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What Does Your House Teach YOU?

As I type, I am sitting in my new dining room. It’s made of the same material my old dining room was made of — wood, sheet rock, paint — but it feels like it has been dropped down from heaven’s angel workshop.

Late Friday night, we were still not 100% out of our old house. We had until midnight to be out, so said our contract, and Gordon and I were racing around the empty shell, sweeping, taking nails out of walls, wiping off counter tops and generally wandering around the rooms like a couple of spooks. I thought about the memories we had made there — it was our first house. I saw it through a quivering plane of tears. It was like saying goodbye to a beloved teacher because it had taught me so much.

First, it taught me a lot about patience and diligence. We had redone the wood floors, installed crown molding in the rooms, installed flagstone on the porch, and had completely redone the kitchen. (When we moved in, you had to roll the dishwasher across the kitchen floor and plug it into the faucet and into the electrical outlet. There was always a moment of truth plugging in both water and electricity at the same time. Would I be electrocuted or live to see another wash cycle? Only one way to find out.) But we couldn’t do all of this work at once, and there were times things almost drove me batty. But I’ll tell you this: I will never take a garbage disposal for granted again as long as I live. I won’t take many things for granted as long as I live precisely because of my time living at that address.

That house also taught me about flexibility. We brought our first baby home to it. Drew learned to crawl on the wood floors we had refinished. He loved running up and down the narrow hallway that served as the spine of the house; that and pushing his little orange car through it that was much too big and slammed against the baseboards. The house was like a vault — safe to be inside, protected from the world; but also in the sense that a bomb could go off inside it and the outside world would be no worse for the wear. Though it was often painful, I learned to adapt the house for the ever-changing needs of my family.

I wonder what Drew will learn about life living at our new address.

We had been telling him for weeks that we were getting a “new house,” and every time I took him to the park we would drive by and tell him all his toys and books would soon be “there.” We weren’t sure all of this was sinking in until Sunday when we introduced him to it that morning with so much ceremony it might have been his betrothed child bride. The church bells from St. Stephen’s were ringing as we unlocked the front door. Drew ran down the hallway — another long hallway. But the thing he loved the most was the garage with the magical door that opens and closes by itself. Perhaps some other magical things will happen for him here — a first kiss, for instance.

I drove by our old house yesterday morning. I still feel responsible for it, and feel a strange entitlement to a period of visitation rights, like some sort of open adoption of a child. As I slowly drove by, I noticed nothing had changed — no new porch furniture, no new car in the driveway. The new owner must have been at work. I did notice the grass had not been mowed since last week when we did it. The pansies were still a vibrant yellow. Not my problem, I told myself. I have bigger problems now, because I have a bigger house…a house that was dropped down from the angel workshop.

Houses teach us a lot mostly because so much is required of us to live in them. They take up a lot of our money and a lot of our spare time; and they often represent the majority of our invested wealth. I am not saying we become slaves to them, but if we allow ourselves to, we can become their pupils in the great life lessons of responsibility, patience and gratefulness. Houses are really like anything in our lives in which we have a huge investment because our huge investments are our primary life instructors.

So, I’ve graduated to the next course. I wonder if my new teacher will be fair. I know this: she’s a grand old broad built in 1936 and smells like an old theater. (In a good way.)

I bet we get along just fine.