The house is not a home

My mother-in-law and her husband are looking to move back to the small Iowa town where they used to live. In scanning the real estate listings, they came upon a listing for the house we used to live in when we lived there.


It’s been almost 12 years since we lived there, but I still think about that house more than you might imagine.  We spent the early years of our marriage in that house, brought a newborn baby home to it, and had the first of our cat deaths under that roof.  The clothesline in the picture above was installed by Heidi’s stepfather. We carpeted the stairs, repainted the walls and completely redid the bathroom.  We redid it primarily because it was woefully inadequate.  For starters, it was the only bathroom in the house and, while it was a full bathroom, had only a bathtub (i.e., no shower.)  As a kid that grew up in a house where the only shower was in the unfinished part of our basement, this didn’t really bother me too much.  We took baths all the time as kids.  But we knew that adding a shower would improve the resale value of the house and besides which, we wanted one.  After all, we were to the point where we wanted a shower.

We got a claw foot tub for free from the neighbors and bought a shower for it.  We replaced the floor and the tile on the walls.  We got a new sink and toilet.  It was a job.  We did it all ourselves with help from our fathers.  I still recall how, when Heidi’s dad was putting in new flooring, there was a hole in the floor that the cats got into.  I was nervous that he was just going to close them up in there.  Fortunately, they all left with us.

Unfortunately, the departure from that house was a whole lot sooner than we had thought.  When we redid the bathroom, we had no idea that in less than a year, we’d be pulling up stakes and moving.  We always say that it was the 2004 Democratic caucuses that prompted us to think about moving. After being treated very poorly by the people that we were supposedly most ideologically similar to, we decided that the small town life, while nice in theory, is less than ideal in reality.  The fact remains that in most small towns, if you don’t have grandparents buried in the cemetery, you’re never really “in.”  So I started looking for work elsewhere and in less than 3 weeks, I had applied, interviewed, been offered, and accepted the job I have now.  Of course, that meant we had to sell our house. No problem, right?  We had a new bathroom!

WRONG.  The house was an albatross around our necks for 18 months as try as we might, we could not move it.  It was a bad time to try to be selling a house in small town Iowa.  Ultimately, we took a huge loss on it just to get it off our hands.  I still kind of shudder when I think about how much I had to pay to stop being an owner of that house.

Seeing the pictures inside the house in the realtor’s listing really made me unexpectedly sad and nostalgic. Heidi would say “of course it did” but I honestly didn’t expect to feel the feelings I did when I looked at the inside of the house.  There are still bits of us in there.  I can still remember what it felt like to live there.  I’m very happy with the life I have now and the house I live in, but I can’t help but pine for the days when things were a little simpler. Or maybe they just seemed simpler.  The temptation to romanticize the past is sometimes difficult to resist.

My daughter doesn’t even remember the house, but I sure do.  I guess there’s something about the first house you own that makes it special, even if it did stick it to you financially. Even that can’t make me feel anything but fondness for it.

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