We recently passed the twenty-year anniversary of living in our old house on Brown Road. My wife and I moved into this house around mid-December 1995, young and just a few years married and child-free with the world at our fingertips. One of our very first adventures as new, first-time home owners was to take a drive to the Christmas tree farm a few country blocks away and buy an overpriced Frasier fir tree that we promptly set up amongst our few pieces of furniture and still unpacked boxes, and decorated with twinkling white lights and a smattering of ornaments we had accumulated.
There were no celebratory parties, champagne toasts or blessings made on this twentieth anniversary. The day… I don’t even remember the exact date… just passed by in the hectic rush towards another Christmas holiday and the beginning of another year with its resolutions and promises to “change this” and “improve that.” A house doesn’t get that kind of recognition, no participation trophies just for showing up. It just does its job faithfully, day after day, year after year, stoically providing shelter and heat and comfort to its residents with no motivation but the occasional reward of a fresh coat of paint or a new roof or to be filled with the laughter of family and friends.
Our house was built in the early 1890’s and has been the home to countless families over the years, all caretakers of a special place that has now been the idyllic backdrop to my family memories for two decades. Throughout 120 plus years, children have been born, people have died, birthdays have been celebrated, jobs have changed, family meetings have been convened, renovations and repairs have been tackled, history has been lived. A man named Ralph Brown and his wife owned the property for a long time and like many of the families in this area got the road named after him. He and his wife are buried and share a gravestone in the small cemetery about a half mile up the road along with several other previous residents. Now we are the caretakers of this place and it’s a job we accept proudly.
A couple nights ago my daughter and I were eating a late-night dinner at the small counter-top island that juts out into the center of our kitchen. It was a bitter cold night as winter’s wrath had finally begun to strengthen its grip on the Midwest and we sat bundled in warm clothes and wool socks. The old oil furnace in the basement would cough and choke, like a three pack-a-day smoker, every ten or fifteen minutes as it fired up its burner to heat more water. The industrial water pumps attached to it like appendages on a modern-day Transformer, would hum as they forced hot water upwards through cast-iron radiators. It’s an epic battle that the old soldier fights every winter against its nemesis; leaky windows and old house cracks and crevices.
This kitchen island is not a place we will typically sit and eat but on this night it seemed right. As we chatted, I had a Pandora radio station of old-time Irish and acoustic roots music playing in the background and my daughter doodled with colored pencils on a scrap piece of printer paper. It occurred to me that even when my kids were bossy little pre-teens, they never commented on or were critical of my sometimes eclectic tastes in music. So we sat and enjoyed each other’s company and it was a rare moment, unencumbered by the usual hectic schedules and electronic devices that often control our lives.
Like conversations do, ours evolved in slow Darwinian fashion from discussion of college next year, to family and school, to her job at the movie theater, to our old house and some of its history and age. She joked at one point and asked if she were to help contribute some money, would we be willing to turn the heat up and I resisted the urge to pull out a recent oil delivery bill or suggest putting a heavy jacket over the sweatshirt she already had on. But that’s old house living, cold winters wrapped in sweaters and blankets and hot summers with nothing but the night breeze and a cheap window fan to cool off the rooms.
Next fall my daughter will be off to college and my son will be in tenth grade and whereas when I was their ages, I had already lived in several homes, they have always lived in this old house on Brown Road. As I look back on being a kid, I never really thought too much about where I lived or what my house was like. I grew up mostly in suburban neighborhoods and modern homes, places with not much character but with doors that closed properly, windows that sealed up tightly, heating and cooling that kept the climate at whatever precise temperature the thermostat was set. And admittedly, fond memories.
But I’ll keep my old house with its quirks and drafts.
My kids probably don’t really think about what their house is like either… it just is what it is… and as a kid you have more important things to worry about, like school and sports, boyfriends and girlfriends, clothes and cars and what’s happening on social media. And just plain old growing up. But somewhere inside them the seeds have been planted and the roots are growing deeper and someday whether they live around the corner or across the country, they will talk with pride about this place as their childhood home.
Unless something drastic changes, my wife and I will hopefully still be here, caretakers of our old house on Brown Road. Anniversary or not, that’s something worth celebrating.