Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Homesick: Sept. 17, 2006

One of the toughest lessons I've learned is to not mess with things that are working. If you like your house, stay. If you like your job, stay. If you like your kids' school, leave them there. If you like your spouse, stay. (I have not been seriously tempted to test that last one, but I assume it holds true.)

We moved in 2006 because we wanted a little more than we had. We got a lot more than we bargained for.

Looking back is just part of moving on
    There’s a bottle of champagne in my refrigerator.

    After seven months chilling on the middle shelf, it has moved to the back, behind the big bottle of ketchup and the carton of orange-peach-mango juice.

    We were supposed to drink that champagne in April, after we sold our old house and ended a harrowing two-month stretch when we owned two homes. Driving back from the closing, though, my husband and I didn’t say much. As we neared the driveway of our home — now our one and only house — I confessed: "I am really sad."

    "Me, too," he said quietly, covering my hand with his.

    So we didn’t drink the champagne.

    The bottle was a gift from one of the carpenters who labored through January to get our old house ready to sell after we found our new house. In February, 11 days after we put a "for sale" sign in front of our old house, we had a buyer. The carpenter — our good friend for many years — brought us the champagne and gave me a big hug.

    "Congratulations!" he said.

    I laughed and thanked him.

    "But it’s not over until closing," I said, "and that’s not until April."

    "Well, drink it then," he said.

    We had two months to pack up and leave the house where we had lived for nine years. It was a neglected little house when we bought it, and we spent years expanding and renovating it. I lived there longer than I’ve ever lived anywhere in my relatively nomadic life. My husband built everything from the kitchen cabinets to the porch railing. My sons took their first steps on those floors.

    We tried not to think too much about that stuff. We packed. And, little by little, we moved our household about six blocks to the new house.

    The new house is great. The new house has four bedrooms and an office. The new house has a huge, flat yard and a big old basement for my husband’s wood shop.

    The new house is on a quiet street where we are surrounded by the nicest bunch of people you ever met who have the nicest bunch of kids that ever was. The new house has a gently sloping driveway that is perfect for racing remote control cars.

    The new house is just what we need right now. But the champagne is still sitting there.

    A few weeks after we moved into the new house, a big storm came through. It birthed lightning that blew out the logic board in my computer and wind that took down half of the biggest tree in our back yard. The half of the tree that came down landed on the swingset that our friend — the one who gave us the champagne — had hauled over from the old house with his business partner as a house-warming gift.

    The power went out, too, and stayed out for 18 hours. We had to throw away all our food because we had just plugged in our new refrigerator, and it hadn’t gotten cold yet.

    It’s hard not to see omens everywhere when you’re feeling homesick and questioning the big decisions.

    But the storm at the new house also gave us our first good story: When it was over, pinecones littered the yard.

    My husband told our 6-year-old he’d give him a nickel for every pine cone he picked up. We set a big cardboard box in the driveway, and our son set to collecting pinecones. He called us out later to show us his work. The enormous box was full. We were stunned.

    Our son grinned. My husband started counting out the pine cones two at a time. There were 400. We had to give that kid $20.

    Eventually, we cleaned up the downed tree, got my computer fixed, replaced the swingset and re-bought all our groceries.

    Last month I realized I’ve stopped waking up uncertain of where I am. My husband and I have drawn up renovation plans and started talking about when we should knock down some walls. (For us, demolition is nesting.) We’ve staked out shady spots for our cars in the driveway, and our pudgy, striped cat has found her favorite sleeping place on the front stoop.

    Over Labor Day weekend, some of our family flew in from Oregon and broke in the guest room. Watching my sons play in the new yard with their cousin and uncle gave me a tremendous sense of contentment.

    But the champagne is still back there, behind the ketchup. And I still drive by the old house sometimes, slowly.

    We’re settling in here, in this next phase of our lives.

    But we can’t help but be a bit homesick for our first little house, those first happy years, for that place where our family history began.
Our first house. It was a very fine house.


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