Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Old Homes

Epu and I have several Old Homes -- my hometown, his hometown, Madison, San Francisco, even Beijing and our old Chicago neighborhood have that old home feeling for us. Every time you go back to your old home, you see it with new eyes. Going back to Madison this year, we were surprised to see how low-slung the buildings were in the place we once considered a Big City. We were not surprised by how much we still loved the place and how at home we felt there.

Now we've just returned from our longest-standing and dearest Old Home, San Francisco. I was able to check on my heart, which yes, I had left there. Still beating.

Yes, the old place looks different to our new eyes. The houses look washed out by the rain and by landlord neglect, so much so that we shook our heads at the dollar signs attached to San Francisco properties. When we were local, we could only see a sexy piece of real estate when we saw a battered 90-year-old building sinking into a hill with a homeless guy parking his cart on the cement front yard.

San Francisco looked to me this time around as a temple for self-worship, and not necessarily in a bad way. We stayed in two delicious neighborhoods, full of choice organic groceries, ethnic food, books, books, books, and performance footwear. These are neighborhoods for people who take the husbandry of their bodies and souls as a prime responsibility. The salespeople here know how to guide one to the proper shoe choices for the weekend rock climber who also belongs to three different gyms and dances salsa and does yoga on alternating Thursday nights.

Why are the people buying these things so different from the people buying conventional produce at my local Jewel and lottery tickets and crapucinno at my 7-11?

I can think of a few things. Certainly the natural beauty and outdoor opportunities of San Francisco attracts the active types. This is a place where you can kayak one weekend, ski the next and climb Half Dome the one after that.

The people who are still in San Francisco after the real estate run-ups of the last decade are the products of natural selection. Gone are the families who produced more than one child, except for the very wealthiest ones. Ditto for those who longed to own their own home with household incomes under, say, $150,000.

And finally I think the lack of home ownership has a liberating effect. All the friends we visited at home have acquired fabulous apartments, by hook or by crook. They personalize their apartments with their stuff and their lifestyle -- one was overflowing with plants in various stages of rehabilitation, one was impeccably tidy and full of personal travel photos, while the other was brimming with kids toys and art supplies and books.

But the walls around those possessions? Apartment dwellers take what they get, and they don't internalize it if a wall needs painting, has cracks, has a ridiculous modern window cut into a wall with Victorian trim.

Not having to take care of real estate, not having to worry about a growing crack in an old wall or a roof wearing thin, is liberating. Not having to watch the skies and plan for shoveling and salting and digging out parking spaces is liberating too. I think it frees people to concentrate on the upkeep and betterment of themselves and their pets or maybe their one child.

Would I go back? Well, when we came into this old house, our New Home, last night, it was like embracing a family member we'd left behind. Nutmeg ran to her toys, Pebbles crawled around jargoning happily, and I drank in the wall colors we'd chosen, the shiny countertops my mom had cleaned for me while we were gone.

The house, the kids, the demands of the seasons here in the Midwest, the responsibilities of belonging to a neighborhood community, they're all burdens. They change us, and they make us love them, even if we didn't wanna do it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

welcome to the real world of mortgages, responsibilites, and raising children. your former homes will always be treasured memories and justly so.. how wonderful that you both had the oportunities to travel and get a taste of many different places. you did it while you were still young and saw it though young eyes.. but now you can see that roots are important too. raising a family becomes the top priority .. the joy of that and the busy life it entails enriches us and fills our daily needs.. make the most of the time now, as it is fleeting and soon children leave for college and you will be empty nesters and ready to face another faze in your lives.. live life to the fullest and enjoy each and every day. god bless you all.