I was a grade-school kid the first time this house entered my orbit. My older sister was going to spend an afternoon with her friend and we, the family, dropped her off here. We pulled into the driveway, she got out and went to the door, and we backed out of the driveway and drove off. That was that for 12 years or so. I was aware of the house before that because there were only so many houses on so many roads in our part of the countryside. You just ended up knowing, with no effort at all, who lived where. So I knew the Gilson family lived in this house, but didn't care. I was a child.
Now I live in this house. I've lived in it for 32 years, which is a long time to live in one place. We didn't buy this house because we, my husband and I, loved it. We bought it because we needed a place to live, and it was cheap. Living room, dining room, kitchen, one bathroom, and four bedrooms for $17,000 on an acre of land was cheap.
Nobody wanted to live in the country then, so the house had been on the market for a while. Besides, the guy selling it was known to be, if not exactly a crook, then not exactly trustworthy, which I suppose scared a few people off. So we hired our first lawyer (a rite of passage all its own) and the lawyer made sure we weren't getting cheated.
We bought the place.
I didn't say so, but I expected this house to be our first house the same way that the lawyer was our first lawyer. I expected we'd look around for something bigger or better or both and move on. But here we are still, and we have reasons.
It is no small thing to live in a house that's paid for. Ours is, and we like it that way. Our children - there are three of them - came home from the hospital to this house. They were babies here and kids and bigger kids.
Now this is the house they come home to from the big world where they've gone to live. When my sisters come from other states to see my brothers and their families and all of us here, we sit on my front porch. We look across fields, trees, and, if we time it right, the sunset. We get comfortable out there, and tell our stories as the world rolls along without us for a while.
My brother-in-law and my sister have lived in Seattle, New Orleans, Houston, Denver, Houston, Cairo (the one in Egypt), and Houston again. He has said to me, "You can't ever sell this house."
He means, I think, this house is a constant, the place that keeps on being here when all the other places change.
I'm not sure I love this house yet. Maybe I never will, though I give it loving care. I have painted every blessed inch of it. We have insulated and refinished and replaced and remodeled and we're at it again.
Just this week we pulled off the trim in the last bedroom and the last hall that needed attention. We piled the trim in the back of the pickup this morning and hauled it off to be refinished. At this moment, my husband is sanding the old beat-up stairs as smooth as a baby's bottom. The plaster guys are coming this week, and the floor guys are coming the week after that.
This old house will be as done as it ever is going to get.
One of my jobs this morning was taking the door off the hall closet. I unscrewed the screws that held the hinges in place and lifted away the door. When I did, light flooded way to the back of the closet where light never goes and I never look. I saw writing on the wall in big letters of red crayon that read: "Kristen 88-89."
She is my youngest, 9 or 10 years old when she wrote it. Now she's planning her wedding and is a homeowner herself. I will be painting that closet wall. But I will paint around, not over, "Kristen 88-89." If I do not love this house, I do love the people who have lived here with me, and that is enough. It might even be the same thing.
So here we are still, the house with us in it. And here we'll stay in the only house I expect we'll ever own, the both of us too lazy or cheap or lacking in imagination to move, perhaps. But the people we love and who love us back know where to find us. We have made it easy for them. We are the second house on the left after the big hill. The white farmhouse with the big front porch. You know the one. Where Doug and Peggy Gilson used to live.