Sunday, November 11, 2007

H is for House

For an explanation of this alphabet theme, see my first NaBloPoMo post.

I bought my house when I was 29. I didn't do it the smart way... I didn't prepare for it and plan for it and save a respectable down payment like most responsible adults do. No, despite how terrible I am at making decisions, it was really almost an impulse buy.

My older sister had been nagging me for a while, saying, "You really should buy a house, you know. You're throwing money away on rent." To this day, I still say that is the most ridiculous argument anyone can present to a would-be home-buyer. I was not throwing money away on rent. In exchange for that rent, I was getting not only a place to live, but the security of knowing that if anything went wrong with that place to live, it was not my responsibility to remedy. Leaky faucet? Broken refrigerator? Snapped garage door spring? Someone else's bank account or man-hours were going to be drained to take care of it, not mine. Throwing money away? On piece of mind? Hardly. In fact, for my rental dollars, I even had someone else shoveling the snow, mowing the lawn, and raking the leaves for me. All for less than I currently pay for my mortgage. Without a house payment, only one of my arms would hurt right now (the one stabbed with a tetanus vaccine the other day), and I would maybe be able to afford cute new fall clothes. I mean, I like my house and all, but frankly that doesn't sound like such a bad deal.

I must have gotten tired of my sister's arguments, though, because I finally agreed to meet with her realtor friend. We started looking at houses even before I was sure I wanted to buy one, and about twelve houses in, I said, "Um, I think this one feels sort of right..."

I don't even know what in particular drew me to this house. It's nothing special, nothing fancy; it certainly isn't my all-time dream house. It's a basic little 1950 shoebox, but for some reason, I had a good feeling about it. It all comes down to gut instincts, right? My gut may be squashy and unreliable, but I trusted it and bought the house anyway. I even looked pretty happy about it, didn't I?

Note: The American flag is not mine. It was gone before I moved in. And if you're worried about that scary roof with the dark streaks through it, I had it replaced as part of the purchase deal. And lastly, and perhaps most importantly, my oh my was my hair flippy back then!

The house that I bought was built right on the cusp of when developers stopped injecting character into homes by default. I had hardwood beneath the carpeting and real, solid wood doors throughout the house, but I didn't have any rounded archways or built-in buffets or other fancy woodwork. My garage, thankfully, doesn't protrude from the front of my house as its most notable architectural feature, but it also doesn't have a charming carriage house up top.

Luckily, the previous owners left plenty of character behind to balance things out.

My house is 57 years old, and I am only its second owner so far. When I moved in, my neighbors to the north, a lovely old couple named Don and Lucy, gained the position of seniority on the block. They've been here since 1958. Ralph (who owned my house) had been here since 1950.

It's remarkable how much stuff I've accumulated in just ten years out in the world on my own--how many possessions (both pointless and not) I've carted from apartment to apartment to first house. Just imagine the amount of stuff one can accumulate in 53 years.

I'm sure Ralph's children spent a good deal of time clearing out this house after he died. I'm sure they spent full weekends reminiscing and divvying up and marking things for Goodwill. But they clearly got a bit lazy towards the end, because when I moved in, several remnants of Ralph were still here. And obviously I am just as lazy as they are, because four years later, several of those remnants still remain.

This was originally going to be a post about all the things I've learned about home ownership and maintenance, all the ridiculous moments of ineptitude I've had since I moved in. But frankly, that post is just not flowing, so I thought I'd just take you on a photo tour instead. I mean, I did damn near break my toe photo-documenting, so I might as well make use of those pictures, don't you think? So here we go.

First, we have the charming remembrances of occupants past that one would expect to find in an old house. Ralph raised two kids here, after all. It seems only logical that we'd see evidence of their growth marked on the walls...

It's also sort of charming to learn about Ralph's unique quirks and obsessions. We're all tremendous nerds in some way or another. Ralph's area of nerdery must have been the weather (or at least temperature). My house came with no fewer than five thermometers. I can only assume there were several more before his kids started cleaning this place out.

Then there are the things Ralph's kids maybe left behind by accident... Like the ice skates for some reason tucked away between the ceiling beams in the basement and the makeshift fishing rod (fashioned from what seems to be a table leg and a length of string) hidden behind a support beam...

Behind that fishing rod, you can see Ralph's worktable. I would like to point out that only the paint cans and drill case in that photo are mine. EVERYTHING ELSE came with the house. Would you like to take a closer look? I thought so.

Do you need a golf ball marker? (Specifically one already set up to stamp the name "Ralph"?)

What about an envelope of keys that open lord only knows what?

Or a motor of some sort... Do you need one of these?

If so, obviously I am your gal.

One thing that I wish were still on that workbench is the device that originally came in this box.

I mean, I could feel livelier! Look lovelier! Where, really, would be the fault in that?

Alas, all that was in that box was the faucet that presumably used to be installed in my bathroom sink.

I could make use of the exercise bike Ralph left behind in my basement, but as I'm lazy, I'm more likely to make use of the couch. Yes, they left a whole COUCH behind. And an awesome one at that, don't you agree?

I'm actually assuming at this point that the couch is probably safe. I mean, if no rats or other critters have crawled out in the past four years, chances are none are still making their home in there. I have lofty dreams of overcoming my laziness and actually making something of my basement someday... of putting in some carpeting, throwing a clean slipcover on that couch, and creating a party room of sorts down there. There's actually a funky old bar and light fixture and a couple of leftover beer steins and bottle openers, too. Oh, and an old retro rotary-dial telephone. I actually really wish I could still plug this into a phone jack today.

My house has even maybe suggested to me some new hobbies. I mean, I said I wanted to reclaim my interest in art... Perhaps whittling is the handicraft for me...

I have no idea who Willie is, but he does some fine work; wouldn't you agree?


nabbalicious said...

That couch is delightfully tacky. Actually, all of it is! I love it.

Aaron said...

I don't golf (okay, I mini golf, but that's different), but nevertheless, if it was me, I would go out and invest in a box of golf balls just to "Ralph" stamp them.

I do a lot of pointless things.

3carnations said...

That's awesome. In my house, they left behind an old laundry basket that I managed to find a use for, a bunch of paint (probably lead based) and a really large piece of wood. I don't recall if there was anything else, but it was almost 12 years ago...

Stefanie said...

Nabb--I totally should have sent you a "whittled by Willie" duck for your contest prize. :-)

Aaron--I don't golf either, but now I am wondering what else I could stamp "Ralph" on.

3Cs--Aren't you the same age as I am? Did you BUY a HOUSE at 21?? If so, wow. You really were a grown-up at a quite early age!

3carnations said...

I bought it with my ex. When he took off, I got a second job and bought him out of it. I was nothing if not motivated. He left me when I was 24, and I figured I would have to wait a long time to buy a house again (plus home prices went up a lot in the late 90s) so I took advantage of the opportunity. I worked about 70 hours a week for 7 months to do it, but it was worth it. :)

lizgwiz said...

Ooh, I want a Scandia Figure Firmer, too!

That couch reminds me of my grandmother. :)

Pam said...

The owners of my house before me were incredibly anal-retentive, which really worked in my favor. They left me a lot of good, useful things, plus a collection of beer bottles. No idea why.

I think Regis & Kelly have an "ugly couch" contest every year. With that couch and your stories, you totally would win!

Noelle said...

Thanks for the tour! It must feel nice to be so close to the one previous owner of the house. I think I know someone who can make that phone work for you...

Whiskeymarie said...

Other than colonial-themed curtains that EXACTLY matched the wallpaper in the living room, there wasn't so much as a bread crumb left in our house when we bought it.
But, 8 years in we still get mail for Delores, who I'm pretty sure is dead now.

I have a rotary phone too! (actually, I have two)
We used the wall one in the kitchen when we still had a land line- we actually had to pay extra to have rotary service. I kind of miss it- it had that perfect phone "ring" and it felt really satisfying to have to dial out numbers so slowly.

Kelli said...

I found an old rotary phone just like that in my grandma's basement. She gave it to me, and it totally still works! Though, I had to get an adapter for the plug. It's an awesome phone!

steve said...

I second and third the comments on the phone... with a little manual wiring you could get that baby workin'!

-R- said...

Growing up, I had a rotary phone in my bedroom. It was shaped like a helicopter.

All our old homeowners left us were some cleaning supplies. Fine with us, but not as interesting!

L Sass said...

You really inherited some treasures from Ralph! Do you think he used the Figure Firmer himself, or was that for his wife?

Poppy Cede said...

Stef? I'm still waiting to hear how exactly you almost broke your toe taking the photos. Did I miss something?

Stefanie said...

3Cs--Ah, I see. I am exhausted just thinking about those hours. Glad you made it work!

Liz--I just Googled that to see what was out there, and there are at least two available on eBay! (You know, if you really want one...) ;-)

Pam--I suppose Ralph's family left me with some "useful" things, but a whole lot of useless crap as well. Given the choice, I think I'd have just preferred an empty house.

Noelle--Yeah, I suppose it's sort of charming knowing I'm only the second owner, but sometimes I've felt a little TOO close to Ralph! (My overactive imagination worries sometimes that he might still be there.) :-( Also, you know someone who fixes telephones?? Is it that super-handy Birmingham?

WM--You have to pay extra to use a rotary phone?? Between that and no caller ID on it, I'm starting to doubt whether it's worth it...

Kelli--So you don't have to pay extra for the rotary service? Well that's good...

Steve--I don't suppose it's as simple as just swapping out the cord, is it? (I should investigate that...)

R--A helicopter phone?? Please tell me you have a picture. :-) (Actually, I am just jealous that you had a phone in your room at all! My mother didn't believe in us having our own phone.)

L Sass--Ha! I've always just assumed it was his wife's, but I sort of love the idea that Ralph himself used it!

Poppy--I tripped on a pipe about ten feet from that work table. I still have no idea how I whacked my toe hard enough and at such an angle to do the damage I did, but man, it still hurts. :-(

Poppy Cede said...

You should see the "EWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW" look on my face right now. Ow.

Maliavale said...

Fine enough that I can't tell if that's an 8 or a 6 in the date on the ... wooden rock?

The Other Girl said...

I don't think I can fully express my love for this post. There's something kind of sweet about Ralph's family leaving these things behind and you keeping them. Although you might want to periodically announce to Ralph that he should go toward the light, just in case.

nancypearlwannabe said...

Yay house! Your basement definitely needs a psychedelic touch though. Maybe on your next trip east you can pick up some neon paints in Rochester.

Stefanie said...

Malia--You know, good point. I can't tell either! I'm thinking it's an 8. And it's the underside of a duck. I don't know why I didn't take a closer picture of them. I think because I was originally going to write about that lamp next to the shelf where they sit, too, and I was too lazy to go back and take a close-up duck picture later.

TOG--I know; at this point, I feel like I've kept all this crap so long that it HAS to remain part of the house! I don't suppose I'll have luck explaining that to whomever buys the house from me someday, though.

NPW--When I finally get around to decorating down there, I will surely consider being inspired by the Bug Jar. :-)

Simone said...

omg Stef! I would totally love the golf ball marker...does it work? My dad's name is Ralph and he is old and can be a bit cheap...that would be a funny thing to give him. Except he'd actually probably use it!