My walk to the end of the driveway to pick up the newspaper is in an easterly direction. I get a first look at the dawn through the neighborhood trees and above the roofs of houses across the street. When I turn around and head back to the side porch door, at this time of year, the first light of sunbeams poking through the clouds and trees hit the front of the house, and I suddenly feel that I'm lost.
I've lived in this house for 12 years now, striving to pay off a 15-year mortgage in 12 or 13 years, but still I look at it in the sun's spotlight, the white siding and black shutters, the two stacks of windows, one row across each floor, and the high-pitched roof hiding a spacious attic, and I cannot believe I live here.
I grew up in a house of perhaps 1100 square feet, with three bedrooms and no central heat. My parents slept in the bedroom with the oil heater, which was turned down to "pilot" each night so as not to burn too much kerosene. We five siblings snuggled beneath piles of warm quilts, leaving only our ears and noses cold. In the summer, we threw open the windows to catch a breeze, if there was one, and often lay awake in dampened sheets on hot, still nights.
Early in our marriage, we lived in apartments and duplexes. We heard the neighbors as they talked or yelled. We heard their stereos and their televisions. We turned up our own volume.
The first house I bought was a spacious 1906 one-story with a tall roof. It was in need of more renovations than I could afford. A naive real estate agent was so confident he could sell the house for our puny asking price that he promised to buy it if it didn't sell. It didn't, and he kept his word.
We next bought a condo with a tiny balcony and neighbors on four sides. When I changed jobs, we managed to sell it for exactly what we'd paid two years earlier. Our next house was a solid brick home with plaster walls and a welcoming arrangement of rooms — three bedrooms and one bath. The central heat was iffy, and the heating oil that fired the furnace was too expensive for our budget, so we used our tax refund to buy a wood stove and heated with wood for seven years before scraping together enough money in a refinance to put in gas heat and central air. We even added a second bath to better accommodate our three children, one already a teenager. We stayed there for 23 years and left only when mortgage rates fell so low we could afford a much better house, and the neighborhood had grown tougher.
When we moved our 30-plus years of accumulated "things," I swore that on my next move I would leave this house horizontally.
The HGTV stars would not be impressed by this vinyl-clad house with its repair marks and repairs not-yet-done, but walking back up the driveway, I have to pinch myself. This is our house. I sit in the living room as the morning light pours through the tall windows and gleams off the antique flooring and the white woodwork and built-in bookshelves, and the disbelief comes over me again. I'm not just visiting; I live here.
My greatest regret about this house is that my parents never saw it, though they had visited every apartment and home we had lived in. When we moved in, they had been in a nursing homes 200 miles away for months. We showed them pictures, which didn't seem to register. Sometimes, it doesn't register with me, either.