At two o’clock this morning a rain storm blew through. My golden retriever Jake is terrified of storms. So I was up for a couple of hours keeping him calm so my husband could sleep, and checking the one spot in my sunroom that sometimes leaks when the rains come. The leaky roof is the price I pay for wanting a house with character. When we moved back here after years in Southern California and in Columbus, Ohio I was tired of living in cookie cutter houses. I loved my home in San Diego, but it had typical SoCal architecture—lots of curves and archways covered with pink stucco and topped off by a red tile roof. The Columbus house lacked the charm of the SOCal house. I never felt at home there and was thankful when a job opportunity for Ron brought us back to Texas. This time, I was determined not to buy a soulless tract house that looked like every other house in town. I wanted a house with character.
Boy howdy did I get one. At first I was drawn to the old fashioned kitchen cabinets in the breakfast nook. They have glass inserts, the better to display glassware and such. There was no island like the one in my old house, but there was a nice peninsula breakfast bar and a tiny pantry. But counter space is minimal, and one of the electrical outlets didn’t work. The powder room was cute, though like every other room in this old house it needed updating. The previous owners were from the Caribbean and the interior paint colors reflected their heritage. When we moved in, each of the walls in the living room was a different color—gray, parrot green, and candy cotton pink. The master bathroom was painted the color of eggplant. The beautiful crown molding in my office was chocolate brown. The tile in the upstairs bath was blue, pink, gray, and white. All of the light fixtures were hopelessly outdated. The electrical outlet covers were mirrored.
After four years, it’s still a work in progress. We got rid of the pink, green, and purple in favor of a more neutral palette. We replaced the falling down garden fence, replaced all of the carpet, changed out some of the light fixtures but still have more to do. That leak in the roof has to be repaired. One of the windows needs fixing. The previous owners planted too many sago palms in the back and they need to be thinned out. With an old house, it’s always something. And yet, after looking at dozens of houses and feeling nothing, something about this one — even with all its faults— spoke to me. The sunroom beckoned as a place to chill out with the Sunday papers, or sit with a glass of lemonade and watch the birds and squirrels who live in the back garden. One of the upstairs bedrooms had tons of built ins for storing all of my office supplies. It’s also on the front of the house and the windows afford a view of blooming crape myrtle, bougainvillea, and our neighbor’s old palm trees. I’ve written a book every year from this office. It still needs new paint. Maybe I’ll get around to it someday.
I like living in a house that has sheltered other families. Sometimes I wonder what their lives were like. During this morning’s storm, I remembered the words to an old gospel song my brother Dale used to sing when we were kids:
This old house once knew my children/This old house once knew my wife/This old house was home and shelter as we fought the storms of life/This old house once rang with laughter/This old house heard many a shout/Now she trembles in the darkness when the lightning walks about.
Each of the families who loved here before us left a small part of themselves when they moved on, just as Ron and I will when we retire and downsize to a more manageable number of rooms. I suppose the new owners will question our design and color choices, too. But I hope this old house stands for a long time.