Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Houses

It’s Graduation Season--the time when advice to young people flows like a magnificent fountain of castor oil. We have a couple of high school graduates and three or four college graduates at our church this month. But we also have an ordination service in a couple of weeks and when I count them I realize our congregation has two members plus a handful of friends attending seminary. Soon we will be covered up in ordination services. What a harvest!

So here’s my sage advice, gleaned from a lifetime of experience. I can sum it up in one sentence: Never buy a big house.

Beaven and I have now lived in four houses over a period of almost 40 years. I know what I’m talking about.

The house we raised our kids in was about 1400 square feet. It had four tiny bedrooms. When we bought it the kitchen was so small we had to set up a table in the living room if we had company for dinner. My brother and sister-in-law lived in another house so small that when it was time to take the Thanksgiving turkey out of the oven I had to stand up and move my chair into the other room so she could open the oven door. You have to love each other if you live in a house that small.

When the house got cluttered with 20 years of “stuff” I suggested we might throw some things away but Beaven’s answer was to build a bigger house. Some men will do anything to get out of cleaning house. So we built a huge house—big enough that Beaven would never again in his life have to throw anything away.

The house was too big. The master bathroom was drafty; I felt like the Beverly Hillbillies and started showering in the guest bath. We lasted a couple of years and decided to move out here to the weekend cabin we’ve had for years. We solved the “stuff” problem by getting three storage buildings, one of which is bigger than the house. We have room for stuff but not an extra inch in our living quarters. It fits us perfectly.

I helped a friend moved out of her house once following a bitter divorce. Her nine-year old daughter told me she had never really liked the house anyway. It was too big, she told me. I realized the kid had found a nugget of truth in a hard situation.

In other news, Beaven is going to his annual Nerd Convention in Ohio. I think it’s some sort of ham radio thingy but I always picture it in my mind as a bunch of pocket-protector wearing geeks finding ecstasy over a grab bag of transistors and resistors. Whenever he goes out of town I always give a party. Not because I’m happy that he’s gone but I’m a party animal and he’s not. So I do parties without him.

I used to paint the house without him, too. He went out of town a lot when he worked for the TV station so I had my choice between painting or partying, whichever suited my mood. When I worked on the house I always called Linda Peavy to come help. Linda always had an opinion when it came to decorating a house and I usually agreed with her. Together we were fearless and decisive in a way that Beaven wasn’t. If I had an idea to take down all the curtains in the house and replace them with blinds Linda would agree and off we went. We were especially good at wallpaper. We called ourselves “Mertz and Ricardo” and whichever one’s house we worked on got to be Lucy.

Linda does not believe it when they say the paper is pre-pasted. She always adds paste. Her wallpaper never comes off. Never. By a strange twist of fate my daughter and son-in-law bought the Peavy’s house when Linda moved to a bigger one. (Not too big, though—she and Carl are still happily married.) The first thing Emily wanted to do was take the teenage-boy-themed wallpaper off one of the bedrooms to use it for a nursery. She wanted clouds of serenity and not a hunting motif. I told her the paper would be hard to get off and suggested she paint right over it but she wouldn’t listen to me. They rented one of those steamer things to take the paper off. She scrapped it with a paint scrapper. She used a variety of harsh solvents, which removed her fingerprints but not the paper. It took a month's worth of time and a dictionary full of profanity before Emily understood that Linda Peavy’s wallpaper does not come off. Emily finally realized what she was up against but she had passed the point of no return and had to keep going. She couldn’t paint over it and had to stick in there with removing the paper. It was a nightmare. I’m not sure the fluffy white clouds were worth it but eventually Emily finished.

Then Emily and Steve moved to Ohio for a couple of years and sold the Peavy’s house to some innocent stranger who knew nothing about wallpaper. That was the time period when every single person in our whole family moved in a gigantic game of fruitbasket turnover. We moved out of the little house to the big house, my parents moved into the little house and rented it from us, Elizabeth moved back from Virginia and into an apartment, then we sold the big house and moved out here to the country, my parents moved into a retirement center and Elizabeth bought a house. I get dizzy just remembering it. Finally, Emily and her family moved back to Texas and into the little house she grew up in. Everyone ended owning each other’s furniture and when the dust settled we were all where we belonged.

The first thing Emily did when she moved into the house was announce that she intended to change the wallpaper. It was old and outdated and she had always hated it. I took a few minutes to figure out how I would break the news to her that Linda Peavy helped me put that paper up. But nothing would soften the blow. I’ve never heard such a sad groan in my life.

But they’ve been happy in the house. She just paints right over the paper and the house fits them perfectly.

PS: miscellaneous updates you might be interested in:

I am now www.JaneEls.com I don't know what I will do with this but it makes me feel cool. And it's easier to remember than the address of this blog. If you type in the dot com you will end up here at the blog.

Also, to update my friends on my Project Risk, I can announce that I got my Obama bumper sticker in the mail and put it on my bumper. But another risk has surfaced. I put the sticker on crooked and now everybody will think I'm a klutz. Plus now I see that I need one of those yellow Support Our Troops stickers so I can be clear that I may be liberal but I'm not a communist. This thing just gets more complicated every day.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Jane and I are a great team, especially the later it got when we were working on a project! Our grand "OPUS" was the entrance hall that folded into the living room at my old house. I sometime wonder if that is still intact and if all of that hard work was appreciated by future owners. We also did a fabulous rainbow in the girl's room at Jane's house. These are wonderful memories that I treasure along with my long and dear friendship with Jane. Linda