Tuesday, September 2, 2008


We've lived in this house for almost fifteen years. Our last two homes had not been mansions, by any means, but they'd been grander and in neighborhoods where housing associations dictated how often we mowed our lawn and the date we were allowed to put up our outdoor Christmas decorations.

Those houses had also caused us to feel strapped the day after payday. It was an uncomfortable existence. When we moved to the Texas Panhandle, Jerry suggested we purchase smarter this time around. "You've always dreamed of being a writer. Let's buy a one income home. Then if you want to pursue that dream, you can."

I agreed, but I started to doubt my decision during the house search. Back then, there wasn't much on the market and every house we entered held disappointments. Then we walked into a modest sixties ranch. Cookies were cooling on a tray in the kitchen, bicycles were stored on the screen porch, numerous flower beds had been carved along the fence. Someone loved living here.

We learned the owners had lived in the house for thirty years. They'd raised four kids within these walls. They'd owned numerous pets that had lived and died here. Months later, Kay, the previous owner told me her kids said they could never sell this house. There were too many dead bodies buried in the backyard.

It was not love at first sight that caused us to say, yes. The decision was more of a surrendering. We'd simply seen everything and though we couldn't quite put our finger on it, this house touched something inside us.

Though the large kitchen and backyard were impressive, the house had many shortcomings. The day we moved in, those deficiencies seemed magnified. I slipped the key in the doorknob at four o'clock in the afternoon. My daughter and I walked into the backyard and heard the nearby sounds of highway traffic. Since we'd originally toured the house in mid-morning, the nearby highway only registered at a faint hum. That first afternoon of ownership, I thought a semi truck might race through our backyard.

Now that the house was empty, I could plainly see the ugly aluminum framed windows. They were narrow rectangles that let in little light. The house seemed dreary.

Our bedroom was so tiny that making the bed was truly a chore. I'm sure dieting would have solved the problem of having to squeeze in the narrow space, between the walls and bed. But it was easier to gripe to my husband. During my first shower, the old plumbing christened me with cold water. Shameful as it is to recall now, I threw a tantrum after that brisk experience.

And I wanted to shoot the stove.

For six months I peeled off wallpaper and painted each room. We removed the heavy drapes and exchanged the old sliding glass door leading to the screen porch with a French one. At that time, we couldn't afford to replace every window, but we enlarged three. A bit more sunshine pouring into the living and family rooms made a difference. (Mainly in my disposition.)

Then June arrived. My decorating budget ran out. I picked up a pen and a yellow pad and headed toward the screen porch. Gradually, words on the page became more important and the flaws of my house concerned me less. So much so, a few years ago I realized in amusement that in ten years, I'd never changed the picture hanging over the fireplace mantle. What happened to the woman who rotated her pictures every season?

As my own books started to fill a shelf in our family room, we made house improvements. A few at a time, every window was replaced. Eventually, we enlarged the bedroom and built a walk-in closet. We bought a new stove. (Well, now it's not so new, but I still love it!)

Except for the fixtures, the plumbing in the shower is the same. But I've learned the trick. Turn all the way to the right, a minute or two, then a quarter turn to the left. There I find the desired temperature.

I don't want you to think this house had no attributes when we bought it. I've always enjoyed the charming courtyard entry, the screen porch, the large sunny kitchen. But something deeper happened along the way. And I would never have predicted it the day my husband and I signed the mortgage contract. I had not meant to fall in love with this house.

Yet with all its flaws, it afforded me a way to pursue my passion. And it offered more. Memories have been made in these rooms. We've had a first-snow-of-the-year picnic in front of the fireplace. The kitchen played host to French onion soup lunches for friends. The living room became our reading room and the place for my daughter's sleepovers. Though small, the family room comfortably held eight people for a private movie premiere. It's even difficult to hear the traffic from the backyard these days. I'm too busy listening to the birds chirping on the feeder and our neighbor's grandkids jumping on the trampoline.

Somehow in these fifteen years, I became a writer, and while I wasn't looking, this house had become my home.

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