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©November 2000

Carol Jane Remsburg



House Verses Home




Some dusty text states that the average human moves about fifteen times over the course of their life, I'm beginning to think that's a conservative estimate at best.  Consider this, the really poor ever never move because where they abide is such a hovel that no one else wants it or they don't actually have one at all and never make the count.  On the other hand, the truly rich with a heritage never move because they have the family estates to maintain.  What does that leave?  Well, it leaves most of the rest of us.


I'm not much of a mover, but when I think about it over the course of my forty years, I've moved ten times already.  This only leaves me five more moves to go—to be average.  Most of us aren't average.  I pronounced upon my last move, some fifteen years ago, that this move would be my last.  I made this decision after hubby took a header down a long flight of concrete stairs with one of those massive oak TV consoles that were so popular in the 80's; the kind that bankrupted many a family.  Both my spouse and the console survived and both were mightily marked from that day forth. 


By societies standards, we may move up or down.  Still, when we inspect what will be our new abode its emptiness is daunting.  We want to own that soil beneath the structure.  With apartments and with condos, life is continually transient and based upon our ability to meet the rent/mortgage.  Home ownership is a whole world away.  You don't often see Grandpa sitting outside the elevator doors at his penthouse stop with the old family shotgun wait'n for them foreclosure folks.  However, on their small patch of dirt with the rickety, leaning shack, it's a definite possibility.  Be sure step lively to avoid the buckshot and the spit.


So why do we buy?  We want to own it, claim it as ours, and bargain with the mortgage company for the next 15-30 years barring a home equity loan to get the kids through college, a debt reconsolidation, or a rehab of said dwelling to further our indebtedness.  We keep hoping that in the end, our decision will be wise and it will be ours and the revenuers won't take too much out of us in their annual swipe of taxes.  We want a sense of place in this giddy world.  We want a stake in this earth that is solely ours and that no other can lay claim to.


Simply owning a piece of property isn't the same as having a home.  A house is something we must not only maintain but also continually improve upon.  Just as with living, we constantly learn and grow.  If you've ever bought a house and promised the most productive years of your life into slavery to pay the purchase, then you know that owning a home is nothing to sneeze at.  Making that empty house full is easy.  Making that same house into a home takes much more.


It's more than unclogging that drain in the bathroom sink.  It's more than putting a new roof on, adding insulation to an aging home, and refurbishing the heating system, the kitchen, and the rest of the interior.  All of that only takes money.  Well, it takes money and sweat if you are doing most of the work yourself, but that still doesn't make it a home.  The most broken down structure in your neighborhood could turn out to be the best home of the bunch. 


Remember when you were a kid?  Visiting Grandma's house often felt more like home than your own.  The house/apartment (even) felt alive.  There would be music, light, favorite cooking smells, laughter, and warmth.  It was always a locale with history—your history.  It was where we belonged.  Perhaps out of step with the rest of the world, the address would welcome all that entered in an embrace.  It was only after we aged a bit that we noticed the smoky singe on the paint in the corners of each room and that the furnishings were frayed.  Often they were four walls filled with bad paintings, clutter, and uncomfortable upholstery.  By our mid-teens we'd avoid Grandma's house and never take our new friends there even though we'd slink back for comfort after having been brought low by some crushing social crisis of teenism.


These weren't marble Mediterranean villas with twenty-foot ceilings with silk sheers wafting in and out with the breeze through the vast doors that lay open to the terrace overlooking the ocean.  Picassos didn't hang from the walls and sterling antiques weren't the décor.  We didn't lounge on the chaise in flowing gowns or stuffy suits sipping vintage wines.  No, these were often overheated small hovels where linoleum reigned.  There was usually a tall chair in the corner of the kitchen that pulled out into a stepladder was where you often sat to suffer your weekly dose of cod liver oil when you were a tot.  Everyone there knew everything both great and rotten that you'd ever done since soiling your first diaper.  Gleeful recountings of all resounded from within. 


In a real home, you can laugh, cry, suffer, hide, rejoice, and rest.  Once a house accepts you, it becomes an extension of yourself.  It endures your type of clutter or even your type of sparseness.  You learn how to sneak down the hall or the stairs past that one creaky spot to either avoid devilment or to discover it.  It's that one closet where you can toss everything lying about when unexpected, and likely unwelcome company pulls into the drive.  It's when you walk back from the mailbox one day and notice your home anew.  We catch ourselves standing there upon that tiny patch of dirt we claim for our own and feel warm.  We smile without conscious thought.  There is nothing more visceral than that feeling—one of ownership.  Wars have been fought for less, but your home will welcome all.  What it provides after 20-50 years of living is a history of ourselves.  The making of a home takes time, perhaps not that long, but it does take it.


Oh, with enough money and enough time any of us could purchase and furnish something that Better Homes and Gardens would weep over, but it could never become a real home unless we make it so.  Homes are filled with our secrets—good and bad.  They live with us through our triumphs and our tragedies, through death, illness, and shame.  Each morning we rush out those doors and hurry back each evening. 


Once a house becomes a home, it is no longer a four-walled dwelling.  It denies your faults and accepts you just as you accept it and ignore its imperfections.  It is a place where trust is built and shared.  We open the doors and allow our love and light to spill out into the darkness while welcoming the rest of the world.


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