by Elise Seyfried
I have no business owning a house. Especially an old house. Everything about its upkeep irritates me, and I resent every penny spent on it (and that’s been many a penny). Nothing interests me less than cleaning, unless perhaps it’s gardening, so our property is pretty neglected both inside and out. Sometimes I picture trying to sell it, followed by the look of utter horror on the realtor’s face as she takes the grand tour. Yes, I’d admit, the mammoth 40-year-old air conditioner is still in the family room. We only turn it on when the temperature tops 90 degrees because when we do, it shakes the whole place and makes so much noise we have to shout to be heard.
Yes, we still have only one (scary-looking) electrical outlet in the dining room, and no, we have never replaced our drafty windows, and we have been planning to refinish the living room floor since 1993. And yes, we’re still living with tiny closets better suited for Tom Thumb’s wardrobe. I’m pretty sure the agent’s verdict would be: our ideal buyer will arrive with a sledgehammer and start from scratch.
Part of the problem, granted, is our ridiculously tight budget, but that’s not all of it. I just really don’t enjoy home ownership. My early years were spent in a New York City apartment, and as I recall, it was Heaven. There was nothing to maintain; one quick phone call would get anything broken repaired. Best of all, when it was time to move, we could just close up shop and walk away.
As I grew older, and dad took different sales jobs, we began relocating frequently. Over the years, we lived in three houses (New York, Massachusetts and Georgia) and several apartments. My parents were truly dreadful homeowners, like me, but we never lived in one place long enough to do much damage. Our happiest times were spent in recently built apartment complexes, where you could even call someone to come change the light bulbs. (Mom actually did that.) Atlanta was especially great because EVERYTHING there was new — new expressways, mega-malls and office buildings.
Our early married years were spent in an old apartment building on Lincoln Drive in Mount Airy. We’d looked in vain for the type of brand-new dwelling we’d been accustomed to down South. OK, OK, the Lincoln Drive place had its charms, but it also had its clanking heater, ancient bathroom fixtures and a rickety elevator I was afraid to ride. In Philly we found that almost everything was on the older side, from the Schuylkill Expressway to the local Acme. Maddeningly, this didn’t seem to bother the locals in the slightest.
We’ve lived in Oreland since 1989, and the house predates that by a good 50 years. If these walls could talk, what stories they could tell? Sorry, but I prefer my walls to keep their mouths shut. Others might romanticize our abode and note the fine craftsmanship of the entranceway, the beauty of the old trees on our property. Not me! Given my druthers, I’ll take the very latest model every time!
So what’s my problem? Why do I not delight in my house?
My dislike of all old things is at the heart of it, probably. I see little value in antiques or vintage clothing. While I appreciate what occurred at historic sites back in the day, I’d enjoy them more if they were, you know, less dusty.
At any rate, here I am, saddled with a house of a certain age. A house that slowly but surely is falling down all around me. A house that, now that I think of it, is a mirror image of myself — getting old, poorly kept up. I put off all general maintenance on me for as long as possible (I hadn’t been to my doctor in so long that I had to re-introduce myself), and I know it’ll only get worse with the flipping of each calendar page. Soon it will be AARP and senior discount day at the grocery store, and I hate the thought.
When I’m in shiny new spaces of stainless steel and glass, I can forget for a while that I carry quite so much history inside of me. I feel like I can wipe the slate clean and start again. But in my heart, I know I can’t, really — none of us can. We can own the latest gadgets and live in a 2013 dream house, but the years catch up with us anyway.
I’ll probably keep yearning for a sleek high-rise (and, honestly, a sleek young Elise), but for now this old house is my home. Maybe it’s time to start taking care of us both.