I Have Lived With Houses


Houses home our best or worst memories.

For those who watch the home improvement shows. I’m running circles around Suzie’s House. Ha!

This past weekend was one which will not be soon forgotten, or repeated. I went to a writing conference at the same time the moving van pulled up to our sweet Victorian cottage to load everything up and move us to the Arts and Crafts home that we’ve been renovating since January. I’d been packing for weeks, and getting material ready for editor and agent review for weeks. And biting my nails. There’s nothing like piling stress on stress. Does wonders for the neck muscles.

Like the characters in my novels, every house renovation jets me into some kind of trouble which seems impossible to get out of. The deeper one digs, the more trouble one unearths.

Foundation work took over a week because the 1910 house was that settled. Plus, the double porches on three sides of the house had to be raised separately. When they raised the back porch, the bottom one fell apart. So it had to be rebuilt to support the top porch. In rebuilding it I had them enclose part of it to create a mud room. Success! Then it rained. Whoops, forgot to waterproof above the sheet rock.

When exposing the chimney flue on the inside (at the kitchen) the builder found that there was NO support beam for the upper floor where it was needed. No wonder the toilet leaked. The upstairs bathroom was caving into the kitchen. I went to flush the toilet the day I didn’t know the sewer line was frozen and the black water shot out, splattered past me and into the tub. Yuck!

Now all toilets flush.

That is huge.

The only thing left is having the air conditioning, the electric and the plumbing pass inspection. Oh, and adding knobs to a few doors.

When we bought the Victorian cottage there was a pot-holed drive way and several street people sleeping under the house or in the shed. We paved the drive, tore up the none-existent sidewalks, and added a fence around the property. The house itself was not livable as the air-conditioning had irreparably broken, which we didn’t know until after we purchased the property. It had limped along until somewhere between signing on the dotted line and getting home warranty insurance.

The Victorian is perfect now. Ready for some fortunate person to purchase it and move in.

The house I grew up in was asbestos shingled, with a white rock roof. No one knew about asbestos then, just knew asbestos made it fire-proof. The shingles were painted daffodil yellow. I remember feeling proud that my house could be seen from a great distance.

Ha. Ha. A huge distance. That house was day-glow before day-glow existed.

There was a crack in the foundation. It was so wide you could see daylight. My brother and I would sit and wait for lizards to crawl in and capture them. To this day I’m crazed if a Palmetto bug skitters too near my feet. This is because for a period of time, after my parents built their bedroom and gave me their old room, I would go to my bed and flip the covers back. There was a Palmetto bug sitting there, waiting for me. It happened again and again. Go in, flip covers, Palmetto bug, scream. Palmetto bugs look like giant cockroaches. I am still afraid.

My grandmother’s house I remember with fondness. I spent a great deal of childhood with my grandmother. There was a painted wood staircase that led to an apartment upstairs. Instead of closet doors there were heavy velvet curtains. My cousins and I would put on plays. I discovered an easy-bake oven one day and burned my fingers.

That house was built in 1889. It didn’t survive Hurricane Carla in 1961. Termites had undermined the beams beneath it and the wind blew it sideways and it crumbled.

My husband and I bought our first house in 1987. It was one of thirty homes out in the middle of a field and across the highway from one of Texas’s finest prison farms. Unwittingly the phone wiring wasn’t sophisticated enough for the phones and so we all shared a party line. This neighborhood wasn’t Mayberry. You could pick up the phone any time day or night and someone would be carrying on a conversation. These people would get abusive when asked to give up some phone time. The first day my oldest went to Kindergarten, the police were searching cars as we left the subdivision. I thought it was a drug raid. As I pulled up the policeman shone his flashlight in my face, like they do on TV. I asked him what was going on. A prisoner had escaped and was seen crossing the highway and slipping over a fence. Shaken I took my son on to school and rushed home to make sure all the doors and windows were locked.

Turned out the prisoner had broken an ankle slipping over the fence and that yard was surrounded by big dogs so he had no where to go. That was two blocks from my house.

Time passed. We raised two kids. The area sprouted five thousand houses.

The p-farm sold to a developer.

We moved farther into the country, where we lived on the edge of a creek. And dealt with banana spiders the size of your hand, water moccasins, and gorgeous sunsets. I miss that house.

We moved downtown beneath the big city skyline to an ultra modern townhouse with a chef-designed kitchen. TOO many stairs in that place. Two weeks after we moved in, Hurricane Ike swept past not a mile from us. The big trees in the neighborhood were uprooted and left higglety-pigglety in the streets.

Felt like renovating a hundred year old house, found one, fixed it and moved in. In this house I learned that street people are important to get to know. There are good ones and bad ones. I got to know Reggie, The Razor, Robinson (former boxer), Cash (a former pimp), Bear (he always wears a clean white shirt, a tie, and a smile, and Reno (don’t trust Reno). I learned that if you pay attention, these are the people who either make your neighborhood safe or make it horrible. Street people know what is going on. They keep watch. They know when a car should or shouldn’t be where it is, etc.

Two years later, meaning now, my husband and I found another hundred-year-old house that needed love. We fixed it (mostly) and moved in.

What have I learned?

First, I don’t think I’ll ever move house on the same day as a conference again. That was silly.

Secondly, making alleys through the boxes isn’t such a terrible thing.

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