Preemptive Nostalgia

Oh look, there ARE fingerprints to wash off. Oh, good.

Oh look, there are still fingerprints. Good.

We are having work done in our house. My husband, the Hot Swede, is a very handy man who also happens to be a big idea guy. Thus, we are living through a year-long, epic, complete kitchen remodel and rebuild of the back third of our house. (Yes, I welcome your prayers and sympathies.) Really, I should have blogged about it from the beginning. It’s been quite an adventure.

He has done all the work himself, but the one job he always planned to hire out was taping (This is how seams and screws in new drywall get covered up and smoothed out.) With the exception of pouring concrete, there is no home improvement/construction task that he dislikes more. It is a job that takes finesse, expertise, and lots of practice. It is a job for a professional. An amateur can do it. He will spend three times the time and as much in materials and the result will not be as clean, but he can do it. It is one of those things, like moon landings and opera singing, that is best left to the pros.

As with all remodeling projects, ours has a tendency to leak into other parts of the house. We were going to have just the new drywall taped, but then we looked at the crumbly and cracking plaster ceilings on the rest of the main floor, and the holes handy Hot Swede cut to run new electrical. We thought, “What the heck, let’s get all this dusty, disruptive mess done at once.”

In preparation, we moved all the furniture off the main floor (with the exception of the piano and big ‘ol dining table.) The walls are bare, the rug rolled up. I even picked up all the kids’ stray socks. I thought it would feel great, getting everything out and uncluttered. But it made me sad. It made both of us sad. It felt like we were moving out and leaving.

When did this old building, this monster of responsibility, upkeep, and debt, become our home? When did it become a part of me?

When Hot Swede and I scraped, patched and painted it, we claimed it. When we removed horrible wallpaper and scarlet carpet, when we sanded and refinished kitchen cabinets, we claimed it. We filled it with the smells of our meals, laundry soap, shampoo, and one ill-chosen night of indoor hot-oil fondue that made the entire house smell like McDonalds for a month.

I brought each of my children home to this house. They grow, learn, and feel safe here. We have been healthy here. Whenever they leave, they have always come back to these walls.

We grow food in the yard and chase squirrels away from the peaches with Nerf guns. Every year, we watch the peonies come up, the buds swell and then watch as a spring rainstorm beats the glorious new blossoms to the ground. Every. year. We visit with neighbors in the front, and it is not uncommon for my neighbor to hand my kids ice cream treats across the fence.

Nearly daily, I complain and am stressed by the clutter, dirt, and general material chaos in this house. There are always piles of paper to sort, fingerprints to wash off, sprinklings of sand, food and glitter to be swept off the floor, and only once- watermelon to wash off the wall.

IMG_4171And yet, as I sit on the radiator, looking at the empty rooms, I am wistful for the mess of my life and the clutter of the people with whom I’m spending it.
Some day, when we are done with them and have moved on, these 100 year-old rooms will be emptied for keeps, for someone else to make their life within, or to be torn down and replaced. The woman who owned the house before us moved in as a newlywed and made her life here for 65 years. Her children still drive by and look at the house with eyes for their past.

In this moment, feeling its transience, knowing its temporal nature, I am immensely grateful for my time within these walls. Tomorrow, I will rail against the dust, curse the bills, and shake a fist at the piles of laundry (which, I’m afraid, are eternal,) but in this empty space, I see my incalculable blessings. The past was good. Today was good. And I am lucky.