I was born in a house, my parents’ home, in a very small town (it still is) on the plains of northeastern Colorado. Sedgwick is on the Union Pacific Railroad, near the South Platte River and now is an exit off Interstate 76
And I hope when I die, I will die in my own house (if culture and circumstances will allow).
I’ve always loved my houses - the homes in which I grew up, and the places I’ve lived ever since. In psychological dream interpretation, a house is commonly interpreted as a representation of one’s self.
From the time of my birth, till I left home for college, my family lived in eight different houses (in Colorado, North Dakota and finally Iowa). That’s the way it was back then for a Methodist preacher’s kid. In 6th grade my father left the ministry and bought a professional photography studio in an Iowa county seat town, so his kids could have more stability for those later public school years.
Each had its personality, each was a safe place for me and my siblings. And in most cases, as was the nature of things in those times and places long past, my mother was generally home, except for part-time work, and my father was either next door (at the church) or less than a mile away downtown at his “studio.” Compared to many others, I was a fortunate kid.
Finally my folks were able to purchase (though they probably couldn’t afford it) the house of their dreams, there in Independence. Our Axtell House had been named after one of the famous grand young trotting stallions from the town’s race track glory days of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was a victorian style house, well-built, full of those secret places a boy of my age and curiosity would cherish.
I think there were six bedrooms, two of which we converted into an apartment for my grandmother. Downstairs there was a parlor, a living room, a dining room, kitchen, wrap-around porch, and an enclosed back porch with a small room my dad and I converted into a “radio shack” for our amateur radio hobby. Full basement, and a third-floor attic, finished in a way that could be a large bedroom in itself. For the three of us kids and all the kids in the neighborhood, it was a place full of life and stairwells.
That was the best, but then each home was ‘the best’ in my optimistic and well-loved formative years. Some of our ‘houses’ weren’t wonderful in my parents’ eyes, but that didn’t bother me. When I let my memories wander, each has been the center of wonderful boyhood memories.
Each, of course, housed times of difficulty and ‘normal’ developmental turmoil. But I credit those houses as always protecting me, and allowing my general personality to emerge unscathed by the general ravages of childhood, adolescence, and the ever-present Cold War.
I have been blessed by each of my houses.
College dormitory and off-campus housing gave me a few unscrupulous roommates and interesting experiences.
Then just before my Senior year, I married a woman who herself had never lived more than four years in one house in her life. Putting our itinerant skills together, we made-do in a number of places - Iowa, New Jersey, Scotland - until, here in Michigan, we finally put it all together in a “handyman special” - me being the primary handyman. And it was finally time to begin a family, which we did.
I left that house thirteen years later, when we divorced - though she continues to live there these thirty some years since.
My “now” house.
In 1988 (now 28 years ago) I bought my current house here in Fenton. It’s a small 2-story wood frame house - less than 1,000 square feet in all, with (a “Michigan”) basement. Just right for a bachelor with two cats, some hundreds of books, and a laptop computer.
I live on a lot and a half corner, with a gazebo, lots of lawn, frequently well-played upon by neighborhood kids.
My parents, who were so used to moving after a short stay in each house, would often say “five moves is equal to one fire” - accounting for the ‘cleansing’ of each occasion.
So now I’m almost three decades in one house. It has been good to me, and in turn I’ve taken good care of it. The appreciated value paid for some years of child support and an alimony that gave my ex the library science degree she so desired, a professional living, and now retirement.
Without the ‘benefit’ of moving, my house has suffered the modern malady of becoming “cluttered.” Some years ago a friend took me through my house to ‘help’ remedy that - and I long remember her ritual: “What is this and how long since you last used it?” I had five seconds to answer, or it was out the door, gone! If you can imagine the words ‘excruciating’ and ‘freeing’ contained within a single sentence - that was my experience.
And now that long scheduled ritual has of necessity come round again.
From years of wisdom known, though not always practiced on my part, I’ve advised clients that one of the best antidepressants (even anti-anxiety or antipsychotic remedies) available to humankind is to declutter one’s house (one’s environment). And since the term ‘hoarder’ has recently entered our cultural vocabulary, it’s an even greater awareness.
These last many weeks have involved an every Wednesday ritual where friends have been working their way room by room through my house. It’s an every shelf, every drawer, every closet, almost every storage box undertaking. (They are very good friends.) The results are amazing! There aren’t any fewer bookcases, but they’re definitely less crowded. The eye and the body have become so much more relaxed.
Our houses are like our relationships, our friends and families, our loves and marriages. We are nourished singly and communally. They are alive, and need to be cared for and nourished. Through my work, I’ve been with many people through a loss or breaking of this relationship, such as when life must move on.
My House - is a very very very fine house…
Once upon a time it was a spider infested “drug house” - a blot upon the neighborhood. But acquaintances of mine had as a family hobby, purchasing such a failing house, and by children and parents working together (and his builder’s license), redeemed it by hard work, a lot of love, and with hopes to encourage others in the surrounding neighborhood to do as well. And it has worked! I was able to purchase it at a good price, and with further work of my own, made it into the lively and well-loved house that it is, and for the neighborhood as well.
It has loved me, and I have loved it. It is a worthy representation of me, and vice verse.
Perhaps I will finish my days from within this house. It could conclude our long relationship by sending me off into the Great Unknown.
Perhaps I will move on to other housing, hopefully as friendly to me as this place. And I would cherish knowing the presence of new folks back here to love and care for it. For it is a very fine house.
A house, as can be other forms of dwelling, is a living being. Of this I have no doubt. And I have had a number of life experiences and specific friends and relationships that have taught me this.
So when you next enter your house, returning from the larger world - specifically greet it - that it may know its own joy of welcoming you home.
Wowzer Dr. Bill. I really enjoyed reading this walk through your life and the wonderful analogies....I too am thankful for the many places I have been nurtured...family homes, grandparent homes and cottages, ....all of which gave me sense of love and protection and most of all, those fond memories which last a lifetime. ...I am happiest as a ‘homebody’! Sue
This is such a lovely article, and well needed by so many – myself included! For the longest time (almost 19 years), I have been guilty of referring to my own abode in belittling terms (“kleenex box” being the most oft used). As someone who regularly preaches the amazing benefits of gratitude, and practices it daily for so many things, I have woefully neglected sending those feelings to my little home. This article is a wonderful reminder to treat it with the love and care it deserves. Thank you!
I have always had an affinity for houses. I can picture every room and every space of the houses of my childhood. I remember what I could see from the windows. You are right Bill, houses are living beings and, I believe, should be allowed to be themselves. I lived in a very old house in a quaint village. It had those beautiful low casement windows. They don’t allow windows to be that low to the floor according to modern building codes. It had post and beam construction and a cistern under the kitchen floor. I lived there twice although I didn’t own it. One day I went back to that street and the house was gone!!! I was devastated. They paved paradise and put up a parking lot(Joni Mitchell), no kidding. I don’t know how the local historical society let that happen.
Permission to Use?
Thank you for writing and sharing this. It is a particularly timely and relevant piece for me! I am in the process of creating an Honors College course that I will teach in Winter2017 dealing with place identity. One of the first assignments for my primarily first/second year college students will be to write a memoir of their own spaces. May I have permission to use this as a fine example? I promise to give you all the credit and properly cite your text and website. Whatever your decision, thank you for this.
I can attest to your loving care in the restoration of your home. I drive by it often, and can remember when I did an insurance inspection for the former owners/tenants and to say the change has been dramatic would be an understatement. Your story brought back memories of all the (many) homes and apartments I have lived in through the years, but especially the two homes I lived in as a young boy. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.