Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Morning Thanks--This old house

My wife left the apples across the room near the sink this morning, so I had to put the light on to find them.  Otherwise I could have negotiated the path to the basement as I do every other morning, in the dead of night, the house totally dark. I know the floor's squeaky joints, its jutting corners, its low-hanging dangers.  I know where to grab the banister when the steps angle, and the exact height of just about every light switch on the walls of the main floor.  I can hit them without looking.

I know this place's sweet spots, but I've lived here long enough know what makes the place irritated too.  I know its weaknesses--where it leaks and what it lets in that it shouldn't.  We've fought off ants more than once in its kitchen.  After 27 years in this place, I can spin a couple of yeasty bat yarns, like the time I smacked a visitor with my first swing of tennis racket--made me feel like the baseball player I once was.  We've never had a mouse in the place, nor a rat; but I know the corners that made me nervous when buyers came through.

I have been intimate with his house, but it's no sin.  We all are, I suppose.  After all these years together, we know how January creates creaky new voices in the darkness and just exactly what about July makes the place sweat.  

In its first 100 years, it's had but four handfuls of residents: the veterinarian who built it--the town's first vet, a century ago; then the telephone company worker who, with his wife, raised a family here (their son's name, like the vet's boy and our kids' is still there on the garage walls); a computer scientist and his wife, who in the short two years they lived here gave it a face lift so enchanting we haven't touched much at all in the last three decades; and then us, who also raised a family here.  I wrote at least a dozen books in this very corner of the basement, had a lot of a good ideas and more than a few sour ones.  I've spent thousands of perfectly silent mornings in the dark down here, sometimes finding the right words, sometimes not.

In June of 1985, we sold our prior house when a fast food joint moved into the backyard and we grew tired of knowing the orders of a hundred late-night customers comin' in the drive-thru.   When we bought this house back then, I remember thinking there was something museum-like about it, a place with more oak woodwork than most Big Sioux river hills.  It's not extravagant, but it is gorgeous, really, as plush as an old Calvinist house could be in the Sioux Center, Iowa of a century ago.  

I think that's why I'm not quite nostalgic about it, why I'm anxious for the moment when all the blasted boxes we've filled up will finally be loaded up and out of here, when the same bed I just left will be in a bedroom half as big, out in the country, in an old farm place that, well, is neither as comely nor as large.  The new place has a basement, but I won't be down there, so there's no stuff there; but I'll probably keep the title anyway.  Branding, you know.

I won't bawl about leaving, but my wife may well shed a tear somewhere along the line.  Sure, I've got a man-cave down here in the basement, and I won't have anything similar over there.  Sure, the house sits prominently on the corner of the block; the new one is hidden alone in a grove.  Sure, this place looks for all the world like a "dominie's" house, while the front porch of the new one would look like the little house in the background of American Gothic if it had an arched  window.  I don't know that most people would say we're moving up.

But we're renting, so while we'll  make history of some kind--what? I wonder--I'll never know the new old place like I know the old old one.  Besides, the new place has a river--or it has us.

Two people died in this house.  I'm quite sure several were born.  The vet who built it was a descendant of one of the first immigrant families to break ground in all of northwest Iowa.  It's got a history, and now we'll be part of that history too: "the old Dordt prof who wrote books used to live here--you may remember him? bald guy with a scar?"

It was our house for all these years, and yet it wasn't.  A house with this much character belongs to the community really, is a character in the community's story--from the boot jack out front to, out back, one of the last town barns and certainly the only two-holer you'll find anywhere in Sioux Center (it's long ago been decommissioned, so don't get any ideas).
This house has been our home for 28 years, the place where our kids grew up.  Tonight we'll be elsewhere, an old farm house on the Floyd River, the river named after the only casualty on the Voyage of Discovery, Sgt. Floyd, who died from natural causes and was buried where that very river empties, fifty miles of wandering downstream, into the Big Muddy.  The folks who lived in this old new place before us raised their kids there, lived there for almost 50 years. It's not been easy for them to quit the sofas in the sitting room either.  There's history there too.

Today we're moving, and I'm more than ready.  Yesterday was our anniversary, our 40th, and the first one I ever missed--way too much hoopla with all the blasted boxes.  Trust me, I'll be thrilled when the whole moving business has settled into a new life. 

Parting is sweet sorrow but such is life, and tomorrow, in the darkness in a big room with a fireplace, I'll be back, my fingers curved over the keys once more.
Such is life too. Ends always always come from the factory with beginnings built right in.  

This morning's thanks are a snap.  This morning I'm thankful for this old house.


Anonymous said...

I liked the front porch. It was so Lake Wobegone-ish.

Anonymous said...

27 or 28 years?

Anonymous said...

I like your old house . It looks great and wonderful. The color also was stunning and captivating. Thank you for sharing this with us.