Hanging gardens for your gate,
You said that I could stay,
See you through to another day...
That day became a year,
Time flies in this atmosphere,
Aeroplanes and crashing cars,
Automatic in the head my dreams of you"--Bill Nelson, from "Surreal Estate".
I like driving through small towns with homes from the late 19th Century and early 20th Century. In particular, I like those little wood frame homes less than one thousand square feet in size. They stand, single-wide so to speak, with little wooden frame construction and tiny porches and shutters that regally line little windows. When they are in a state of disrepair, they are apt to be called "shotgun shacks". When they are in a state of grace, they are apt to be called "bungalows".
I read sometimes about those Sears kit homes. One ordered them straight out of the mail order catalog. Hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of those prefabricated kit homes still proudly stand today. I like to think of that notion--of building home.
It's always a bit clever for my tastes to say "home is but a state of mind", but on the other hand, that is my true feeling. I'm less concerned with the number of square feet or whether the deed says "fee simple" or "leasehold interest". The real room-construction takes place within, and sometimes within more than one person.
I did not marry until relatively late in life, when I was almost 31. Like most people, I can predict anything except the events of my own life. I always assumed, for some reason, I would marry by 24, or not at all.
I think that marriage is a lot like buying a really cool kit for the construction of a home. You've got all these tools, and a bit of fondness for the plans, and months or perhaps years of carpentry and planing to do. The curious thing is that just as soon as you think you're finished with a room, it turns out there are more boards and flying buttresses from which to construct the next wing. Marriage is a kind of mystery house, that way, with the Swedish modern wing right next to the Tudor section, and yet it all has a vaguely craftsman feel.
It's not easy, this home-building business. Some contractors fail, drowned in emotional debt and creative differences. Other contractors work hard to make the pieces all jigsaw together, even when the plyboard seems a bit rough for the task. As with so many things, good intentions alone do not put the framing up.
I think that one comfort for me is to discover that despite all the downsides of familiarity, time can teach the construction team how to work well together. In the early years, I think it's just too easy to see the way in which someone does not quite hold the level straight, getting the little air bubble a bit off kilter. As time goes on, one realizes that one does not have to require all the boards to be re-sawed, or the molding to be re-crowned. There's a collaborative genius in the accident of incongruent yet complementary builders.
Today marks fourteen years in business for our little construction firm. The traditional fourteenth anniversary gift is "ivory", while the (very slightly) more politically correct modern gift is "opal". In fact, I understand from my construction foreman that a ring set with a single pearl is in fact the choice for the anniversary, although in the "old" calendar that is "year thirty" and in the new calendar, that is "year three". I love, by the way, that the old-style fourth anniversary gift is "fruit", and I imagine the interchange that ensues when someone brings home three avocados and a dozen kiwi fruit.
I think that the times remind me of the importance of a sense of security called "home", available to all regardless of their "marital state" or personal choices. It's not quite tapping the ruby slippers together and saying "there's no place like...". It's just that a place of personal order matters so much. Some folks don't have the order in their family lives--they must find home entirely within. I sometimes think that this sense of home, coupled with a sense of compassion, is the only defense against Fox News and CNN.
I remember a really cute little house in my parents' historic little hometown.
Someone had taken one of the old white wood frame houses and made it into a home.
I remember that everything was so cute and painted-shutter-y. The front door had a huge woman's straw hat on a peg. It looked so much like home, something out of Southern Living magazine. But as with all small town folk. I know a bit of back story. The occupant's serenity had been interrupted by substance abuse. Rather than being her retreat from the madness, this "home" was but a way station as she hunted a true home.
That's the thing about construction. You work hard each year to build something real. Ultimately, nobody can build it for you. You can't even build it for your partner. But people working together can build something that works. It rarely looks like the ones in the garden magazines. Sometimes the architecture mixes together styles that nobody would predict could be incorporated into a single structure. In literal terms, my wife and I could not put together a rocking chair, although either of us could do it separately, as we are so different in the way we work. On the other hand, we can find a literal home to live in and make it comfortable with true wizardry. Our homes never look artistic or stylish. They're just easy to live in.
I think that the point is not to brag about how time has made one a great carpenter, though, and I certainly am not much one to discuss how skilled one can be with high-heat welding. Instead, it's a matter of humility. Fourteen years, fourteen years and one day, fourteen years and two days. You don't build a home by merely looking at the plans. You just keep assembling the pieces, every day. After fourteen years, I've learned so much, and so little. But I like to think I'm still learning.
My parents live in an antebellum home they bought in the 70s for a relatively insubstantial amount though it was in need of repair. At one time in my late teen years, they actually had to hire huge trucks with cables to pull the home together where its walls were gently pulling outwardly apart. The curious procedure worked. The walls pulled back closer. The home is still in good condition. That, to me, is the secret of home--within or without the marital state. It's not that all the construction always works for all purposes for all times. It's that you just keep building and repairing. You just keep building rooms, or improving the ones you have. It's not about how big or expensive or fine or colorful your house is. It's about finding home. Today I'm grateful that I've found home.