Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Story of The House

In August I moved myself and the kids from our small transitional apartment to a slightly larger nearby house. It's great because it has a finished basement that I use as an office. The main living area is small, the kitchen and bathroom pretty much suck, but it has a big yard, nice wood floors and gets a lot of light; I can see the Berkeley Hills between the rooftops looking east and pink sun-set skies looking west.

The landlady gave me little to no information regarding the last tenant except that "she" was here a long time. However, soon I met the neighbors and from them I've pieced together the real story of the house.

Mr. Henderson bought this house back in the 50's. He and his wife raised two kids here - until they got divorced about 15 years in. My landlady grew up here. She had the room I'm sleeping in. Her brother had my kids' room and her parents slept downstairs in what is now my office. At some point in her adult life my landlady became estranged from her father. I guess they didn't get along well.

This year Mr. Henderson passed away and his daughter inherited the house. She had the floors refinished, threw up a coat of paint, updated the gas heater and put it up for rent. I became the lucky tenant.

While living here over the past several months, I've developed a fondness for (the deceased) Mr. Henderson. His presence is everywhere. From the garden equipment stacked neatly in the garage to the wires and duck tape he used to keep the stair rails in place. Evidently he adored lanterns and decided to use these outdoor fixtures in all the hallways and several rooms. They jut out proudly from the walls. (Watch your head!)

Mr. Henderson did not believe in replacing things. If it was broken, he fixed it-any way he could. He also wasn't the best housekeeper and I have yet to get all the grime off the bathroom floor. His ex-wife had trendy taste in decor and I don't think Mr. Henderson ever changed what she did in the early '60s. So I live with fabricated plastic stone walls in the living room and wood paneling in the bedrooms. I've managed to mostly cover the mirrored gold-marble tiles around the fireplace with a piece of furniture, but some things can't be hidden and must simply be embraced.

Upon request, the landlady has replaced the stove/oven and added a portable dishwasher as well as a clothes dryer. I've cleaned what I can and made use of the space in a way that best suits our family. I hardly notice the outdated style anymore - leftover on my walls, in my bathroom, the yard. It's my surroundings. My life somehow meshed with Mr. Henderson's.... But when friends come over for the first time I can see they don't know quite what to say. The reactions are priceless and I'm reminded that the interior is a bit silly. I'm always asked why I don't change it.

I can't. Mr. Henderson wouldn't approve.

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