Okay, time for the second part of my talk about having a place to call home. (Yeah, it’s a lengthy topic.) I spent my last post talking about the apartments I’ve called home here in Madison; if you haven’t read that yet, please go ahead and do so. I want to devote this post to my family’s housing situations. I’ll begin with the oldest of my two sisters; she’s the one who’s 13 months younger than I am and who, before she moved out of Green Bay to live with the man she’d eventually marry, shared an apartment and later a duplex with me. About 17 months after she married that man and just as their first child (my goddaughter) was about to arrive into the world, they moved into a lovely 3-bedroom home on the outskirts of their home town. Before then, they had rented out a cozy 2-floor house several miles away. It was a little too cozy for their growing family, hence the need for new space.
In the 14 years since they moved in, they have had two children, two dogs, three cats, a couple of cars, a couple of more trucks, and lots of memories. Speaking of memories, I’m impressed by this fact: That house is the only one their children have lived in since their birth. That’s an experience my siblings and I never had, as we moved several times with our family during our youths. That’s not to say their parents considered moving their family: Sis and her hubby did consider relocating to another home closer to where they worked at the time. But changes in their business and employment situations would rule that out, and they’ve never given any further thought about moving. In fact, just last year, they remodeled their home’s master bathroom and have plans to do the same with a smaller bathroom.
Our youngest sister’s housing situation has settled in the past couple of years, although it wasn’t always that way. Even before she and her now-former husband married, they and their two daughters shared a narrow house in northern Michigan, one situated up the street from a furniture factory and right next to a pretty busy railroad line (reroutes in travel plans were common if a train was going through).
About 6 or 7 years after marrying, they moved their family across the state line to a nice 4-bedroom home in rural northern Wisconsin. I was impressed by how nice the house was and the efforts they made toward putting their stamp on the place. I was absolutely blown away, however, by the house’s quiet, wooded surroundings, a centerpiece of which was a pond about 450 feet or so north of the house. Even though it was a man-made pond and not connected to any freshwater, the younger of their two daughters (and my second youngest niece) was always certain that the pond had fish. One July 4th weekend, I actually walked with her back to that pond to “fish,” complete with a makeshift “fishing pole” consisting of nothing more than a big rock attached to a string of yarn and the pleading call of “Here, fishy fishy fishy.” Truth be told, the pond had more frogs and tadpoles than fish, but we did nothing to dissuade her. (Her mom actually hinted that maybe there were small fish back there, but who knows?)
But my little sis and her husband would eventually divorce. She would hook up with a new boyfriend immediately after that, and together they would move into the city and purchase a house that, believe it or not, is over a century old! It also needed a lot of fixing up, though, meaning frequent trips to the home improvement center for paint, tiles, etc. I recall them telling how someone asked them, “What are you going to do with that house? Flip it?” They stunned them with their answer, “No, we’re going to live in it.”
So, how much of an improvement did they put into that house? Let’s just say that not a single room in that two-floor, 4-bedroom house went unchanged. The kitchen and dining area had the greatest changes, as I recall in the couple of times I saw the house with my mom and sister. Little Sis, her boyfriend, and their respective children have done an amazing job remodeling the house. A couple of minor things may have been left for later, but I’m sure they have cared for them already or have plans to do so by the time our family gathers at Little Sis’ house later this month for an Easter weekend get together.
Which brings me to my mom. I have mentioned in a previous post about how my mom owned a bar/restaurant for 14 years. It was a rather small business, really: It had a bar with 10 seats on one end, a dining area that seated just under 50 people on the other end… and very small living quarters right upstairs. How small? Let’s just say that there was no room for a living room, only space for a bedroom, a bathroom, and an office that was the size of a postage stamp. I’m sure the slanted roof constricting the living space didn’t help. Before mom turned 66 years old, she sold the bar/restaurant and moved into an awesome house on a corner lot in town (the same town my younger sister and her family lives in). The way Mom told the story, she was touring several houses in the area, and when she saw the house she would move into, she immediately fell head over heels in love with it. Her favorite part of the house was a sun porch on the west side of the house, one with screen windows on each side save the one leading into the house itself. She said she had a dream right afterwards of sitting in that sun porch and enjoying a lovely mid-summer evening. She’s not too much of a religious person, but she wound up praying a lot for the chance to buy that house, and sure enough, her dreams and prayers came true. The sale of her bar/restaurant was completed on Labor Day weekend 2012, the same weekend we helped her move into the house you see below. (I’m apprehensive to show it, but just this once I will sacrifice the chance of Male Mode Me’s cover being blown in order to show you what a wonderful house it was.)
In the few years that followed, the house served as a new place for the whole family to gather during the holidays. The grownups would hold court and play cards upstairs, while Mom’s grandchildren would frolic in a spacious basement (where Mom would also exercise and keep her craft work) or run around the block (it was a very pleasant neighborhood). Since it had 3 bedrooms, I would get to spend a weekend or two or a few staying over and sleeping in the spare bedroom, one where Mom’s cat would sleep if it was unoccupied. (The third bedroom was used for an office.) Mom also liked the house’s location as it was just two blocks — literally a small walking distance — away from the senior care center where she still holds a part-time job as a cook and housekeeper.
I also mentioned in a previous post that Mom is proud enough to not seek assistance when she needs it. That attitude gave her trouble about a year ago, and I found out about it through a phone call with my younger sister. When she asked if I had talked to Mom as of late and I said that I hadn’t, she talked about how Mom had fallen behind on her mortgage payments for her house, so much so that the bank foreclosed on her property. It was probably the first time I had ever recall Mom getting into such a difficult bind of any kind that she had to call for assistance. My sister said our mom was sobbing when she had to admit she needed help.
Luckily, Sis and her husband would help out Mom with her situation, albeit with stipulations: First, they agreed to purchase Mom’s house from the bank, meaning Mom was now renting, from her daughter, the house she truly loved. She also agreed to having a housemate, with an old friend from her bar/restaurant days, whom for reference I’ll call Judy, moving in. Judy brought some of her own belongings (including a bigger TV for the living room), claimed the spare bedroom (meaning I would have to sleep downstairs if I had to spend the weekend), and shared in some living expenses. Mom appeared to enjoy the arrangement with Judy, but I think she was enjoying more the fact that she still had a place to call home and not having to move in with her daughter or, worse, wind up out on the street.
A month ago, however, Mom called me with surprising news: She had reached an agreement to move into an apartment building the next town over (literally a 5-minute drive northward from where she lived) that catered to those 55 and over. The news actually saddened me, for I knew she loved that house dearly. But after I talked to Little Sis a day or so later, I started to understand (albeit with sadness and hesitation) my mom’s situation. Little Sis said that Mom still wanted to cut living expenses, and she had been having physical trouble trying to blow and shovel the snow out of her driveway whenever it snowed (she is 69 years old, mind you). So, rather than risk any further inconvenience on her part, she decided that now would be the time to seek a new place of residence.
So, with a hint of sadness (at least on my part), the family came together at Mom’s wonderful house one final time last Saturday. It was the day when we would help Mom move the last few belongings she still had in her house and transport them to her new senior apartment. (Judy had already vacated a day or two earlier.) One by one, we loaded our cars and trucks (and my brother-in-law’s covered trailer hitch) with box after box and item after item for the 5-minute drive northward.
The apartment that Mom now calls home is, well, smaller than the house she left behind. I wasn’t expecting anything spacious (it’s an apartment after all), but let’s just say the living room, bedrooms, and kitchen area are noticeably smaller than what she left behind. Naturally, there isn’t enough room for every little thing she had kept in her old place, so some of us kids claimed a few things. I, for one, bought Mom’s old microwave for $40 (her apartment has a modern microwave built in above the stove), and took for free a couple of knicknacks, including a decorative bird house that I don’t believe was ever used as an actual birdhouse (it’s just to darned beautiful to expose to the elements).
I always believed that Mom would be able to live a long and happy rest of her life in that old house. Now, she’s no longer there, choosing to live instead in another place where she will likely spend the rest of her days. As she joked(?) in passing to my sisters at one point last Saturday, “Don’t worry, the only way I’m going to be moving out of this new place is in a pine box.” (Rather dark humor on Mom’s part, for sure.)
Though I was now understanding Mom’s choice by the time I headed back to Madison, I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of sadness over her move. Sure, Mom appeared happy — even excited — about her decision to move and the move itself, for now she’ll be able to do better financially as well as, hopefully, physically. But she’ll likely never be able to host holiday get-togethers, at least of the scale they were in her old house. And for me at least, it just won’t ever be the same as it used to be, at least not right away. I held my feelings inside until I headed home, almost wanting to cry by the time I reached Madison.
At least everyone in our family — my mom, my sisters, their families, and myself — are still assured of having places that serve as shelters from the storm, as serene respites from a trying world. They may not be entirely perfect places, nor do they may not suit all of our needs, but we take comfort in the fact that we can call them… home.