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July 18, 2004

A Funny Thing About a House

I'd always wanted a hammock. The sense that I'd formed of them, as a boy, was an odd blend of Sunday lounging and Nineteenth Century adventures at sea. The two had particular appeal to me, for reasons that I won't go into right now. Related, perhaps part of the desire was the feeling that a hammock was something that went in one's own backyard, and I grew up in apartments.

My parents finally brought me a hammock for my birthday, last year, and I set it up almost immediately. Fifteen minutes of mosquito bites, and I decided to return to it when I didn't have company. Shortly after our visitors had left, I moved the hammock to another side of the yard, and that time, I made it through a half-hour of bloodletting before I rolled the thing up and put it in the shed until... well, until tomorrow, when I'll move it to my new yard, where I expect to find swaying over grass — grass that I'll own — much more relaxing.

But it's a funny thing about a house.

The one in which I sit right now is the first that my wife and I have inhabited for more than a year and a half, and the mosquito infestation is only one aspect that I'll be happy to leave behind. In the backyard, we've a double-shed, the older portion of which has long been lost to local cats, ever since I boarded up the opening between the two to stop the crapping on items that we actually use. Indeed, the entire backyard has proven unusable owing to a combination of failed septic and poor drainage. None of which has freed me from the dozens of hours of raking each year.

The difficulties of the house itself would take more time to describe than I care to devote. Some quick examples, perhaps.

Despite months of professional tinkering, the heating system still smells of exhaust when it's on, and in any case, it forces air from the disgusting crawl space beneath the house. The electric system is frighteningly old. When I mounted a flag at the front of the house a couple of years ago, I discovered that the screws could practically be pushed in like thumb tacks, raising questions about the house's wood. Our landlord, when he lived here, covered the window that had been in the shower, so the bathroom is a box, and after the motor went on the ceiling vent, the room would fill quickly with steam, which sets off the poorly placed fire alarm in the hallway. We'd leave the door open, but the bathroom offers a direct line of sight to — and through — the large picture window in the living room. (Of course, before the motor went, it had been a problem because our landlord had wired it to the light switch, and it was much too loud for a tiny house with sleeping children.) The stairs to my attic office are so narrow and so steep that anything moderately large that cannot be dismantled also cannot be brought up, and even those items that can pass through the space are difficult to maneuver through the awkward turns. Moreover, the stairs creak terribly and are on the other side of a thin wall from by daughter's room, so I've had to learn where and how feet must go to minimize the noise. In the summer, when the door at the bottom swells in its frame, the care is often to no avail.

Still, up those stairs is the office in which I designed and published my Just Thinking book and two literary reviews. Where I've written columns and built up this blog. Periodically looking out of the window over the backyard, I've traced the seasons idly as I've formed my thoughts. Before our first child was born, my office had been downstairs, in the room that is now mommy and daddy's bedroom, where my wife interrupted my workout to tell me that the World Trade Center was on fire, and I spent the day stepping from office to living room to gather information from Fox News in order to convey it to family and coworkers who could not access any media.

And it had been in the living room in which inadvertently brushing my wife's stomach made me wonder whether she was pregnant, and in which we later confirmed that she was. That's when I moved my office upstairs, and it was in the new bedroom that my wife interrupted my sleep to tell me that her water had broken and mere days would bring an occupant for the room that we had prepared, in which I had been sitting during the evenings reading the first Harry Potter book to see what all the fuss was about.

We've fed children, eaten dinner, watched movies, had gatherings, changed diapers, loved, and lived in this house for almost exactly three years. Three Christmases. Three Halloweens. Eight birthdays. We know where the uneven floor in the hallway and kitchen will make the loudest sounds. We can navigate the entire house in the dark.

Over the past few days, as I've paused in my renovations of the new house, I've thought what a pleasure it will be to live there, and it will. It's a good house for a young family, and there's no way that family — our family — could remain in the one that we're leaving. Nonetheless, now, taking a breather the night before moving, I can't help but think that I'll miss chasing the dog around the yard 'till I'm cursing mad because he won't stop barking because he can see my wife across the street on her parents' deck. I'm finding it difficult to recall that walks — the thousands of walks — along the water were often too cold, too pest-ridden, or too windy to pay much attention to the lapping of the waves.

It's tough to leave an island, even when moving no farther than up the hill on the other side of the river. It's tough to leave a house, even when the move is the best possible option under the circumstances' totality. And it takes time to make a new house feel like home, although I'm sure the hammock will help.

Posted by Justin Katz at July 18, 2004 12:50 AM
Diary & Confession

God bless you all. It's always good to see lots of words here. :-)

Posted by: ELC at July 18, 2004 6:47 PM