Two months ago, we Jowerses almost moved to the suburbs. Now, I'm not talking about the distant, traffic-snarled, strip-malled, Bradford-pear-infested suburbs. I'm talking about the ranch-house suburbs about seven to eight miles west of town.
We weren't really looking to move. We like where we live. But we had been talking about downsizing, simplifying and living mortgage-free. So when I stumbled across a nearly pristine 1950s rancher in a perfectly good part of town, I got interested. I took wife Brenda and daughter Jess out to the house, and they truly liked the place. “I could vacuum this whole house from the hall,” Brenda said. Jess was sold as soon as she figured out she'd have her own bathroom.
The house was about two-thirds the size of the current Jowers house, all on one level. If we got rid of all our tired furniture and some of our useless set-abouts, there would be plenty of room for our stuff. The yard was about five times bigger than the little quarter-acre lot we live on now. I figured that would give me room to set up a mini-softball field for Jess' practice sessions, and a good reason to get myself a king-hell riding mower. I'd be living in a Dick Van Dyke house and patrolling my wooded grounds on a Hank Hill mower. Nothing bad about it. So I made an offer on the place, and the owners accepted. If we could find a buyer for our house, we were ready to move.
I went out to the place for a second look, then a third. Except for the obsolete electrical system, I didn't find any real defects. But I did start feeling a little uncomfortable.
I noticed that the front door was a little balky, mostly from lack of use. Then I saw that there was no front walk, just some awkwardly placed patio stones pretending to be a front walk. Nobody had used that front door in 50 years. Truth is, that house didn't need a front door. It connected to the world through the garage. If we moved in, we'd keep up the tradition of following the long driveway around back, hitting the remote and disappearing into the garage. Most likely, the neighbors would never get a good look at us. They'd just know us as the Toyota-driving, ball-playing people. I got a little lonesome just thinking about it. And when I get lonesome, I start reminiscing.
Back when Brenda and I first met, I didn't think much about the part my house played in my life. To me, the house was just the container that my daddy left me when he dropped dead dancing at the Amvets club. But after Brenda moved in, she changed the house and the way I thought about it. First, she de-uglied the place. She threw out the green vinyl furniture, the green shag carpet and the fiberglass-reinforced green drapes. She painted the walls and talked me into refinishing the red-pine floors. With a little time and much effort, she turned the house into a warm and welcoming place.
Of course, that didn't stop me from selling it. No matter how much we improved it, it would always be the house that Jabo Jowers built, mostly out of defective, stolen materials. Worse yet, it was sitting on a swampy lot in a backward little South Carolina cotton-mill town, where the natives didn't have much use for a longhaired guitar-playing boy.
After we left South Carolina, we bought a 1923 bungalow in Nashville. Two years later, we moved into an 1880s Brooklyn brownstone. Two years after that, we bought the 1914 foursquare that we live in now. Each house started out cold and ugly. We did our best to make it warm and comfortable.
When we left New Yorka place that could not have felt less like homewe wanted a place with neighbors close by, neighbors who'd know us not by our vehicles, but by our names, crotchets and quirks. We wanted a friendly, settled kind of place, with big front porches and shaded sidewalks. We wanted a place where we could walk under some big shade trees and maybe end up having a little visit on a neighbor's front porch. We found all that in the neighborhood where we live now.
So, don't you know, we Jowerses didn't move to the ranch-house suburbs. We fit better in a place where the front porch leads to a front walk, and the front walk leads to the sidewalk, which connects to everybody else's front walk and front porch. We like a place where the mailman still walks his route, a place with not many garages where people have to get out of their cars and show themselves.
I like living in a place where people by-God use their front doors. It makes the houses seem alive, and connected. In fact, if we Jowerses ever think about moving again, I'm going to have a front-door rule. Wherever we go, it'll have to be a place where the houses have front doors and people use them.
Visit Walter Jowers' Web site at www.housesenseinc.com, or e-mail him at email@example.com.