to like away lol…..Thanks

    1. SunnyFly, you have an interesting blog, and I am sharing the address with some folks who will really enjoy it. I didn’t see an ‘about’ page or a place to leave a reply!

      Pam

  9. Beautiful. I love contemplating the inn-keepers versus the seafarers. As someone who moved a lot when I was little, I like being settled in one place now. Though I intend to move someday, I want it to be to a place I’m likely to be for a long time. However, you gave me something to think about regarding the adventure of moving somewhere new and getting to know a new house, neighbors, and neighborhood.

  10. Wow, I can really relate to your story. I lived for 12 years at the same place until I was 14. Since then I’ve lived an average of 3 years in the same place. Since mmemove to the Netherlands 5 years ago I have finally settled down and accepted my place here but am still Looking for that one house where I will feel most at home. Staying put its a challenge for lots of us!

  11. Do you know the song ‘Candace’ by Blue Rodeo? There is a line in it that sums it up for me:

    “For every road you wished you’d travelled, I can show you two, where the summer rain shines like polished gold.” There is always going to be another road, another house, another town. Sometimes we do need to learn to stay home.

    I wrote a little about this, from a different perspective, here: https://twosimplelives.wordpress.com/2015/08/19/in-praise-of-chickadees/

    I very much like your blog, and have followed it.

  12. Pam, what a beautiful ode to home and family. I had a similar youth with many, many homes. I’ll have to count them up but I’m sure at least a dozen from babyhood to 18. Interesting observation about blue and brown eyes – blue eyed wanderers and brown eyed rooters. I have brown eyes and my husband and I have only lived in 2 homes in our 36 years of marriage. The current home holding the record for 23 years. I think we’re staying put, too.

    1. I do look forward to visiting! Am out of town, but plan to reach The Days Ahead by midweek (right I have a six-year-old sidekick glued to my side!!!!) Thanks so much for your visit and kind words!

    2. A lovely theme for a blog! If you can, I strongly recommend signing up for the next session of Blogging 101. It’s a great way to meet other bloggers and fine-tune your posting…I think there’s a session coming up. Great to connect with you!

      1. I will definitely visit this week. Blogging is a wonderful thing; keep at it! (Taking the Blogging courses through WordPress was a great help to me. If you have the opportunity, I strongly recommend ’em!)

      2. I like your format of posting short bits of the story–it builds interest, I think! A fellow blogger told me recently that a new session of Blogging 101 is coming up on WordPress–if you haven’t done that yet, I highly recommend it! It’s a great way to get your blog looking exactly the way you want it, and also to connect with a lot of great people. Good luck to you!

        pam

  13. Pingback: Staying Put | finnish concerto

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