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A house, a home

A house, a home

For the last three years, I have been living in the lap of low-rent luxury: a mother-in-law apartment on top of a cute old house in Woodbine. Sure, it had green, sculpted carpeting and, no, I didn’t have control over the heating/cooling system, but I wrote that $375 check every month with a big, old money-saving smile. My landlords were incredible people: They left chicken soup on my doorstep when I was sick, and they never said boo to a goose when my car rolled in our gravel driveway at 5 a.m. But, as most good things do, my cheap rent and fancy living came to an end recently when they reclaimed the upstairs space.

It is only during the bluest of moons that my father states his opinion of the way I live my life. When I told my parents I was looking for a place to rent in the Hillsboro Village/West End area, my dad wanted me to consider buying something. I immediately poo-pooed him: I didn’t have enough money, I didn’t want to go further into debt than I already was, and I didn’t want the responsibility. He promised me that I’d regret it later if I didn’t at least look into the idea. Strong words from a man who has held his tongue through my many phases, crazes, and a spur-of-the-moment tattoo. The next day I was at the mortgage lender’s office.

If you’re in the mood for a reality check, go to a bank and write down all the people you owe and how much you owe them. It gives you a base queasy feeling for the full-on nausea you’ll feel when the loan officer tells you how much you qualify for. The thing is, banks want you to have the money. And when they show you what you’ll wind up paying after 30 years of interest, you’ll wish the news came with a motion discomfort bag. I did the whole thing with Dad by my side; next thing I knew, I was on my way to do a little house shopping.

I like shopping. I know what I like and what I’m completely opposed to. What could be so complicated about finding a house? But to tell you the truth, I had no idea what to expect. The amount of money that I qualified for left me with two options: I could have a cardboard box in Hillsboro Village or a medium-sized mansion in East Nashville. I opted to cross the river.

In my short 26 years of life, I’ve seen and done quite a bit. I revel in situations that have the power to shock me. My first Saturday house shopping tour did just that. Earlier that week, my Realtor had e-mailed me some pictures and descriptions of houses. One caught my eye, and we started our adventure there. We walked up the steps past a partially painted rottweiler statue to the front door. A woman stepped out and said, ”Come on in! We just got Momma out of the hospital!“ Momma was inside, hooked up to an oxygen tank, and looking about three days dead. She gave us a cursory nod.

This house, like many others I saw that day, seemed frozen in time. Most of the houses were one-owner residences where the spouse had died and the surviving homeowner was being moved to a full-care facility. All the decorations were the same: frilly, flouncy curtains, wedding pictures from the ’60s, portraits of old women wearing cat-eye glasses, and religious plaques and statues. And the paint? One woman’s kitchen was painted (ceiling included) in what my agent called Church of Christ green—the worst possible combination of lime and aqua.

One house was a touch more modern, but just as frightening. The dining room walls were covered with a hand-painted mural of long-haired women in various stages of repose. My problem was with their extraordinarily large feet and protruding nipples. ”Girl, you have to learn to see through this stuff. A couple coats of paint and everything changes,“ my agent told me. I wasn’t so sure.

In regard to dating, people are always telling me that I’ll know ”The One“ when I see him. Well, that hasn’t happened yet, but I knew I was in my new house the minute I walked through the door. The bathroom got me immediately: glass blocks and the most incredible persimmon color on the ceiling. Big kitchen with Mexican tile flooring. Arched entryways, lots of windows, and one of those cutesy little phone nooks that old houses have. My Realtor was babbling on about HVAC and blowing extra insulation in the attic while I was having mental margaritas on the back patio.

After we made the bid, got the counter-offer, countered the counter-offer, and accepted, I started to get a little nervous about the closing. It was my first official step toward adulthood. Finally I realized, either you do or you don’t. The mortgage payment was very comparable to what renting would have been in the cool-kids part of town, but now I’m using words like ”equity“ and ”escrow“ as if I know what they mean.

It’s amazing how just signing your name to 40,000 or so legal documents will change your life. I had an urge to do something that I’ve absolutely loathed in the past—make a trip to Home Depot.

Previously, trips to the Depot with my Dad have left me feeling 2 years old and wanting to lay down in the middle of the store until it was time to go. After I bought a house, he couldn’t keep up with me. Where are the mini-blinds? Light fixtures? Peep holes? How about a chain for the door? I was dead-set on purchasing a knocker until he assured me that all my friends had knuckles. I’m pretty sure I wore him out in the paint aisle, and it was more than a small victory.

The weekend before I was scheduled to move in, my parents and I went over for a top-to-bottom cleaning session. And let me just say right now that there is nothing better than having a set of matching workaholic perfectionist parents. I myself didn’t get that gene.

We scrubbed; we vacuumed; we painted, mowed, sponged, took down, and put back up again. With a rag and a bucket, on my hands and knees, I scrubbed every inch of molding in the house. With one room to go, I was pretty sure I was going to have myself declared legally insane. But it was the cable that put me over the edge.

My Dad is the handyman that Bob Vila only wishes he could be. He ran cable from the back room to my bedroom through the attic and made an outlet for it to come out in. The only thing he needed me to do was to grab it as he dropped it down from the attic. So there I am, trying to grab a small black cable through a one-inch hole with a pair of needle-nosed pliers. I could hear it, but I couldn’t see it, and Dad was up there, hot, sweaty, and with his hair full of freshly blown insulation, cussing like a madman. I laughed until I cried, but no one else found it nearly as amusing.

Packing your entire life up and moving it 10 miles away is harder than it seems. We got it there, box by box, and believe me, there were a whole lot of boxes.

In the end, though, nothing made me feel more grown-up than the day my refrigerator came. Refrigerators, in my mind, are supposed to come with a place; only Moms buy them. But there I was, the proud recipient of a 22-cubic-foot top-loader with gallon storage and an ice maker. I started to get a jittery and grown-up feeling, so I tore through roughly 400 boxes looking for my magnetic refrigerator poetry so I could spell out, ”Don’t stare at the sausage in my hair,“ just to feel frivolous again.

But I’m in. I’ve got the keys and mortgage payment to prove it—and the sneaking suspicion that it’s never going to be exactly the way I want it.

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