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Archive for February 20, 2013

The Little House on Prairie Avenue

< by Jorie of themidwestmaven.wordpress.com >

Before I moved away to college, I had only called one place home — a cozy, three-bedroom, two-bath brick ranch house in suburban Chicago. Like all the others on the tree-lined avenue, it was built in the 1950s, part of a sleepy community erected in the post-WWII housing boom. From the outside, it’s nothing special. But to me, it’s a living museum.

When my parents moved in as newlyweds in 1973, it was their “starter home.” It wound up carrying them through the next four decades. My dad, a handyman if there ever was one, knocked out walls, remodeled the kitchen, and added a master bedroom and bath. Out went the wood paneling, orange shag carpeting, and avocado kitchen appliances of the ’70s; in came the earth tones, blond wood cabinets, and stenciled walls of the ’90s. Flipping through a family photo album is like shooting the house through a time machine of American interior design.

The lion’s share of my childhood and adolescent memories are set within a two-block radius of that address. When you know a place so intimately for so long, your memories start to layer over one another. The front yard is not just where my sister and I sold painted pinecones in a stroke of entrepreneurial genius as young kids. It’s also where I practiced pitching to my dad in grade school, where I posed for photos for the homecoming dance as a high school senior, and where I chased my parents’ new dog, Bodie, just two weeks ago.

Even though I’ve lived in other cities and no longer reside at that address, I can’t imagine calling any other place “home.” But I’ll find out what that feels like soon enough. My parents are itching for a new adventure, and they’ve started building their dream home in a different town.

I’ve already started to think about what I’ll do when they move. I’ll miss my home itself, the easy way I can maneuver around even in the pitch black, sure of every wall, every door knob. But what I’m most worried about is losing the physical anchor to all my memories, the neat storage space of my past.

The thought of a new couple moving in, oblivious to what has transpired here, is like a punch to the gut. I want to walk the next owners through the house, wagging my finger in their faces and reiterating how special this place is. “My dad did all this woodwork on the wall by hand, himself. There are two very important dogs buried there beneath that bush because it was their favorite shady spot to lie. The basement is a fantastic place to Rollerblade when it’s cold outside. Did you know there was once a 20-foot homemade rock climbing wall in the backyard?”

But for a little while longer, the house is still mine. And when I return to it, it’s always the same scene.

It’s quiet. I’m driving my car, I’m biking, I’m walking. I’m returning from a friend’s house, a long dance practice, a semester at college, a stressful week in my tiny Chicago apartment. It’s sunset, midnight, 7 a.m., and all the hours in between.

That little ranch house is glowing, lit up from the inside like a Norman Rockwell painting. Soft lamplight spills out everywhere through the open windows and doors.

From the end of the driveway, I can see two furry heads silhouetted in the doorway. My dad is tinkering with a project in the garage, reading in his armchair. My mom is stirring a pot on the stove, standing on a step-stool to water her plants. My sister is doing homework at the kitchen table, playing with the dogs in the living room. It’s all happening, all the time.

Ahhhh. There it is. I’m home.