the little gray house


This week marks our fourth anniversary in the little gray house. I did not want to move here. Don't get me wrong, Neel is my home, and if he'd asked me to move here, here, or here I would have gladly gone. I even did go here!


Still, knowing how much I loved Greece from the time I was a young, young woman, you can imagine how very hard it was for me to leave our home in San Diego. That was where I really, finally felt at home. When we first came here, to scope the place out, it was early April and our little town-to-be was in the throws of a Nor 'Easter. I forgot to pack socks. It wasn't the wind and the rain and my cold ankles that caused me to sit up and cry in our hotel room ALL NIGHT LONG, it was the bone-deep loss of the place that, from before the moment we'd landed, sang to my soul.

We came again, later that summer, to look for houses. This was at the beginning of that out-of-control housing market that has deflated so alarmingly, and there were literally nine houses for sale in the neighborhood we were looking. What a depressing time. I was leaving behind everything that felt special to me and every house we looked at was more musty and ramshackle than the last. We saw one house, in the middle of creaky old kitchens and warped wood paneling that almost had us. The migraine I had that night brought me to my senses, and I called a halt. We would, it seemed, take this gigantic leap across the country without a place to land. We quickly put a deposit on a furnished apartment, made plans to put our stuff in storage, and headed to the beach for the rest of the week.


It was there, floating on my back in the Atlantic, that I think I started to be all right. This place I know. Although I grew up land-locked, my summer vacations were spent on the Atlantic coast. North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia. I know these gentle waves and this soft sand. I love the Pacific Ocean, but in it's tumultuous waves never could I dream of drifting on my back so aimlessly to eventually put my feet down and putter slowly back to my blanket. This might be okay.


And of course it is. We went home and packed up and literally followed the little gray house across the country. Pictures came to us in Las Vegas, and when we finally arrived, we dumped our stuff in the temporary condo, took showers and drove over to see it. We couldn't believe our luck. It was the nicest house we'd seen here, and we signed the papers that day. This is such a lovely house. Quirky and cottagey, with a bells and whistles kitchen not found in most of the houses we had previously searched. I love it that the thick plaster walls have a texture like a sandblasted beach and that even in the middle of the summer my livingroom can smell like woodsmoke. I love the yard we're taming and the walls we're painting and the sense that we're settling in somewhere. Maybe for good.


Neel and I had a lot of jokes about moving to this neighborhood. The way people talked about it (and not just the realtors) you'd think it was the first step on the stairway to heaven. A "front-yard neighborhood." Throwback to the fifties. People watch out for each other. A grid with everyone's names and phone numbers in a four block radius. Neighbors bring soup or brownies or wine. (Although we had a bit of worry in the very early days when Neel came home from work and made me a gin and tonic and we stood in the front yard with our drinks. The only ones with drinks. I worried about the fact that we were the only ones with drinks. Then I realized that growing up in East Tennessee in the heart of the Bible Belt was different from being in the south. Very different.) I wasn't sure I wanted that. I liked my space. My anonymity. I liked it that all I saw of the woman who had the condo next to ours was her vanity plate "luv wine." Front yard neighborhood? The best thing about California back yards were the privacy fences.


I think mostly I worried that moving into this neighborhood would be like an expanded grown-up version of my life in Junior High. Everyone would already know everyone else, and there I'd be, all awkward and left out. The only one with my own last name. Early in our life here each of our immediate neighbors had parties on the same weekend. One, we were invited to. It was October. My first fall in years. I wore a sweater and socks. I felt hot and uncomfortable and just as awkward as I'd expected to living here. Callum must have picked up my utter misery (either that or he knew that the daughter of the house was pure evil), and was enough of a pill that we had to go home. Once at home, through our open bedroom window, we could hear the sound of laughter weaving it's way up from Tyler's screened-in porch. His wasn't really a party. Just friends over for dinner. But I tried to fall asleep and Neel could hear slurp, slurp of my swallowed tears. "Back home, I used to be grateful for a weekend to ourselves. We were so busy and had so many friends." Slurp, Slurp, Slurp. "Now there are parties to the left of me and parties to the right of me, and I don't have any friends." Slurp. Even then I was laughing. I knew how ridiculous I sounded.

Now it's SOBO and Crab Feasts and firepits on Friday and Saturday nights (in the front yard) and Planter's Punch and Progressive Dinners and the love knows no bounds. There's nothing finer than coming home from work or school to find some of my favorite people gathered in one of our front yards. When we pulled in from Callum's birthday dinner Friday night, there they were, firepit lit, torches glowing, beer cold. Junior High-Schmunior High. So now? Now I can't imagine living anywhere else. This is okay. Happy Anniversary to us.