Stories, Observations and Wonderings
We’ve only been in our house–a big, old Victorian–a couple years. I like it, but recently I was getting the itch to move. A bigger yard, more distance from neighbors, less maintenance, and lake front property. These are the desires that ran round in my head, as I scoured the Internet for places I hoped my wife, SB, would at least consider.
SB’s not a mover. She’s content staying in the same place. She figured each of the past three houses we purchased was our forever home. I thought that too, but only in the fast-fleeting, romantic sense which gets you excited enough to plunk down a deposit and sign on for another thirty years. I’m restless, never satisfied, and have had bit of an addiction to real estate websites.
Our first house, a bungalow in Garden City, MI, was nice. We put a lot of love into that place. Refinished the hardwood floors, remodeled the kitchen and bathroom and even converted part of the garage into an art studio. We did the work ourselves. Spent long hours working full-time jobs, raising kids, following our creative endeavors, and working on the house. After year three of our five-year plan, a longing for life Up North took root and pulled us back home to Alpena.
Our second house was unique. Shotgun hallway, mini-library, pocket doors, beautiful fireplace, and fenced yard. Great for the kids, the dog, and cookouts. Not far from downtown and three blocks from Lake Huron, it was just what we needed. Until year four of our second five-year plan. That’s when I started spending a little too much time on the Internet. Real estate websites in the morning, at lunch, and just before bed. I knew the floor plans, square footage, and lot sizes of every property listed in Alpena. It wasn’t long before our cozy home on South Second Avenue wasn’t good enough. One bathroom? The small bedrooms? A measly 1600 square feet? It wasn’t enough. Especially when the mint green Victorian two blocks away popped up in my saved search. Its grand wrap-around porch, two staircases, exquisite hardwood floors, ten foot ceilings, beautiful kitchen, and huge master bedroom were mesmerizing.
I wore SB down. Within a year we moved into the mint green Vic. More space to roam, more light through big windows, more charm than we ever imagined. It was a dream come true. But then, the shine wore off. Two years later, all I could see was peeling paint, out-of-plumb doors, uneven floors, leaky pipes, and a leaky roof–work, just work and money and time–and before long, I was on the Internet again, plotting our next move. SB was not happy. It was a pattern, she said. She wanted to settle down, grow with and into a community. She wanted a Home with a capital H. She’d already lived in parts of California and Iowa, as well as stints in Kalamazoo and Detroit. She was ready to commit. Heck, she’d already committed! We’d been married nine years, moved three times, and always, she was waiting for me.
I was undeterred.
I proposed several different places to her. Sometimes, I’d text a link and a picture.
Me: “Look at this backyard! Couldn’t you see yourself drinking a big glass of wine and reading a book while the sun sets?”
SB: “Sure, I’d be drinking all right. To forget having to clean up all the sticks, dog crap, and leaves in that yard. Seriously? Three acres? We’re not farmers.”
Other times, I’d email with a long list of pros and no cons.
Me: “New roof, new water heater, new windows, updated kitchen, and 3500 square feet! Imagine the peace and quiet we’d have when the kids could play at opposite ends of the house.”
SB: “Right, sounds good. More room for them to spread out their toys and more space for me to clean. 3500 square feet? What are you thinking? Be ready to hire maid service.”
It wasn’t going well.
Finally, one night on a walk around our neighborhood–one we’ve walked hundreds of times–I cracked.
“I’m tired of walking the same sidewalks. Taking the same rights and lefts. I’m sick of seeing the same houses and people and I don’t feel good about putting thousands of dollars into a big old house that’s just going to need thousands more.”
We stopped across the street from our place and just stood there. Staring.
The kids were in the backyard, bouncing and laughing on the trampoline. The house, though it needed new wooden siding and fascia boards and paint and roof repairs, was beautiful.
“I love our house,” SB said. “Don’t you love it, anymore?”
There was a barely perceptible tremble to her voice. The only other time I’d heard it was when we were in the hospital. She was pregnant. Squeezing my hand as I listened to her explain the expected complications of our daughter’s birth.
I swallowed the lump in my throat, took a deep breath, and put my arm around her.
“I love it just fine,” I said.
It would never stop, the fixing. There would always be something in need of repair, but that’s what happens when you make a commitment. Sooner or later, the shine wears off everything. New houses and cars, trinkets and gadgets, even love. It doesn’t do any good to keep an eye out for the next new thing because all you end up doing is wanting and wanting and never stopping long enough to do the hard work that creates deeper love and fulfillment.
“If we’re going to stay here, let’s finish the basement and put up a privacy fence,” I said. “Six-foot-tall all around the backyard. It’ll be nice for the kids and the dog.”
“How are we going to afford all that?”
“We’ll manage,” I said. “We always do. If I’m going to commit I’m going all in.”
“No more real estate websites?” she asked.
“No more,” I said. “Everything I need is right here.”
K.J. Stevens – husband, daddy, writer – lives in Alpena. His Stories, Observations and Wonderings will appear the third Thursday of each month in The Alpena News. K.J. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.