CHEESEBOX, BEGINNING AND END

Wed., August 20, 11:59 AM

You may or may not have read a lot of this material before. It has been simmering — or festering — for years. I have managed to condense it into a mere four or five pages.

In 1970 my husband and I had been married almost two years. We were living, with our baby, in a third floor walkup when I became pregnant with our second child. Although I had managed fairly well on the third floor with one baby, I knew I couldn’t do it with two. Larger apartments were expensive, at least for our budget, and so we began looking at houses. To our surprise, we discovered that the monthly payments for a house were less than rent on an apartment.

We looked at this little house that was being sold as a “raised ranch.” Well, it is raised; the living quarters are set on top of the garage and basement. That meant the storage space was just as large as the house. But the only way it resembled a ranch was that it was all on one level. Basically, it is just a box. One box at ground level, a quarter of which is the garage. Another box on top, which is the living quarters. It’s barely more than a thousand square feet

Brand new and within our means, it had some features I really liked: the kitchen at the front; located at a dead end, with a big yard; and lots of greenery for a scenic view. It was completely electric, which meant that we wouldn’t have to worry about an oil burner and tank or getting deliveries. (I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of cooking with electricity rather than gas, but I figured I would get used to it.)

I always loved having the kitchen at the front. The morning sun brightened our breakfast, and I could always check on the kids from the kitchen window. From one window I could see whatever was going on in the street, and from the other I had a view of trees and grasses. Half of the room is kitchen, with built-in cabinets and counters, and I never minded that it wasn’t the “triangle” suggested by the ladies magazines. The other half of the room is the dining area, with a hanging light over the table. I put in a small credenza to divide the two functions. Storing dishes in the credenza was supposed to make it easy for the children to help set the table — in my dreams.

At the back of the house are two bedrooms, neither of which is especially large. The only thing that makes one of them a “master” is that it has the largest closet. One other small bedroom is across from the bathroom, and that was all the living space we had. I thought it would all work very well for a couple with two children. Maybe it would have been; “what if” in the past is fiction. (For starters, the two children became three…)

For the story of our move into the Cheesebox, if you haven’t read it already, see Comedy of Errors. I guess I am not destined ever to have an easy move.

I digress. There were odds and ends that we discovered that first year, that demonstrated more than a little corner cutting. (When I began serious improvements on the house, contractors found several more.) My husband noticed — thankfully before I tried to hang the shower curtain — that no anchors had been installed with the rod. He took it down and reinstalled it, with anchors.

I noticed that doors manufactured for three hinges were hung with only two. They’re still that way; some things are not that important.

Possibilities of using the basement were limited. There was a place to install an extra toilet, which would have been nice, but the hoarder covered it up within a month or two. (I never saw it again until we cleaned out after the first flood.) The washer and dryer worked well, but there was no sink or even a tap otherwise. If I wanted to rinse the measuring cup after I added detergent, I held it in the stream as the washer filled.

The neighbors at that time had misgivings about the house. The mother of Miss Neighbor Next Door had offered to buy half the land if the builder would donate the rest to the city. (I guess she thought we would be as negligent as her neighbors on the other side.) She also was certain that the big oak tree in the front was going to fall. It’s still there, doing fine. Another neighbor told me about how the house was built. The first crew came in and started to dig for the foundation; they hit water. So they filled it in and used a different set of plans, which is why you could walk into our basement and why, for forty years, I had the driest basement on the block.

We all settled in to the comings and goings of the house. My husband was a fixer, and he was always repairing or improving something. The laws of having extension phones changed, and he saw to it that there was a phone outlet in every room. He doubled up the electric outlets — I had some doubts about safety, but it never seemed to cause a problem. He even wired my hutch, so that — theoretically — we could serve warm foods at a party. (We never had that kind of party, of course, but we could have.)

I let my husband take care of the lawn, even if he didn’t do it the way I did. There were weeds and bramble at one side of the property, which should have been cut back, but he was happy to let the lawn get a little smaller each year.

He put up a television antenna as well as one for short wave radio, which we listened to a great deal. He kept the gutters clear, though it always scared me. My acrophobia is such that I don’t even want to watch other people climbing. He made a peephole in the front door, at a height that I could see through. (I know I have shrunk because I can no longer see through the peephole.) If nothing else, the “upstairs” was comfortable.

Downstairs was another story entirely. I had a washer and drier, and I knew where the water heater, the breaker board, and the water meter were. All other space was taken up by things that my husband was storing. Some of it was useful — paper products, for example. But he saved paper bags and plastic bags that we never needed. (They were there for at least twenty years; I looked at the dated promotions printed on the bags.)

There was also a lot of “stuff” that he picked up at tag sales. He was going to fix it “when he got around to it” Years later I began quietly discarding some of the stuff, including that which had become moldy before we bought a dehumidifier for the basement.

As the children got older, I was able to explore my surroundings. We had chosen a pretty good neighborhood. There was a playground down the street. Several blocks away — not too far — was a little store that sold eggs and fresh produce.

The elementary school was seven blocks away, and when my oldest child began kindergarten, I pushed the other two in the stroller as I walked to the school and back twice a day. A couple of blocks beyond the school stood a small Stop & Shop, and I could do “small shopping” during the week; “big shopping” was done at a larger Stop & Shop when my husband — the driver — was available.

The synagogue was a couple of blocks from the school in a different direction. It was close enough that I could walk to services occasionally and, when the kids became old enough for Hebrew school, they could walk there after school. Their daddy could pick them up when he came home from work. I had thought I could pick them up myself, but it would make supper quite late.

So life goes on. The kids were all in school, I finally got my driver’s license and returned to the work force. The next Cheesebox event was The Fire in 1989.

Oh, yes, let us talk about The Garage, that formerly useful area that I lost permanently when The Gentleman moved in. (That was a few years later, of course.) Just another possibility that didn’t work.

When all of the kids had moved out, I began sleeping in what had been the girls’ room and made my son’s room my “office.” By that time my husband had retired and was doing his “sleep-all-day-up-all-night” thing, and I was still getting up at 5:30 a.m., so it made sense not to try to sleep in the same room. At the same time, I enjoyed being able to spread things out a little. I even set up the ironing board in a corner of the office.

Then U.D. moved back home one more time. Every time she came back she brought things, and every time she moved out she left some of it behind; so we were already storing all kinds of things for her. This time I gave up my office — my office! — and brought a desk and my computer into my bedroom.

It was good that she was there. Many things were getting beyond my control. My husband broke a hip in 1998. My “partner” in running the house not only was not capable of helping; he no longer trusted me to do what had to be done.

I spent most of 2004 in treatment for breast cancer, though I continued to work (temp) during that time. Having the U.D. might have been difficult at times, but it is a stupid person who doesn’t accept help when she needs it. As I may have mentioned, I have been a wife — and manager — for nearly forty-six years. I have been a parent for forty-four years and a home owner for forty-three years. Very seriously, I am tired.

I am happy to leave the Cheesebox behind and start living on my own.





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