They say you should always leave a place better than you found it.
In June of 1997, I bought my first house. It was in an older neighborhood, was almost 80 years old, and was in rough condition. It was HUD house that had been foreclosed on and the previous occupants were, let’s say, far from neat freaks. I made $7.70 per hour working in a warehouse as a forklift operator, so buying a $200k house in St. Charles was out of the question.
The house came with a big yard, that was an equally large mess. Bricks and debris littered the back quarter. A dead tree stood like a tombstone in the center of the yard. The yard was not fenced in and there was a considerable amount of brush along what fence did exist.
The first months in this house were a massive amount of work. We were unable to acquire an occupancy permit until we moved every outlet out of floor mounted boxes and in to the walls. Fortunately, I grew up with a father who taught me how to wire electrical, how to run plumbing, how to build a wall. Rachel had no qualms about getting her hands dirty, swinging a hammer and breaking a sweat. We had to do most of the work ourselves in addition to taking care of a toddler and an infant.
A little more than a year after buying my house, I got a job at AT&T. It was a significant step up in salary and afforded us the ability to do many of the remodeling projects we wanted to do. Over time, we remodeled the bathroom (twice!), upgraded appliances and windows, installed new carpet. What started as a small water pond turned into a beautiful garden complete with a waterfall, frogs and fish. My music studio was completely remodeled with new electrical outlets on two separate circuits and recessed lighting in a new drop ceiling that graced the royal purple walls. We recently refinished all the main floor back to the original hardwoods. There is barely a square inch of this house that has not been remodeled since our purchase.
Rationally, a house is just a thing. A collection of concrete, wood, copper and glass arranged to avoid killing its occupants. But, as anyone who has lived somewhere for any amount of time can tell you, it is far more than that. A house absorbs the energy of its inhabitants, taking a small piece of that life and storing it within itself. Rachel and I raised two girls in this house. They learned to spell here, learned to drive here, fell in love here and launched their adult lives from here. Many great musicians graced these walls. We made friends and enemies with our neighbors. Friends laughed, cried, and passed out here. I almost died in this house, literally. All of these things leave a mark on a seemingly inanimate structure and as we prepare to leave this house that I so hate and so love, it is only natural to reflect on all that has happened within these walls.
My neighbor, John, who lived here long before us told us about the people who owned this house before us. They held little regard for the property and the evidence was pretty clear. As we say goodbye to our house on Calvert Avenue and we pass this house on to new owners I hope they see the value we placed on this home and they continue the tradition of improvement. I hope as they live and grow here that they benefit from the wonderful energy we leave behind and add to it as the house passes the century mark.
I would like to believe that while we are leaving this house in much better condition than we found it, the house is also leaving us in much better condition than we arrived.