Saturday, June 22, 2019

That Old House

In 1976, Mom and Dad sold the house I grew up in. They'd originally bought it for about what you'd pay to put some carpet in it now, and sold it for $60,000. That astonished them, and they didn't give much thought to the fact that it sold in the first half hour. According to Redfin, it's now worth around a million. I was back in Arlington, Virginia fifteen years after I'd left and I stopped by. I put on my most disarming face and knocked. A couple came to the door, and I explained my heritage, and peered hopefully between them, because they were standing side by side, arms linked and shoulders pressed against the door frame. "I guess you can look at the back yard," one of them said, reluctantly, and followed me back there to monitor.

Well that was disappointing, but that's what comes of having your crummy old house be in a currently hot location and worth a lot of money: Republicans buy it. I assume. I won't say anything else about Republicans this time, except that it strikes me that they are fearful people as a whole.

Then it occurred to me recently that if the place had ever been up for sale there might be a slide show of it online, and guess the hell what? There was! There were thirty photos of it looking every bit the way I remember it! Nobody ever added to it or "opened it up." Which means it's still a little house with itty bitty rooms jammed in and no sense of flow.

The front door still gives into the living room. In the photos, which were presumably designed to put the place in its best light, it is clear there is no room for today's furniture. Everyone in our family was fun-sized, and consequently we had little sofas and chairs. If you put in one of those modern big-ass sofas and stuck your feet out, nobody could get by. I suspect the furniture depicted belonged to the seller, because if you were going to stage it professionally you might not want to stick an enormous TV on the diagonal in the corner to demonstrate how much room there isn't. To get a similar effect, they could have put my current piano in the living room with the narrow end extending into the dining room, and set up bar stools and place settings around it.

Daddy and I are in the enormous-TV corner.
This house is palatial, from the perspective of a modern urban tent dweller in a median strip. Or an immigrant or refugee. Or of any human alive in the front end of the twentieth century, or the million years preceding that. But utterly inadequate for a teenager in the 'Sixties. Teenagers are not known for broad perspectives.

If my friends came over, the front door would open into that living room, where my tiny Mom and tiny Dad would be sitting in their tiny chairs, and still taking up most of the room. And they wouldn't leave. In their defense, there was nowhere else to sit. And so we mostly crowded around cross-legged on the floor and minded our language. It was not an ideal situation, socially.

Because we did not have the rec room that thoughtful, loving parents would provide. Ohh! The rec room! A whole basement all shined up with fresh linoleum and a bar and pretend wood paneling and a big ol' stereo and ash trays and sprawlable furniture! Cue the celestial choirs! We had nuclear bombs and Civil Rights marches and assassinations and war and all of it would have gone down so much easier if only we had had a rec room. Amazing things happened in rec rooms, where parents never materialized. The moon landing. Wholesome socializing. Loud music. Drinking. Drugs. The televised draft lottery. Making out. Actual sex. Oh, my parents were cruel, cruel.

A million bucks. They're calling it two full baths now. None on the main floor, still, but upstairs there's a tiny one. Tall people sat on the toilet sideways. The sink is now a vanity but I don't know how they get the door open. And they have in fact redone the toilet in the basement. They have opened that up, at least, into Dad's old darkroom, and there's a shower and everything. It used to be a little hole in the corner with a funky toilet and cracked sink, cinderblock walls with guard spiders and the occasional bat, and one photography magazine on the floor. Dad didn't subscribe to any photo magazines, so this was an anomaly. If you picked it up, it sprang open to a page with artful black-and-white nudes. I think he thought he was the only one who used that toilet, and Mom certainly didn't, but unfortunately for him, he taught us to like spiders, the naughty boy.

When I lived there, there was a massive bed of bearded irises, my Dad's favorite, and a compost pile and another flowerbed and vegetables and five large maple trees. Now there is a daylily, because they're hard to kill, and a lawn. Dollars to donuts the people who live there now pay someone to mow it. Yeah, we know who they voted for.

37 comments:

  1. A MILLION DOLLARS??!! Are you exaggerating, or is the upward climb of housing going that stratospheric? And it's so far from being a McMansion.

    We live in an older home (it belonged to my mom) and it is full of quirks. The rooms are a nice size, but the actual doorways are rather small to accommodate the average American... let alone the average American's furniture. If you're of average height, you have to stoop down in the (unfinished) basement that leaks copious amounts of rainwater into the french drain when it rains hard... also necessitating restarting the hot water heater. The (one!) bathroom is small. My mom had a vanity sink, but we had it changed to a pedestal sink, because there just wasn't enough room in there. And it had three potential bedrooms (although we only use one as a bedroom) to go with this one bath.

    People had a different paradigm back then. They didn't mind sharing a bathroom. Hell, who knew there was any other way? Livingrooms were designed for conversation, not for a gigantic flat screen TV. They didn't even have TVs when the house was built. A large diningroom was the center hub of the house, because meals were the center of family life... not grazing alone in the kitchen. Our original diningroom is not used as one, because we don't entertain that way or have family. It is now basically an extension of our livingroom, where we keep our parrot's cages, our houseplants (it's the only room with lots of sunlight), and a cafe table. One of the bedrooms across from the kitchen is our diningroom (it's a ranch house).

    Yeah, it's quirky, but we love our home.

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    1. Yeah, you just described this house (except the dining room was tiny too). We've gotten used to an awful lot of luxury until now we can't live without it. Oh, also, kitchens were small, because they only needed to fit The Little Woman in them. Yes, a million bucks. All you need to do is move your place to a Washington, D.C. suburb.

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    2. Dining rooms? Unheard of in my childhood unless your family was rich. Most people ate in the kitchen, it was usually plenty big enough to have a table and six chairs in the middle, with sink, stove and cabinets around the walls.

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    3. Ah. That's a big kitchen. I'll tell you about our kitchen next time.

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  2. I grew up in the general area of mimimanderly. My parents bought the new house in the burbs for about 18,000 in 1956 and sold it for a lot more in 1992. It sold a few years back for a quarter million. It's nothing special, 3 bedroom, 2 bath, but hey, it's still standing.

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    1. I think our house was $11,000 in 1950. Location, location, location. This house is in Arlington Virginia. And now I'm in Portland Oregon, and I don't think a quarter million will get you a tool shed anymore.

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  3. This blog post just sent me down an internet rabbit hole. Looked up the house where I lived from the age of three until I was almost ten - on the corner of Selkirk Drive and Selkirk Court in Bethesda MD. I found it easily enough on Google Maps and it now looks very fancy. Further exploration reveals that the house was "built in 2006." Hmm. Given that it looks somewhat like the house I remember, I presume that "built in 2006" means rebuilt or substantially refurbished. Anyhoo - the current value is north of 2 million. YE GODS. It sits on 0.9 acres.

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    1. If it was "built in 2006," I'd say you have a good opportunity to go over there and install yourself as the house ghost.

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  4. When my mother's tired and cramped home first sold we were completely amazed that it made the best part of three quarters of a million dollars. One bathroom, three bedrooms, no rec room. The location was good.
    A decade later it was bulldozed and rebuilt. My snarky self was thrilled when I noticed driving past that the forty year old wisteria they removed was making a comeback and had already cracked the driveway (and almost certainly the floor of the garage).

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    1. That's what I found the sad: the lack of trees around the house now. Look how many trees were removed!

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    2. A. You can't kill a wisteria; B. Yeah. Lawn and no trees. We would have flat died without those maples. I guess these people stay inside with the AC on.

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    3. and pay through the nose for cool they could have had from the trees.

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    4. It is my understanding that no one in the D.C. area goes outside anymore.

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  5. We kids visited our old home in LaPlace, Louisiana several times since moving away in 1972. It was bought brand new for $17,000 in 1964, survived Hurricane Betsy in 1965 and many lesser storms and nearby tornadoes. Value today is $156,000. Fully remodeled. Can’t believe that cheaply built house is still in good shape 55 years later. Thanks for the idea to look it up on Zillow.

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  6. I love before and after shots of house interiors. I think there is something seriously wrong with me.

    None of my three childhood homes has survived, so I haven't seen those kinds of astronomical increases in price in person.

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    1. There is some weird thing real estate people can do with cameras now to make tiny rooms actually look bigger. I think, in the case of the "new" living room pics here, the camera is across the street.

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    2. nothing wrong with you jenny_o; I love the same thing and spend a lot of time at real estate sites just nosey-parkering.

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  7. Going back to see our wonderful little Arlington House we bought in 1989 is really painful now. We sold it for a friggin fortune, so I should just clap my hands and say thank you, but the people who bought it ruined the whole feeling of the place. You really cannot go home again.

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    1. I can't remember where you lived. Maybe I never went there. After all, you ARE considerably...ah...more mature than me.

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  8. I've seen several places where I lived...never a good idea.
    And I was going to say "location, et cetera" but you got in first.
    We have 2 bathrooms in this house.One has a skinny little bath tub and shower jammed into a corner and the bath is visible from the front door.Scares the hell out of people peddling weird religious matter! The other is called an "en suite" because, apparently, everyone wants a lavatory in the bedroom.

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    1. When we put a (large) addition on the house I'm in now, we went from one toilet to three. Dave was so pumped he said he was going to poop in all three and flush at once.

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  9. Yep, Jean & Herb bought their 1950 rambler brand new for $16,000. We sold it in 2010 for $584,000. Those owners sold it in 2016 for $749,000. A similar house across the street was purchased, bulldozed, and its new replacement (McMansion) just closed a few days ago for $1,697,000. Whatever.....?

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    1. I knew you'd chime in. But seriously Ed. You know my old house. A mil?

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    2. Not anymore. Not since your blog, lol!

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  10. I went out looking for a couple of the houses we lived in when I was a kid. One had been a small house, two bedrooms, no dining room on a strawberry farm. I had to sleep in the living room, which was too small to be used anyhow. No longer there; it's all lawn and designer plantings and a McMansion. I preferred the old house; it at least had character.
    The other house, a 3 bedroom, two stories with basement, huge acreage, chicken run, log pile, maple woods, etc. is not only gone; even the street is gone. It, and the neighbour's cow pasture where we played soccer among the cow pies, is all a housing development; what my grandmother called "similarity houses", bland, neat, and painted in tasteful beige.

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    1. I almost quit reading after "strawberry farm." Ohhhhhh...but "similarity houses!"

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    2. Similarity -- added to my lexicon. Thank you, Susannah.

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  11. It looks so lovely from the outside with the two tall trees shading it. The back yard looks like it's crying out for children to come and play in it. I don't recall anyone in Australia ever having a rec room. Houses did eventually get "family rooms" as well as the more formal living room.
    I once rented a home I would have loved to buy and renovate but the landlord said she'd never sell. After I moved to a place closer to work, I found it online, she HAD sold and the new people had renovated and it was for sale again. And truly, truly awful!

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    1. Are basements normal there? I know there are parts of this country where you couldn't have a basement. And here all the new stuff has no basement because the developers don't want to spend what current code requires for earthquake mitigation. I love underground space. I'm such a rodent.

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    2. Basements aren't a thing here. Way back in olden days a house might have had a cellar or some other underground rooms, but they're rare. Most places are built onto a large concrete slab, unless you live in Queensland, one of our northern states, where many houses are raised up on stilts, because of snakes and floodwaters. Google Queenslander houses and see what I mean.

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  12. Hey, Babe, you are wrong. Arlington is full of limousine liberals. The public schools are pretty liberal as well. I know, because my daughter lives there. She lives in one of the million dollar WWII houses with tiny rooms. But they have extended and on the outside it looks like a retirement home and inside it has 5 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms and a very nice luxury kitchen. Her hubby used to a Republican, but even he has seen the light.

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    1. I have to agree here. Perhaps the 'new' owners of your childhood home were used to a more east-coast, urban environment, where we aren't in the habit of letting strangers poke around inside. I say that because there seems to be a pretty big cultural difference between the east coast and the rest of the U.S. It didn't seem to be so pronounced when we were kids -- everyone was pretty easy-going. And to reiterate what Tabor said above, Arlington is probably more than ever a hotbed of liberalism -- goodness, the social programs, services for seniors, and environmental initiatives. Here's an article that might help explain more about the evolution that has been taking place. While I *don't like* the McMansion-ing and the Disney-fication, I still have hopes for Arlington -- because of continued citizen involvement in every little detail. https://www.nationalcivicleague.org/ncr-article/the-arlington-way-public-engagement-as-a-community-expectation/

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    2. Well, you know me, guys--I don't like to let the truth get in the way of a good story.

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