There’s something beautiful about a lived-in house.
For a few years now, my mother, my older sister and I have been urging my father to sell our childhood home. He was the only one living there, as my parents, while still married, separated many years ago for various reasons. After 35 years, the house had become increasingly worn down and harder for my 73-year-old dad to take care of.
My relationship with that house was a complicated one, like many of the relationships in our lives.
It was the house where I made tiny villages for make-believe elves and fairies, out of sticks and leaves and other things I found on the ground, built at the base of giant trees that stood tall in our backyard.
It was the house where, one summer, my sister became obsessed with mural painting, so she took her amateur artistic skills to her own walls and painted murals of Winnie-the-Pooh and Dr. Seuss characters. She never was a painter, but honestly, her murals were pretty good.
It was the house where my father, a chef and wine connoisseur, decoupaged wine labels onto a kitchen door, a unique feature that I loved to show off to guests.
It was the house where my mother had thrown all of my belongings on the yard a few times, teaching me the invaluable lesson that if I didn't clean my room, she would clean it for me.
It was the house where my family, after dinner parties or other gatherings, would roll up the carpet in our living room and dance to Gloria Gaynor, Diana Ross and Donna Summer.
It was the house where I sneaked out a hook-up when my parents came home early, only to later have my dad ask me: “Who was that young man leaving earlier today?”
It was the house that saw so many arguments and fights between my family, some so painful they feel like they just happened yesterday.
It was the house that my dad finally sold this fall.
I hadn’t been back in some time, but something compelled me to return home. I couldn’t bear the thought of not seeing my old house one last time. So while visiting the area for Thanksgiving, I made sure to stop by 103 East Rose Valley Road for a proper goodbye.
The hydrangea bushes in the front yard that once boasted beautiful bright pink flowers were now barren. A sign in front boasted a yard sale, my dad trying to get as much cash as he could for whatever he could sell. No, dad, I don’t think anyone wants a TV with a VCR.
I went to my bedroom to go through shelves of dusty stuffed animals. Beanies Babies that once were literally my only friends were still there where I had left them. My door was adorned with paintings and posters of some of my favorite things. The “Gilmore Girls” were there, as well as a magazine editorial of “Chicago,” the movie featuring Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Going through my childhood belongings, I started to look at my room a little differently. I remembered being obsessed with summer storms as they rolled by, watching them from my bedside window and loving the thunder and lighting. I found the encyclopedia I created all about ancient Egypt, another passion of mine. That little boy was lonely, but he managed to find some pretty amazing things to replace the loneliness with.
As the day passed, I mourned the good days that this house had seen. But I also remembered the more painful ones that happened there. Going back and saying goodbye was a reminder that I made it out OK, and possibly better because of it all.
It was a reminder I needed now more than ever.
These days, it seems like we all desire an Instagrammable, picture-perfect life. Families in matching pajamas at Christmas. Buff and beautiful bodies leaving the gym. I admit I've fallen for this, and my own desire to have a "shareable" life has sometimes prevented me from experiencing actual life.
The house I left behind wasn’t really Instagrammable. It was worn and a little dirty. The Winnie-the-Pooh murals had faded and the wine labels on the door were tearing. But there was something painfully beautiful about it. I'm glad I had the chance to go back before this “fixer upper” will ultimately be gutted to make way for an open concept kitchen and shiplap walls.
I’m sure the next inhabitants will be a young couple drawn to the neighborhood for the amazing school district. Hopefully they aren’t too keen on keeping that shiplap pristine white. Hopefully they let their daughter test her artistic skills on the walls, and let their son dig holes in the yard for elves and fairies.
Hopefully, an obsession with perfection doesn't prevent the new family in this house from living a real, messy life.
Because there’s something really beautiful about a lived-in house.