Every time I start in on a home improvement project on my pre-owned, 1950s bungalow, I typically have one thought.
“Who’s idea was this?”
In the past 13 years of home ownership I’ve ripped off miles of wallpaper in colors and patterns that range from country blue seashell to an orange-pink-coral-brown toile print that had people with no facial features on it that was the stuff of a Wes Craven nightmare. I’ve chopped down trees and my fella and my friends have hauled off rotten utility sheds. I’ve primed with Kilz, painted, scrubbed, and updated electrical and plumbing projects from one end of the house to the other and around the yard. And I’m still not done.
With every project I’ve wanted to find the previous owners and just ask them, “seriously, what were you thinking?”
This latest project was a tractor tire I inherited in the backyard that had served as a flowerbed for the previous woman of the house. Near as I can tell at one point it was beautifying the cement slab that they used to put their trash cans on for pickup in the 1970s.
But today, in 2020, it was just an eyesore past its time. And so, with little fanfare, my fella took a cordless Sawzall to its rotten husk and reduced it to pieces, while I dug out about 10 five-gallon buckets worth of dirt to use in other parts of my yard. The same week we also ripped out a bad fiberglass shower and finally hauled off the Harvest Gold gas clothes dryer that I also inherited with the place.
We’re still a little sore.
I really shouldn’t cast stones at design and home improvement choices made decades ago by people I don’t know and who aren’t around to defend themselves. I mean, I suppose there are some choices I’ve made that in 20 years will cause some new owner to question my judgment.
“Why did she put a row of lilacs there?”
Well, I wanted to grow something to give a little privacy, and lilacs smell good and grow fast in the available light there.
“Why did she paint this room lavender?”
I’m a Kansas State University graduate, and it’s my office, and purple is my signature color if you haven’t noticed.
“Why did she choose those shingles?”
Look, I agonized over that choice for two weeks before I finally settled on those. Lay off me.
I know that my style and taste will be called into question in 20 years or so when my house passes on to a new owner. Such is the way of all things. Everyone leaves their mark on their home.
When our family built a new house in 1987, on a little patch of ground sliced off of an alfalfa field, my mother’s design choices were of their time. Country blue geese in the kitchen, custom tiled showers that matched the color scheme of the bathrooms, and a whole house intercom were just a few that come to mind.
And while I’m sure the new owners have since replaced all those, we did leave lasting marks on the house. There’s a stud in the wall of one of the bedrooms that has all three of us kids’ signatures. The limestone rock siding on the house, as well as all the flowerbeds in the backyard, are made from rocks we picked by hand and hauled one truckload at a time from our pasture. And that dent in the pole holding up the lean-to attached to the farm shop? That’s from a 1983 Chevrolet S-10 Blazer that popped out of gear and rolled back accidentally.
Don’t ask me how I know.
Every house has its quirks, because every family has its quirky stories. Stories of children growing and decorating their bedrooms in Goth colors one year and Hello Kitty chic the next. That holiday when a young wife nearly set the kitchen on fire trying an overly ambitious recipe to impress the in-laws. The weekends when Dad holed up in his workshop tinkering, or the endless hours spent puttering around his rosebushes in the front yard.
I thought a lot about this while I was hauling dirt one bucket at a time. And I’ve decided to start a notebook with notes on the house and home improvements that were made and the reasons for them. That way, future owners have an idea of when the water heater was replaced, the last time the roof was re-shingled, and just what did I plant in the raised beds and how do we maintain those plants?
I know someday a future owner will look out my front picture window at the roses in the front yard and wonder, “why all the pink ones?”
Those, my future friend, I left as they were because the lady of the house before me planted them and cared for them as if they were her children. And while I wouldn’t have chosen pink, it’s my duty to take care of them for her long after she’s gone.
I mean, I did rip down her wallpaper. I sort of owe it to her.
Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807 or firstname.lastname@example.org.