We’ve been house hunting again. Or perhaps we should say home hunting. And what a dreary job it is.
When Paul and I were first married, we rented the little apartment that had nothing in it but a bed and a bike and some cinder block shelves. I cheerfully worked as a reporter for the Newberg Graphic for a measly Bob Cratchit wage and showed up in the evenings with bits of food to get by on — a Kielbalsa sausage from Freddy’s or some veggies for a pasta salad. Paul went to school and did the large deliveries of the newspapers in the Graphic van. On the weekends we camped, cooking steaks seasoned with beer on sticks, and eating them with our fingers. On the rare occasions we stayed home, we napped like cats on the floor in front of the sliding glass door where the sun came in. We befriended Ruthie, the little old lady next door, who typed her family history all night and all day. She had startling clear blue eyes that always seemed frightened.
We also befriended a truly frightening person, an emaciated woman with bleached, stringy hair who wore sky-blue eye shadow to her eyebrows, Victorian-prostitute rouge, and thick foundation. She never took it off at nights — just added to it every morning. And she spoke in a singsong Southern accent that gave me the creeps — even more so when I discovered she’d never been to the South, but had been born and raised in Newberg.
But anyway, the crappy apartment and eccentric neighbors are all romanticized by young love. We were young. We were broke. But it didn’t matter because we had each other. There are songs written about these things. It’s easy to accept.
But the crappy apartment is not acceptable for the seasoned marriage with four kids. We’re supposed to have the lovely home in suburbia and classy-but-functional-soccer-mom-vehicle to tote her children around in style. I’m supposed to click the button and drive into my swept garage and walk into my modern day Leave-It-To-Beaver kitchen.
After the crappy apartment, we moved to downtown Portland. My uncle and aunt had bought an old house with a rich history (think Bill Walton, Grateful Dead, and Patti Hearst) and converted their living room into a studio apartment. I was going back to school. Paul was still in school. My aunt and uncle let us pay them in yardwork for rent. It was a great place to live … if you had money. The tantalizing smells and partying sounds tortured us. We would walk around and wish and sniff and inhale, but … we could not touch.
But a studio apartment in downtown Portland is, again, very romantic for a young married couple. The city, the cramped quarters, the creative set-up of your bedroom-doubling-as-your-living-room, the band playing at the coffee house on the corner and the music wafting through the summer windows– all this is covered over with the romance of young love.
After a stint at KOIN for a temp job, I landed a teaching position and … got pregnant. Paul went on to get his master’s degree. His inservice would take place in another direction of my job. We rented an apartment between our places of work. By then, we got our Jack Russell, Papillon. I walked him in the mornings along the railroad tracks. Paul walked him in the evenings. We still had cinderblock shelves but we added a table and a love seat and a cushioned chair or two and a desk and plenty of books.
This is the natural progression of things. You fall in love. You get married. You work hard and try to finish school. Then, you add to your family, and consequently, you add to your things.
Elsa was born and Paul got a teaching job in Umatilla. We rented an apartment there that overlooked some sacred burial ground. Again, we befriended the little old lady next door, Vergie, who was a bundle of energy and loved to cook for us. She’d catch us eating a coconut for dinner and dragged us in for stuffed something or other. I still hadn’t got the hang of cooking yet.
But I was learning. Elsa and I took walks together and I started to read cookbook recipes because I loved to eat well. Paul could walk across the street for lunch. Many tentative attempts at dinner ended in gracious compliments from Paul that gave me the courage to keep trying. Fresh, young parents full of promise and purpose, making sacrifices to get by and provide for our darling little blue-eyed beauty.
We bought a house in Hermiston — an old place that had been refurbished. It was built in 1928. We loved the wood floors and the quaint vent coverings, the gracious porch and mature trees. Of course, the closets were tiny. We put a set of drawers in the hallway in front of the doorway of the bathroom, complete with a chess board on top of it. Paul and I would play against each other, making a move whenever we walked out of the bathroom. Greta was born. Now, we had two little ankle-biters to provide for.
We moved to Texas, then into a two-bedroom, one-bath house with wood floors in Prineville. Again, there were the mature trees, the tall windows, the quaint alcoves and arches. Ingrid was born. Eventually, we moved out to the old cabin in the Ochoco Mountains during Paul’s Mt. Bachelor Academy days. It was an old stagecoach stop that had some rooms added onto it. Dagne was born.
All of these places had a romance to them. Perhaps it was the mature trees or the unique history or the pine forest close in.
Paul and I are suckers for old houses. They’re too small, the doorways are too short, the windows stick, and our big corn-fed bodies, beds, and furniture don’t fit in them — but we’re drawn to them just the same.
We’re being tempted again. We looked at several roomy places — three and four bedroom homes with 2-3 baths. But they are usually located in the parts of town where people’s issues are spilling out of the front of the garage which pokes out to the street. People yell at their kids from the inside of the house and the blue lights of the television flash all night. Somehow those cookie-cutter places that were built without love but with the landlord in mind seem like a death-knell on our dreams which, should we choose to live there, stay buried in the ashes of crushed acceptance and never become a phoenix.
Which means we’re looking at a two-bedroom, one-bath place with wood floors again. Only this time we’re a much bigger family. Are we being silly? Are we foolish? The neighborhood is fantastic — quiet, well-kept front gardens, and covered porches and splayed columns. But, oohh! It will be tight! It seems the other choices in our price range seem soul-less. Either far from everything — where we’ll spend all of our days driving — or close to everything, but suffocating because our surroundings are an affront to all we think beautiful.
Again, we’re faced with the startling fact that there aren’t many great choices out there. We’re a big family trying to fit ourselves into an old dream. Instead of starting afresh, we’re starting over, and we have all the path we’ve already traveled to travel again. It’s old hat. It’s lost its romance. The young love and starry ideals aren’t going to buoy us up like before.
I guess this is where we should use our experience.
I believe we can be more efficient this time around. We certainly know a great deal about what doesn’t work. And, like never before, we seem to know who we are and who we aren’t. I just hope these attributes will bring us through — into the light — into a better place than before.
And whatever we do, I hope we will learn our lessons. I don’t want to have to learn this one again.