At the rear of our property is a tottering structure that at one point functioned as a double garage. By brute force we can hoist one of the now defunct automatic doors to reveal not sheltered cars but a graveyard of molding boxes, junked lawn mowers, crippled chairs, and leaky hoses. A fractured post struggles to uphold part of the roof. With a casual toss of my foot, I think I could topple it. And if I squint, I can just make out a graffitied message that some former, disaffected youth, who apparently hated his home and got ahold of a spray can, spewed onto the cracked cement floor: “Welcome to hell.”
“What does that say?” our 6-year-old daughter asked the other day, trying to decode the fading words. “We can…?”
“Welcome,” I said, choosing to leave it at that.
“Is this place going to fall down?” her twin brother queried, as he eyed the splintered beam.
“No,” I lied. “It’s fine.”
But clearly, it’s not. And unfortunately, our crumbling garage and its rotting contents provide just a snapshot of a host of issues plaguing our domicile at large.
Our gutters need re-pitching. Our windows demand scrubbing. A dusty scum clings to the corners of our rooms. The baseboards and ceilings beg for repainting. I’d require a Costco supply of Clorox-anointed Q-Tips and several empty weekends to scour the soiled grout between the bathroom tiles.
We’re a few shingles shy of a full roof. Carpenter ants have nibbled their way through one of the delicate Dogwoods in our yard. Our fence looks like our 6-year-old twins’ mouths: full of missing planks and holes. The other day I repeatedly hollered out back for Buddy, until I realized he’d slipped through one of the gaps and was waiting for me at the front door.
Our ancient wood floors slope. We awake with headaches from having slumbered on a downward tilt all night. Our son’s balls collect in one particular corner, the lowest, in our kitchen.
“Her instinct told her to put pots under leaks, to tape around the warped window frames, to get used to the slant in the floor that indicated one of the foundation posts was crumbling,” I read out loud from Alice Munro’s “White Dump” last night.
“Is that what’s wrong with our house?” I asked my husband.
“No,” he said, but I suspect he wasn’t listening.
Our master bathroom toilet keeps running off and on, despite the fact that I’ve recently paid a plumber not once but twice to “fix” it. We returned from vacation to the following message from our mason: “Is your basement still taking water? When do you want me to come out and do your walls?”
Two of the cheap, glass-fronted doors on our kitchen cabinets kept swinging out, no matter how we tinkered with them. So I ended up just taking them off. We now have a bastardized version of those airy shelves high-end kitchens boast, leaving our mismatched, chipped dishes exposed.
Griffin’s bedroom door is so warped that it, too, won’t shut. But I guess that’s OK since he lately prefers it to remain open anyway—and all of his lights on—because he is afraid.
“Every house has problems,” my husband tells me. I know he’s right. And I was the one who chose our nearly 110-year-old home, in large part because of its age and charm. But I’m starting to feel like it may offer a little bit too much of both, especially after having vacationed in a renovated house in Florida.
Granted, I did spend one whole afternoon trying to coax the Swedish washing machine into disgorging its belly of suds through the outflow pipe rather than onto the floor. But eventually it cooperated. And although “Camelia House,” as the owners named it after they refurbished it, did have too many light switches, they all worked. The home felt crisp and new. Even before its rehabilitation, the rancher would have predated our Pennsylvania Dutch colonial by at least 50 years.
“I like the swimming house,” Jane, 2, told me today, referring to our vacation rental, which also had a pool. “I want to stay there.”
“I like the swimming house, too,” I said, “but this is where we live.”
I found myself pointing toward one of the chipped tiles below the finicky toilet on which Jane sat and thinking to myself—but not saying out loud—‘Welcome home, my darling, to hell.’