passion

I grew up in a 1927 Dutch Colonial which my mother and father spent painstaking hours restoring. My father, a cake decorator by trade but not by schooling, went to work six days a week at a bakery, starting his day at 4:00 a.m., returning home from work at 2 p.m., and continued work on the house most nights and weekends for as long as I can remember.  When he died in 1996, it still wasn’t finished.

As a child, my house was filled with the sounds of the table saw and my father methodically sanding and planing doorways, baseboards, and any piece of wood in the house that didn’t move.  The smell of his bakery whites and fresh lumber were comforting and constant. And the light over his basement workbench inevitably burned well into the night.  When we went on vacation, we usually made time to visit one historic home or another – the Hudson River’s beautiful 1804 mansion named Boscobel, the House of the Seven Gables in Salem, Orchard House where Louisa May Alcott grew up – and every time we would jokingly warn my father he couldn’t bring a screw driver, couldn’t take any of the doorknobs or light fixtures. And I remember car trips around town on “big trash day” where we would pull over so dad could unscrew sashlocks or chains from discarded windows, or take glass door knobs off of doors that had worn out their welcome. Everything architectural became a treasure.

I find myself doing much the same thing these days. My purse has become the homebase for architectural digs. It houses a notepad that has measurements of windows, doorways, and wall spaces, just in case. Sometimes it has the random screw that needs to be matched, or a paint chip for a room that needs the perfect accessory. Going to an estate sale is just as thrilling as getting invited to a college party used to be, where finding new antiques is like meeting new friends. I find myself wondering the story behind the possessions that I acquire, wondering as I walk through the home what the family who has moved on was like.

And I could spend hours at ReStore, a Philadelphia architectural salvage store. And I have. Armed with my tape measure and notebook and husband, I have lovingly run my hands over banisters that have lost their homes, and fingered glass tiles are no longer lining someone’s bathroom walls. And sometimes I wonder whether the radiator cover we bought used to be a favorite sitting place to someone else’s cat. Because mine are very grateful for the extra metal warmth.

And I wonder what my father would think of my newfound passion.

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home sweet home

On September 28, 2010, I began my day by packing up my desk.  It was my last day of work. A year after getting my B.A. in English (I know, what do you do with that degree?) I began as an administrative assistant. I worked full time and earned my M.A. in Writing Studies at the same time (and yes, I know, what do you do with that on top of your B.A.??). And then I worked my way up and became a program manager. And after a few years, I lost my job. The program I ran was sold. They didn’t know what else to do with me. And that was it. I had mixed emotions, thinking that life must have something better in store for me and that it was just the beginning of a new and exciting chapter of life.  In a way, I was undoubtedly right. Because on October 3, I got married.

After years spent apart, me in the Philly burbs and my husband stationed in Hawaii, and at times deployed, we were living together and now sharing a life together. We had a beautiful wedding. We had family and friends surrounding us as we began the first of our new chapters together.

And despite having lost my job, we began looking at houses.  A small two bedroom apartment, two adults, two cats, and all the belongings that go with it – and all the books that writer/reader/ me own – don’t make for comfortable living. We thought a house was a dream, almost an impossibility. But we figured having a wish list and seeing what was out there was worth it. We had an amazing real estate agent who was patient, kind, and understood we didn’t want a typical new clean home. We wanted character and wood floors and a fireplace. We wanted a home with history. And then we found out, despite my not working full time, and despite my husband being a full time student finishing his bachelor’s, we could still do it. We could have the character and all that went with it.

In May of 2011, we had it. We had keys.  We had a 1929 Center Hall Colonial. We had a mortgage. We had a 2,200 square foot house full of dust bunnies, dirty tile floors, and knob & tube wiring. We had a quarter of an acre of gardens and grass neglected and overgrown. We had a garage that was decidedly tilted to one side. We had horrible wall paper, dirty and cracked paint, and a kitchen born in the 1980s. We had a basement that decided to take on water in heavy rain storms.

And I was right – it was a new chapter. We had a home. And we loved it from day one.