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The View, From My Window
My house rests, gray and long, past a bent road in Dummerston. The maple tree in my front yard curves towards my bedroom windows, hovering over a slanted bench planted in the moss and grass. A garden planted by my mother thrives in the temperate summers hosted by Southern Vermont, and slinks parallel to the road, spliced through the center by a flagstone pathway that my father set himself. The roots of my house itself run firmly in my family and go further back from my parent’s generation, but I didn’t realize how much that meant to me until my mom and dad started to make changes to my home beyond the landscaping.
My mom and dad have grumbled about the things that are wrong with the house—their first home together, and where they raised my younger sister and I—for as long as I can remember. Their irritation was only enough to inspire a handful of paintjobs over the years, and a batch of new furniture and appliances. My parents first discussed major changes to the house— the physical structure, the boards and beams—with us kids was a couple of years ago, and I didn’t think much of the plans. It was dinner time and we were watching the news together, and during a commercial break they started to express their desires for our home. The first scheme presented was to tear down our screened-in, wraparound porch and knock out the inside walls of the house to expand the kitchen and dining room area. Just musing about the possibilities made them both visibly dreamy, like young girls planning their perfect wedding with a groom they had yet to come across.
In the following months, it became clear that while they were serious about their ideas for a home remodel, they didn’t have the time or finances to do anything about it. Not that it would happen in a million years, but I could understand the appeal of this dream. A newfound cook, I’m just as prone to frustration as my mother when I find myself in our tiny little kitchen where you can hardly fit one person. It’s the kind of situation where people better get what they need out of the fridge before anyone goes to cook at the stove or where people can’t go in to wash their hands at the sink if someone is chopping an onion on the counter already, lest claustrophobia set in. My kitchen floors are black and smooth, the original flooring, and between the fridge and the sink there is a dent in the floor where my heel fits perfectly. I didn’t think about this soft spot as I expressed my favorable reaction to the “plans”; I nodded and said, “Yeah, that sounds like that would be nice.” I could hardly say I was concerned about the fate of the house, and even then, my biggest concern would have been the drafty windows or the creaky spot in the hallway by my bedroom, two more things in need of updating. I gave my family my blessing to go ahead and pursue all of their remodeling dreams, convinced that none of them had a chance of materializing. For a time, it appeared that I was right.
Meanwhile, I was a junior in high school and fantasizing about all of the places that I could go: California, with its rocky cliffs and salty air, all curving highways and freedom; Arizona, with the ancient architecture of the sun-burnt mountains and towering skies and dust storms; Washington, the state, with its oppressive grey skies that are heartbreakingly romantic and gloriously stubborn; New York City, the ultimate symbol of independence, where the skyline is familiar but each building is like a stranger to me. I had lived in Dummerston, Vermont my whole life, and within the next couple of years I would be living in Somewhere Else, USA. Finally, a chance to live somewhere that could fill up my heart and make me excited about living!
“Exciting” was not a word I would use to describe my life in Dummerston. As my junior year got closer to turning into senior year, I kept myself distracted with my future plans, and my parents kept up with theirs. Each time the house would come up, they’d start chirping and buzzing away about the potential inside our old walls, working themselves up nearly to giggles, blushed and shiny-eyed like vicious gossiping school kids. I remained ambivalent. To me, it had always just been a house, one that I had been living in my whole life. However, as it continued to be the topic of discussion between members of the family, I was able to piece together some more of the history.
My mom’s father’s father built my house. He had lived in it and he had been the one who needed an extra-loud bell for the phone when it rang, adding that mysterious looking box, cracked and yellowed, above our downstairs door that is sometimes turned on by accident. He had also made that window in my bathroom that I had never given too much thought, the one made of brown and white glass panels in patterns that look like a sepia-toned Piet Mondrian painting. Somehow, when the light streams through it at the right angle it becomes warm and golden. That was an effect I noticed but had never really thought about.
And that wraparound porch? It was added a bit later than the house itself, built as an afterthought. That explained why inside the porch, the wall is covered in the same roughly-textured paneling that covers the rest of the exterior of my house, and has a doorbell by the door. I had noticed these things but hadn’t thought of them.
The months stretched out as the discussions continued, and I started to think about all of the eccentricities of the house that make it my house, and then I started to appreciate them for that reason. Listening to all of the plans being drafted to change my house changed me. I was suddenly able to appreciate my old house. It’s a part of who I am. Maybe it isn’t exciting—well, certainly not exciting—but I’m in love with it. It didn’t take long for self-preservation mode to kick in, either. I had to protect my home.
I shared my revelation with my parents, but they didn’t really get it. Yeah, those drafty windows make the house, um, special, but what about some nice new shiny windows? They didn’t see what I was holding on to these things for, for their newly discovered importance to me as part of me. I said that I liked the stained and soggy window frames and the warping glass, since these were the panes that I had peered through to the maple tree in my yard for all of my life, and that I liked the view the way it was. They thought it was nice that I felt that way, but beyond that they didn’t really give a damn. The windows were drafty, and that was a problem that had a solution within their means. So my dad shopped for windows, and finally purchased them. He installed mine last, out of respect. The unfinished frames he placed around them look like blemishes to me on my bedroom wall that used to be right, perfect. He hasn’t touched my great-grandfather’s window yet and God help him if he does.
I began to think of my house as a grandparent of sorts. It had watched me grow up, had held me and comforted me, and had started to creak and crack in new places over the years. The surgery my parents were looking to perform were less like life-saving operations than silly cosmetic procedures; just because it was healthy enough to stay standing didn’t discourage them from considering a face-lift just for appearance’s sake.
Despite my pleas, those considerations were later turned into decisions and then realized plans. When I look out the window now to my maple tree, my view is distorted not by warped glass, but through triple-layer reinforced and weatherized windows with garish white frames, and built in screens that slide up easily, but might as well be bars. Other little projects have been carried out since then, some not as little, like the remodeling (though not expansion) of my tiny little kitchen. The teal countertops with gold flecks on which my first meals were prepared are now in a landfill somewhere and I’m learning to prep my food on a “nicer” surface instead. My family is pleased with the way it looks and I must admit, it looks nice. But now it has little to do with my childhood. It’s like some step-grandmother that’s replaced my real grandmother after a quick divorce, and she’s nice and all but she doesn’t know me very well. She is yet to have a proper understanding of the family she has joined and I can’t help but hold that against her.
After these incidents occurred, I thought I failed my house. I was unsuccessful in preventing the changes that, however little, had piled up. The sight brought me to tears. As I sat thinking about my home, full of history and integrity, being changed significantly from its intended form, I realized that I was so upset because I appreciated my house and all of the things that it meant to me. These are things I never would have thought about had my parents never started to make “improvements” to my home. This event came to signify the first time that I had been able to appreciate my home for what it was: my home, complete with all of its cracks and sags and memories. When they started making changes, something changed in me, and their minor remodeling project has led to one of the most powerful changes in my character ever. Now, when I look at the maple tree in my front yard that curves towards my bedroom windows, and hovers over a slanted bench planted in the moss and grass, I see an image that has linked itself to my identity and holds as much weight as my name. I wouldn’t give up either.