Tuesday, February 28, 2012
The Yellow House
It’s a big yellow house. I don’t know why I was thinking it was small. Maybe because technically it really only has two bedrooms. The third bedroom is in the attic and you can barely stand up in the middle of it, but for our purposes—guest room—it’ll work. All the other rooms are big. “Rooms” makes me think of my mother. She called apartments “rooms.” We moved around a lot when I was a kid. Maybe that’s where I get it from. Whenever a better apartment became available, we’d move. Up the street. Around the block. Across the hall. My mother would say, “It’s four railroad rooms, make your own heat and hot water,” or “Alice got some really nice rooms on West Side and another one is open,” and the next thing you know, we were packing up.
Every move was an upgrade. We got better and better until we moved down-the-shore when I was in seventh grade, and then finally, bought our own house, a little cape cod on a dirt road where I got my first pony, in Port Monmouth. I thought, this is the country! Compared to Jersey City, where the only horses I saw were the ones the mounted policemen rode, it was the country.
This place, where Kurt and I got the yellow house, is the best of both worlds. It really is the country—I can see a silo out my kitchen window—but it’s still New Jersey. I’m close to everything. I’m ten minutes from town where there’s a supermarket, Rite-Aid, a real New Jersey diner, fast food (three pizza places and one who will deliver!), banks, doctors’ offices, a dollar store, antique shops, gift shops, and a corner bar literally called “The Corner Bar.” It’s got everything!
Best of all, it’s got horse stuff. You could literally walk to our new vet’s office; handy for emergencies and the pocketbook. There were five 4-H clubs alone that we had to choose from, all within ten minutes from the house, three western-wear stores and dozens of tack shops. There’s a Tractor Supply. And a rodeo—Cowtown Rodeo, the longest continuous running rodeo in America. It’s a real horse community! Luckily I didn’t know all this before we moved here or else I would have paid more for the house.
I also didn’t know how big it is. The two bedrooms threw me off. But the rest of the rooms are big. It’s got the biggest kitchen I’ve ever had. The table is right in the middle of it, not pushed up against the wall, just like I always wanted. When I’m cooking in the kitchen and I call Kelly in the living room, she can’t hear me. I have to walk there. I have to cross Texas to get there. My bedroom is so big that when we were painting Kelly’s room, we put all her furniture in our bedroom. I had eight dressers all around the perimeter of the room and I could have fit two more. Plus her bed was in there, my bed was in there, and you could still walk around the room. This is quite an upgrade from our little bedroom in Penhook where the only floor space was a path around the bed.
I also discovered a hidden room. One day while I was scrutinizing the house like a lover gazing into another lover’s eyes—look at the curve of wood over the porch! That’s a Dutch detail! Look at those windows! How tall! Is that wavy glass?! Honey, there’s wavy glass!—I noticed there’s a window up above my bedroom that doesn’t match any of the other windows inside the house. I ran upstairs and looked around. I discovered that there’s space up above my bedroom with no way to get to it. When I called the seller to ask about the room, he was unaware of it. Just what I was hoping. That means it must have been closed off since the original owners from 1925, the Apples, owned it. (What better name for the original owners of an old yellow farmhouse with a big country kitchen than the Apples?)
In the seller’s defense, it’s not that he is completely unobservant. His father bought the place in the eighties as an investment and never lived here. It’s been either vacant or rented out and they never stood outside making visual love to the windows like I have. All they wanted was to keep the roof from leaking so they could get their rent. Someday we’ll break through the wall and see what’s up there. That’s where the treasure is. I saw that on “If These Walls Could Talk.”
One time I did find a hidden room with treasure in it. This was in the Jackson house. We found old milk cans filled with coins (worth about five grand!), baskets, an oil lantern, and faded bills and tax receipts on brittle paper documenting the cost of the house which was less than the coins were worth.
Mrs. Apple would be happy that I’m here. I can tell that she loved it. But the house has been unloved for a long time now and it’s a bit of a fixer-upper—outdated and dirty with olive green counter tops, fluorescent lights, and broken cabinets sticky from the fingers of past tenants who didn’t wipe them before they opened a door.
The windows were so dirty Kelly wrote “Hi!” with her finger. Cracked panes were covered with blue painter’s tape like Band-Aids. There were clogged bathtubs, stained toilets, cobwebs, and the carcasses of insects in all the windowsills and on the baseboards. There’s a wallpaper border in the bathroom depicting a scene of foxhunters in England, torn and peeling.The linoleum floor is also torn and peeling. There are stains on the carpet. The tenants had animals. The molding around the doorways and the side door is gouged from teeth and claws. It smelled.
But it’s got potential! Every day we fix it up more and more and it’s blossoming. I think it’s because it’s getting love for the first time since Mrs. Apple had it because it’s certainly not due to our bank account. We had a few thousand dollars to play around with when we left Virginia and no jobs. We got down as low as three hundred dollars in the checking account before Kurt finally started working. It’s been hairy. But somehow we’re doing it.
I wish my mother could see it. She would come and help me. She would get out a razor blade and scrape the paint from the glass on the windows. But my father and sister have been here, and my niece, cousins, girlfriends… I’ve had more company figuratively scraping windows in the past couple of months than I’ve had the whole eight years I was away!
Maybe that’s why I’ve stopped crying about my mother. When I was in Virginia, I cried about her constantly. I couldn’t stop crying. I haven’t had a crying jag in a while now. I don’t know if it’s because I feel closer to her up here, or it’s the comfort from all my other loved ones around me. I do know that, like Mrs. Apple, she would be happy that I am here. She would say, “Debi, these are really nice rooms.”