An article in a British newspaper caught my attention the other day. The author said that of all the things she regretted in her life, selling her first home was at the top of the list.
She said she got caught up in the ‘more is more’ culture that prevails today and when she looks back, that first house had everything she ever wanted. Why, after a few years, did she suddenly think it was too small, too cluttered, too dated and too run-of-the-mill? It wasn’t near any chic coffee shops or boutiques. The address wasn’t desirable and the street was like any other street. She’d grown up in that neighbourhood and, after a while, it wasn’t exciting.
She’s kicking herself now because her old row house is now very desirable, mostly because the property had a bigger-than-average garden and lovely mature trees providing shade in the summer heat. And she knew her neighbours, which she didn’t realize gave her great comfort, even if it was to only wave hello in the morning.
I have experienced both sides of the spectrum. As a kid, we moved around a lot and I lost a lot of personal treasures every time we did because my mother would biff as much as possible so that she didn’t have to pack it. I’m surprised I have anything left of my childhood flotsam and jetsam. I hated moving and going to new schools and yet when I think back, I had great experiences in every neighbourhood we landed in.
When Hubby and I got married, we had $120 between us. What were we thinking? We weren’t, obviously. Myself at age 20 and Hubby, 22, lived in an apartment so small it had five kitchen tiles in front of the sink and we could open the fridge door with our feet, lying on our hide-a-bed. There was no air conditioning, so you had to leave your windows open. There was also an old man who lived 10 feet away in his building who coughed up a lung every morning at 6 a.m. I can still hear it!
Then we lived in a bunch of old houses for free, just to take care of the properties for absent landlords. One of the houses was a farmhouse. It was so cold the cat’s water dish would freeze overnight. When baby number 1 was on the way, both of our parents screamed over the phone from Montreal that we had to build a house because the farmhouse was going to burn to the ground and take their precious grandchild with it.
So, we built a house in 1982, when interest rates were 26 per cent. Such a smart move. (That farmhouse, by the way, was still standing when our son turned 30). We built the house thinking it would be the first of many homes, so I barely looked at the floor plans. I knew nothing about houses, decorating, function or how important closets were in the scheme of things. I was too interested in my baby.
We’ve been here for almost 40 years now. Our ‘starter’ home is now our retirement home; we just forgot to buy the big house in the middle. No need to downsize for our retirement because the house was small already and we have lived with one bathroom and no dishwasher for all this time. That thought boggles my mind now that I’ve seen the houses my kids live in; they have multiple bathrooms and multiple floors — too many floors, if you ask my knees.
There have been lots of times over the years when I’ve wondered what it would be like to live somewhere else, to buy something new or to renovate this house. When I was in my 40s and 50s, I thought about it often, but now that I’m in my 60s, it’s like I don’t care anymore. There’s only the two of us. We lead boring lives. I don’t clean what I have now, so cleaning twice as many bathrooms would fill me with dread. And it seems as though the kids love this house just as it is. Granted, they don’t come home as often as I’d like, but they always lounge around here, the way they’ve always lounged around. They sit at the same places around the table, even when their spouses are with them. They yell at each other to hurry up when they’re in the bathroom and they swing on the old swing set that’s still in the yard. (I kept it thinking I’d have grandchildren some day. How quaint of me.)
There is something comforting about living in a space that has always been home to your children. All their memories are here on this acre of woods and all I have to do is walk into any room in this house and my memories of them come flooding back.
I’m just grateful I have a small and dusty house. The only thing I really need is a cleaning lady.
Lesley Crewe is a writer living in, and loving, Cape Breton. These are the meandering musings of a bored housewife whose ungrateful kids left her alone with a retired husband and two fat cats who couldn’t care less. Her 10th novel, Beholden, is being released this fall.