Life in One Place

December 15, 2006. The Joys of Homeownership

The bank and I have owned a home since the tail end of 1994, some twelve years now. When we bought it, it was a cute little place of warm brick with neat white trim, a tidy screened porch, and sturdy rails running up the brick steps to the front and back doors. Inside, the walls were a clean bright white, the kitchen recently redone by a previous owner – PO in the vanagon lingo, or Harry and Evelyn, as my cheerful home inspector referred to all happy home owners. Shortly after I moved in, I found a pair of chicken-shaped porcelain hooks fixed to the back of the kitchen door. I promptly

christened them Harry and Evelyn, as a fitting tribute to the PO who had left them there. My downstairs bathroom was graced with light aqua tiles running up the walls and a soft mint green carpet underfoot. It felt cool and fresh, like the garden air coming in the window in the morning.

Returning twelve years later, my house seems to have aged quite as much as I have. And while she's done better than I in value, she's done much worse in physical wear and tear. How can this be? She’s not a living creature to become stiff and weak with age. She has no joints to ache, no allergies to emerge or odd conditions to develop. She’s just bricks and mortar and wood and paint, no moving parts to wear out with use.

But there it was. The neat white trim was peeling. The tidy porch has become a mess of torn screen, its door a model of broken hinges. The sturdy rail by the back door was sturdy no longer; the cement in which it was rooted had cracked and the rail threatened to fall, taking with it anyone so foolhardy as to lean on it. Inside, the bright walls were scuffed and dirty, dozens of holes left in the plaster by nails and tacks and picture hooks. In the living room a neat strip of paint was coming off the ceiling. In the back bedroom the whole ceiling was a mess of bubbling scratched paint, and one wall showed definite signs of old wallpaper, many time painted over, finally freeing itself from its fifty-year bond to the plaster behind it. In my fresh minty bathroom the paint had buckled in pieces large enough to pour a quart of water between paint and plaster; when I tentatively grasped the paint, it was even solid enough to hold that quart of water. I could have used it as an avant garde flower vase, the blooms hanging into the shower below. And the one-pristine carpet now showed signs of many aging women’s attempts to keep our hair looking young – orange spots from my henna, dark brown spots from Susanna’s organic dyes.

(Oh, you thought I had naturally red hair? Think again!)

For a moment I thought perhaps I should seek new housing. This place had gotten so dirty, after all, wasn’t it time to move on to some place fresh and clean?

But then it came back to me, the joys of homeownership! You don’t move out when your house starts to crumble. You have to fix it.

Oh no, not that. Anything but that. But I decided I had to be up to the challenge. My house isn’t a vanagon. I can’t fix engines, but I know how to paint, any fool can scrape if they’re wiling to apply a little elbow grease, and I could learn whatever else I needed to know to get my house back in shape.

Clearly, though, I had my work cut out for me.

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Unless otherwise indicated, all text and photos
on this page © Joy E. Hecht.

That strange photo to the left is actually a shadow on my refrigerator door, of a carved wooden cow in the kitchen window, sniffing a pale pink rose. The cow comes from Chile, I bought him on an impulse seven or eight years ago when I was there for a conference. The rose unexpectedly bloomed in my backyard in September.