Monday, July 18, 2011

the old house

From the age of four to the age of thirteen, i lived in a new house, built in a new development. It used to be farmland, and our property still bordered a soybean field. When we moved in, we were the only house in the development. By the time we moved out, there were four or five distinct neighborhoods and no more empty lots.

I had my own room. When we moved in, my brother was two and my mom was pregnant with one of my sisters. I lived in a tiny room downstairs while the upstairs was being finished. In the nine years we lived there, both of my sisters were born, and Aunt Sis moved in. It was the first place that my whole family all lived in together. My sisters shared an upstairs room, and i had another upstairs room to myself.

Nostalgia has a way of making everything rose-colored. The house was not great. It was not very pretty, the upkeep was expensive, we had occasional problems with mice and spiders, the openness of our surroundings left us vulnerable to some very damaging storms (including tornadoes and wind storms), and we lived outside of the delivery zone of all of the restaurants.

But it was home.

What i remember most about that house was its seemingly endless capacity. There were only four of us when we moved in, but the house often sheltered up to ten people at a time, and seven of us lived there full-time. I had cousins who were homeschooled with us and therefore practically lived with us, we had several exchange students, and of course there was Aunt Sis. Whenever we had a need, the house met it. When Aunt Sis moved in, we added on a garage with an apartment over it for her. When we got our first exchange student, he took my room and i moved into an alcove in my sisters' room, which was curtained off into a tiny but servicable space that belonged just to me. When we began homeschooling, we fixed up one part of the basement into a school room, complete with a huge dry erase board and lots of bookshelves. When my dad decided to start his own business, another part of the basement was set aside for his office. Yet another basement space became my brother's bedroom a few years later. And there was still space in the basement for storage, laundry, and a play-space under the stairs.

There was a secret room in my closet, under the eaves. There were apple trees whose fruit was always bitter, though whether this was due to the youth of the trees or the impatience of the harvesters (my siblings and i) was never satisfactorily determined. There were blueberry trees whose fruit was always sweet and plentiful. There was a swingset, a pool, and a plastic playhouse that we happily deconstructed and rebuilt into several exciting new configurations over the years.

I've lived in houses that i liked better, but none with quite the same magical ability to expand to meet our needs. I've lived in houses with better memories, but none with more nostalgia. I've lived in houses where more significant life changes took place, but none with untarnished memories of my whole family together. We moved to a new house a few years before the divorce took place. That old house is the first and last one where we all lived together.

One day, i will have a new home. My husband and i will argue over paint samples, and will hang new light fixtures, and will mow our lawn. We'll install a doggy door, and fix up rooms for our kids, and decide where to put the swimming pool and the swingset. But there is a part of me that will always know that my home is in the old house. I can only hope that my future home will have half the welcomingness of that one, will have half the willingness to expand. I can only hope that my future children will know that there is at least one place in the world that is limited only by their imaginations.

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