The owners of the house we live in lovingly restored this 100+ year old place, and I try to imagine the families that have come before us. Before it was restored, there was no central heat. Even with the windows shut, the wind fluttered the curtains. The bathroom and kitchen were added to the back in later years, and the attic converted to another bedroom. But before that, it was oh so tiny. And I like to wonder, who lived here? How did they make do?
Did the families of this old house have enough to eat? Did they get to put up a Christmas tree and drink hot cocoa during the holidays and carve into a juicy turkey, or were they working twelve hour days, helping others enjoy the luxuries of leisure time while they came home to a cold, drafty house?
Or were they a small, tight-knit family who chose to live on this beautiful street close to the river, sacrificing square footage for proximity and location? Was it like when my mom was growing up - five girls sharing two bedrooms and one bathroom, and a brother making do in there however he could? Living just right on top of each other, stacked like sardines and not many places to escape? I remember my aunt saying she used to go sit in the car and read, just to get away from it all.
I remember drawing open-faced houses as a kid, filling each room with furniture and awkwardly-drawn people and the houses reaching heights of five and six stories; then later in life looking at Better Homes and Gardens floor plans and dreaming about a 5,000 square foot compound with landscaped pools and three car garages. The American Dream on steroids.
The humorous reality is that as an adult, the homes we've inhabited during our six+ years of marriage have been the size of one of my fantasy garages.
We've lived in a basement apartment with only four walls and ants marching through the window sills and neighbors the floor above who were really into Guitar Hero, in an airy loft above a garage that holds our best memories as a couple, in an old house with an oil furnace that belched out black smoke from the basement, and a downtown apartment where our garage was our closet and our skiis lived with our bedsheets. And in between traveling and transitions, we lived in bedrooms offered by generous and movingly hospitable friends and family as we figured out our next steps or played the waiting game. It's been nothing short of chaos, stress, and adventure.
Now, as we've finally settled down in this old house on a tree-lined street just up from the river, I realize how my dreams have been filed down and stripped away, little by little. One "real" bedroom and one bathroom is an inconvenience sometimes...but in my eyes it means that my girls (and us) will learn how to give up their personal space for the needs of others, and come pile in with us when we host guests. No playroom means that the girls dump their blocks by Andy's feet while he watches football and I make piles doing whatever I do (it's always new and changing but there are always piles).
And then when I think, we could go smaller if needed, I remember my dreams of those houses and the space and there's a sense of contentment and that maybe all these teeny houses have enabled us to dodge the American Dream bullet, because for us, maybe that dream won't ever be a reality and comparison is the thief of joy. And how awesome would it be to live in an Airstream and travel the country? And also, how fun is it to go visit friends and family who do have those big houses?
It means that I can't keep as much, can't want as much, don't have to clean as much, and learn how to make space out of no space and learn to love living shoulder to shoulder with my family. And I Just Plain Love It.
- - -
What are your thoughts on space? What are your favorite memories of a "house"?