06 October 2017

Home Unsweet Home

A gratuitous picture of Neuschwanstein Castle, just because. I would love to live here.
Just kidding. I don't think I could afford the taxes. Or the cleaning staff.

Some days, my house gets me down. Some days, it just doesn't feel like home.

It feels less like home than my parents' house, which I never liked while I was growing up because I thought it was "boring" (i.e., it was small and didn't have a second story). Now, whenever I go back and visit, I realize just how much I failed to appreciate about that house: The wood stove. The laundry chute cleverly disguised as a pantry cupboard. The root cellar with its many jars of canned pickles, jelly, stewed tomatoes, and dried apples. Dad's study with its thick rug and fireplace and shelves of books. The secret door to the attic.

It feels less like home than my on-campus apartment in college, of which the lower level was partly underground, like a mole's tunnel. I also suspect it wasn't "up to code", judging by how even the short-statured tenants had to walk down the stairs hunched over so as not to bump their heads. The really weird thing about that place was, it didn't have a living room -- just three bedrooms, a bathroom, and a kitchen (with no stove, because undergraduate students couldn't be trusted not to burn the place down.) The apartment housed six humans and (depending on the time of year) any number of hairy centipedes that made themselves at home there. They usually stayed put as long as we didn't try to move the couch, which we kept in the kitchen on account of not having a living room. The couch in the kitchen was a little strange at first, but we got used to it. Keeping the TV on the counter next to the sink proved to be somewhat more problematic, especially if someone was washing dishes and not being careful about how much water got splashed around.

It feels less like home than either of the houses I lived in in California, one of which the landlords couldn't be bothered to properly maintain and was slowly being eaten out from under us by termites. This was a shame, because the house itself was rather magnificent. It was large and roomy, with a swimming pool and an upstairs balcony. It also had a fireplace, which we used on cooler days in flagrant disregard of the Los Angeles County Air Quality Management moratorium on residential wood-burning. There was a fig tree and a guava tree and a small fenced-in garden where I hung my hammock. It was, all things considered, a decent place to call home.

Anyway, houses in the south are strange. The nice ones have porches on the ground floor and the upper floor, which is kind of cool, but the not-as-nice ones don't really have much going for them. They're extremely small, tend to be poorly insulated, and usually don't have basements. Basements just don't pan out when one is building on a foundation of mud and clay. Instead, they have a lattice "skirt" around the bottom of the house, with a crawl space underneath. This is essentially useless as living space -- unless, of course, you are a spider, snake, or member of a fire ant colony.

When we first bought our house, several of my out-of-state friends asked me what type of house it was. I wasn't sure how to answer, so I turned to "List of house types" on Wikipedia for help. It wasn't like any type of house I was used to, such as a colonial or a Cape Cod or a gablefront. It wasn't a ranch house -- too square. It wasn't a cottage -- the article specified that cottages are country dwellings. Cabin didn't seem to fit, either. I eliminated categories one by one until I was left with bungalow ("any simple, single story house without a basement") and shack ("a small, usually run down wooden building"). (It narrowly missed being labeled a "lean-to" since it did have walls on all four sides.) I was in an optimistic mood that day, so I decided to go with the "bungalow" definition.

I've never had strong homemaking instincts, but the primitiveness of the place bugs me. There's only so much I can do to make it comfortable. Somehow I feel that this reflects badly on me as a person, though I'm at a loss to say exactly why.

I try not to dwell on the plainness of my dwelling too much, but sometimes, I just can't help it. Like a couple of weeks ago, when my adult Sunday school class was studying John 14:2, where Jesus says "I go to prepare a place for you." Several people noticed that the type of place Jesus said He was preparing seemed to be different depending on which translation of the Bible they were reading. The question was asked, what kind of place is He preparing, exactly? Rooms? Mansions? Apartments? The deliberation went on and on.

Anyway, I'm sitting there, listening to all the old folks fussing over just what kind of digs they can expect to be putting their feet up in when they walk through the pearly gates. Finding out for certain is imminent for some of them, so I suppose I can understand their preoccupation with it. But of course I myself have a long road to go until then, so I'm thinking, who cares? As long as it's not a 720-square foot bungalow/shack in a bad part of downtown, I'll be happy. 

I shouldn't feel this way, I know. I should be grateful for what I have. I should remember that there are lots of places in the world where my house would be considered a mansion. I should be content. I shouldn't be so consumeristic. I should make the best of it. (Once you're on a roll with a list of shoulds, there's literally no place to stop.) 

That said, the less-cynical, better part of me really does wish to grow into a different mindset on matters like these. This story told by Welsh minister Selwyn Hughes captures it well:

While waiting for a train in India, a missionary got into a conversation with a high-caste Indian. "Are you traveling on the next train?" the missionary asked. "No," he replied, "that train has only third-class carriages. It's all right for you, because you are a Christian. Third class doesn't degrade you and first class doesn't exalt you. You are above these distinctions, but I have to observe them."

A huge mansion or tiny shack -- it does not matter either way. Riches cannot exalt me and poverty cannot degrade me. I live above such distinctions. 

Except, I don't. I like to have nice things. I like it when my house doesn't have cracked floor tiles or mildewing drywall. I like to be able to open my fridge without the door bumping the counter. I like having more than two tiny closets.

I like not feeling guilty for liking these things.

It's a constant conundrum. 

No comments:

Post a Comment