As the house is stripped of its siding, the chimney comes down and the back yard becomes a recycling center, I find that the things we love about our house are coming into sharp relief. We’ve only lived here for four years, but I think out of many places we’ve been, this house feels more like home than any other.
We moved from a violence-wracked part of St. Paul, from the house Desiree bought from her aunt ten years ago. That house was in their family for four generations, and was as close to an ancestral home as an American house can be. It was a beautiful century-old Foursquare, with a completely intact interior and plenty of room to grow. But when Amelie was born, the rising tide of violent crime had us worrying about whether we could raise a family there. It was rare for a week to go by without some senseless act of violence to occur in the neighborhood, and being outside was often an invitation to be harassed. Finally, the summer a police officer was killed a block from our house and all of the wheels were stolen off of my car, we decided we were done.
It wasn’t an easy decision, even with the fairly obvious signs that we weren’t in the best of circumstances. Anyone who knows Desiree and I knows that we relate to where we live on an emotional level. Where most people see their house in a more utilitarian fashion – it’s a place to live, it’s an investment, it’s a stepping stone to something better – we become almost irrationally attached. Those numbers you see in the picture above? We bought those in Paris during our first trip together. The door itself was disintegrating, but we restored it, and painted it red because we wanted something bold against the old gray siding. You can’t see it in the picture, but the entire house would be covered in vines most of the year, leading us to call it “The Tree House”. We had left our mark and memories on nearly every square foot of the house, and leaving it behind was like leaving a family member. I distinctly recall loading everyone in the car one last time, after leaving a note for the new owner and letting her know about the good, generous people that lived all around us. We asked her in the letter to take care of our old home. We said a final teary good bye, and we were gone.
I’m mentioning the old house because when I say that where we live is our home, it’s against some stiff competition.
But looking back at the photos from the year we moved in, I can see why we bought this house. From the massive elms on the street to the large, enclosed back yard, our house is everything our old one could not be. We moved in, and started to weave our lives into the house immediately. We replaced the 72-year-old boiler with an in-floor heating system. We dug a huge garden in the back yard. We built a chicken coop, and hatched our first birds from eggs that were given to us by a friend. We became friends with many of our neighbors, people who now are as much of a part of our family as blood relatives. And that was just in the first year.
Since then, our home has been filled with events and memories, anniversaries and holidays, dozens of birthdays and an actual birth when Madeline was born in the girls’ room one hot summer day. We’ve watched the grape vines climb to the roof, we’ve collected gallons of raspberries and thousands of eggs in our back yard. Every year that goes by ties the house closer to us, and even now, just a few years after we’ve moved in, leaving seems impossible.
It’s sometimes difficult to explain why we would spend so much time and money to completely renovate a nondescript old house in the city. The easy answer is that it’s for the huge shift in efficiency and comfort, or that it’s cheaper than just tearing it down and starting over, or that moving somewhere else would be too risky. Those are all true, but I’m starting to realize that it’s more subtle than all of that, and more fundamental to who we are. The truth is, we’re taking on this monstrous task because we love where we live, and we don’t know any other way to be. This is our home, and, if things don’t go too far awry in the coming years, it always will be.