Once upon a time, now a very long time ago, we children regularly travelled to Chicago to get our teeth fixed. I think about that now—we were living in New York—how impressive that could have sounded: “Hey, I’d LOVE to come to your party, but I have to fly to Chicago to see my dentist.” Except it wasn’t really impressive because 1) I hardly ever got invited to parties and 2) my dad worked for a huge airline and we got to fly everywhere free and 3) the dentist was my uncle, who was an army dentist who happened, at that time, to live in Chicago.
I am leading with this because it was during one of those dentist visits—to a fun little bungalow in a closed, two-block-square neighborhood (big wall around it and iron gates)—that I learned an absolute truth about myself: I need a nest. One that belongs to me. One that I own. A solid, not-too-much-changing, full-of-memories home.
The epiphany happened when I found out that the bungalow didn’t belong to my uncle; it belonged to the army. He didn’t own a house because they were always moving him from place to place. And being there, walking around the place and knowing it didn’t actually belong to the family, really sort of freaked me out.
My mother was not freaked out. Her father, a civil engineer working for the Missouri highway department in a time when solid-surface roads were just starting to be de rigor even in rural Missouri, had carried his family off to live wherever the work sent him. Mom lived in eight different places before she was six years old, and the family moved almost every subsequent summer till she hit college. That’s when her parents bought their first house. Their only house, really, because her dad died not two years after they moved into it.
This is our little L.A. house. I loved it. Which isn’t significant because I loved ALL the houses. This one had a big back yard and a bunch of hydrangeas, but the coolest things were those elephant ears in the middle out front.
Mom grew up ready to pack her life into a few boxes. Cheerfully. As long as I knew her, she was never sentimental about stuff or places. She didn’t get attached to anything—okay—except the life she built within our little family. When she married my dad, he was also a civil engineer, working for the afore mentioned airline, and he built airport terminals. And he, also, moved his family whenever he was transferred. Which was not for every job, or we would have ended up living in Egypt and Paris and Phoenix and any one of a dozen other places. As it was, my parents owned the little house I where I learned to walk, then moved to the west coast about the time I started Kindergarten and bought a house there, then back to the midwest when I was in 6th grade where they built a wonderful house, to New York when I was in 8th grade, then to Texas so I could have my senior year in a place that felt like Mars to me. By the time they got there, they’d made enough money with the buying and selling to pay off that last house pretty easily. Dad still lives there.
Here’s a thing: I think we forget to take pictures of the most obvious things, like houses. I never shot a portrait of this house or the New York ones. They just happened to be backdrops for other shots. So Dad sat down one year and sketched portraits of every one of them – which really kind of suggests that he is slightly sentimental about them. This is the house we built. It had a walk-out basement in the back, which made it three stories from behind. And I had my own room here. The only own room I ever had. I came home one day and found a For Sale sign stuck into the lawn. Total shock. I pulled it out and threw it into the bushes.
I never did learn to pack my life into a few boxes. And when I had to do it, I was not cheerful. I was an attacher. I loved things—not fancy things, just things that meant something to me. And I loved places and dependable routines. I can remember now – they switched bedrooms in our little house in LA, I suppose because the third and last baby was coming, and just having to move to the other bedroom had me weeping with grief—over separation from what? The place I was used to sleeping in. So every move (well, once I could be counted sapient) was traumatic to me. And it seemed like every time I had settled in and and finally had comfortable friends—started feeling just a teeny bit confident in space and social order – we moved. My mother didn’t understand why it was so hard for me—her head came from a different place.
I adored this house in New York. A Cape Cod design, still one of my favorites. We had 3/4 of an acre full of huge old trees. The house sat at the edge of an actual forest that belonged to a rich guy whose house you never could see through the trees, no matter how often you drove by it on the way to school. We had rabbits and raccoons and foxes and we were burglarized twice in the three years we lived there.
When I got to university, I lived in – I tried to count them today – seven different places before I got a real job and met a real man and started my own life. None of those places felt real. University life is supposed to be nomadic. So it was fine – for a while.
But like I say, I like a good sturdy nest so that when the wind blows, at least you know where you are. So as a single working woman, I bought my own little house. All alone, I was. No roommates. Just me and my house. That’s the place we came home to after our honeymoon. But it wasn’t our real house. Our life house. You’ve seen plenty of pictures of the house we now live in. G and I actually built it before we were married, partners in what started out as a speculative venture, but that we would end up living in ourselves (once we were married) for thirty four years (so far). And I love this place. I love knowing how the dents in the walls happened, who slept in which bedroom when he or she was little and the people up and down the street who have shared life with us for all these decades and have become family. I cherish all that.
The little house I bought for myself. Pretty brave of me, huh?
That’s what kind of person I am. Tap roots that run deep. I can’t help it. It’s in the grain. If everything were to burn down, I’d really be fine; it’s the family that’s my home now. We move forward, and the old things, while cherished, can be replaced with new memories. But as long as I get to live in this lovely little house of our history, I’ll be grateful.
This was the essential house. My father’s mother’s house. Not only did she never move – nothing in her house ever moved. It was frozen in 1943 and I loved it. Screen porch with a squeaky door, magic milk-man door at the back. No matter where we moved, every time we came back here to visit, this house was exactly, utterly the same. It was the constant in my little life. And so full of ancient magic.
Then suddenly one day, our children grew up, sprouted wings, and took off. But I’ve talked about that before. I mean, I wasn’t really surprised. Though it did happen a little sooner than I expected. And pretty soon, in a sudden storm of wind and feathers, they were all gone—off building their own nests.
I find that I don’t object to that at all. Well, Gin could be closer. I object to that – being far from the people you love.
This whole piece was really supposed to be just a show-and-tell about Chaz and her new house. Her first house, she bought—with a great deal of family involvement—from Cam. Her new house, she bought entirely on her own as a professional woman with contacts, touring twenty or more houses, doing the math, working with her own agent. I don’t mean to sound fatuous about this (“Oh, isn’t that cute? Her own agent!) It’s just, we have a family full of useful people who are ready to help where they can, and she didn’t need any of us. Well, she didn’t need us much. Not till she moved. THEN she needed us, boy. And it’s a good thing that “useful” means somebody who owns a horse trailer and has a friend in construction whose willing to lend us a HUGE truck.
Anyway, here it is, the new digs. I took these when we were only just looking at the place for the first time. I have yet to go over there and take “after” shots because they’ve been working on putting the place together, painting and arranging – to their hearts’ content – for the last couple of months. So, if you wanna see, I’ll shoot.
Big enough for five roomies, grown up women with their own lives.
View out the front window.
Nice roomy kitchen area.
And a swell deck.
There we are – our little girl, all grown up.
So one nest becomes four more. And pretty soon, you got yourself a whole forest full. I can’t come up with a tag line here. But I think it has something to do with the metaphysical nature of nests. I’m not sure they ever become truly empty. I think each one has this universe inside that holds all those other nests. But I’m not sure. So – you know – I’m going to bed now.