Thursday, December 10, 2009

About a House

November was a dusty month for Time Fishing. I won't plead, "I didn't have time to blog," because it's a pet peeve of mine when people use the excuse, "I don't have time for X" (especially when X = Reading). But I will say that we were moving from an apartment to a house. This house:

Folks from Harding may recognize it, because it's on Market Avenue close enough to Harding that if I were to step outside and spit, the saliva--with decent trajectory--might meet Bruce McLarty's forehead. Not that I would do that. Also, if I were to exit via our back door and scramble my way through the weeds and crud bordering our backyard, I would probably stumble right into Midnight Oil.

The house is old. Probably 1920s or 30s, by my judgment. It's sandwiched on either side by two houses, both similarly venerable. Facing the house, on the right, is this:

From time to time a pickup truck-shaped tank will park on its lawn, and an older gentlemen will live in the house during those times. I asked him how old the house was. "Probably 1901 or 02," he said without hesitation, as he sprayed WD-40 on the tailgate hinges of our borrowed truck. It predates Harding, the Rialto, the asphalt on Beebe Capps, and Dr. Ganus (maybe). To our left is its brother:

Three-to-four cars live at this house, and the owners of the cars love to remind us, every couple hours, of their disdain for mufflers. The house is just as Tudor as our other neighbor, but an instinct within me says that it may be younger. Another instinct tells me its age and beauty is wasted on the motor-heads living there...but don't tell them that.

Anyway, our house. It's not only old and beautiful, but also quite strange. Take, for example, this munchkin-sized door situated at the terminus of our violently sloped roof:

It leads to nothing--not a garden, or a path, or even a munchkin-sized replica of our house; it just is. I suppose that if I were magical enough, it might lead to Narnia or Oz or Tir-Na-Nog, but at the moment it just opens to a narrow strip of grass betwixt the motor-heads' driveway (highway) and our western wall.

It's not in very good shape. The door isn't, and sometimes the house isn't either. Like a lot of older houses, it's drafty. A thin crack in our bedroom window admits enough cold air to chill our toes even when the heater is blasting. All of the windows have been painted shut. Though there is a chimney with a legitimate fireplace and mantle, it lacks a flue and has been neutered by layers of insulation. We have no dishwasher, no garbage disposal, very little room in our kitchen, few power outlets in most rooms and none in the dining room. Some of the lights in the bathroom don't work.

But is it weird that I probably love this house more than any other I've lived in? Possibly even more than the 19th century carriage house I grew up in? Even though it's just a rental house? Here's what it has going for it.

The almost-Craftsman style of the architecture means draftiness, but it also means lots of windows. The whole interior (with the exception of the lime-green kitchen) is painted in shades of golden-yellow, slightly different between each room. The above is our hardwood-floored den. In the morning, it glows like the streets of glory, to the point where we thought we had left all the lights on overnight. If you examine the picture closely, you can see that we have the White Album on our turntable. It's Jenna's favorite Beatles album (mine is Sergeant Pepper's).

The aforementioned hearth sits right next to the front door, and though it is currently functionless, it still provides its intentional centrality and (metaphysical) warmth. If you ask me where we got all of the wine bottles on the mantle, I will not tell you. The Halloween lights, however, came from Walgreens, as well as the Renuzit, which helped wash out the stale cat-urine smells that came with the house.

Please excuse my shoddy indoor photography; my wife is the one who gets paid for photography, not me. Another thing I love about this house are its old doors. I don't think any of them have been replaced (though a few have been added here and there), and so they have their antique rattly doorknobs and skeleton keyholes. The keyholes do us no good on any of the doors--the bathroom door has been equipped with a rude hook and loop to keep out intruders--but they remind me of a time when kids would peek through keyholes to spy on adults, and keys were beautiful enough to display in museums.

Here's a last weird thing.

Anyone out there who knows what this is? Show of hands? Nobody? That's because we don't use them anymore. This little scoop in the wall would have been a place for a telephone. It might have been added to the house in the 1940s, or it might be original. Either way it feels just as old as the rest of the house, and either way it will never serve its intended purpose while we live here. Despite my love of old technology, there's just no getting past the fact that cell phones have completely precluded land lines in my generation, just like how land lines did with telegraphs and so on. So what are we going to do with this alcove?

Maybe put a Virgin Mary statue in there. For now this little dinosaur will have to stand guard.

The last thing: 706 E Market Ave is in the remnants of a real neighborhood. There are lots of old houses (several of the beautiful examples from my Craftsman article are nearby, and I even considered taking a picture of this house back then). The range of income levels is diverse, and meaningful retail is within walking distance. There's a sidewalk. The neighborhood was probably prettier before Harding started growing parking lots and empty green spaces like warts, and a little burr in my brain says that someday a red cube of an administration building or a dismal square of parking lot will erase the munchkin door, the sloping roof, the skeleton keyholes, the insulated chimney, and the telephone nook from memory evermore.

But until that day, I'll admire this house.


1 comment:

Alex said...

I saw the munchkin door while driving by the other day and wondered who lived there. How serendipitous.