The virtues of older houses

I spent much of this weekend trying to make our 1942 house – with its tiny closets, single bathroom, and many quirks – function better in our current lives. My youngest daughter is almost three and now largely trained in what not to do – pull books from bookshelves, dump contents of drawers – so I was able to return office supplies to desk drawers, move the printer next to the desk again, put important papers back in accessible spots. In yet another moment of DIY excitement, Daughter #1 kept Daughter #2 busy while I ripped an old shelving structure out of the hall closet to make more space – creating a dozen craters in the plaster walls which will now need to be patched and painted.

Despite the accommodations we sometimes have to make, I love our house. It’s close to the city, so Jeff often bikes to work, or takes the subway if he’s too tired. We’re walking distance to the State Theatre (an old movie theatre converted to nightclub, where Blondie (!) is playing tonight), a variety of restaurants, a library, toy store, and farmers’ market. I love the many windows (we often don’t turn on the lights during the day – it’s that bright!), the arched entryways, the old doors with skeleton keyholes.

I like the way that our house encourages us to keep our lives simple; before purchasing anything, we think about where the object will be stored. We keep outgrown/unneeded objects moving out of the house via Craigslist, FreeCycle, or drop-offs at the local thrift store. It helps that we’re not collectors – except maybe of books – and that we have a large fenced yard to set the kids loose in.

We started reading the second book in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” series, Little House on the Prairie, last week. The first half of the book is about the family’s move from Wisconsin to the west, and how they built their new cabin from nothing: putting up the walls and roof; building a fireplace from stones and mud; digging a well. My daughter was impressed that the family could load all of their belongings into a single wagon.  It must have been liberating to know that you could create what you needed, wherever you went, whether it was a toy, a pipe, or a house.

On the comforts of home that we often overlook, I love Lee Herrick’s poem “Evening in December” (from his book This Many Miles from Desire). Here’s an excerpt:

No sound. None. Except the tap
from the cat’s four paws. Now a few rain drops

like a drummer boy learning jazz, slapping
on roof. The scrape of the match on the box.

A full flash of flame and sizzle on the kindling.
Smoke hisses out of the bricks.
Here, let me say, I am home: near fire,
near water, near songs of the natural world.

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