It doesn’t happen often. But every now and then, I’ll walk into my bedroom and be transported to a time more than two decades ago. I was standing in a completely empty master bedroom on an ancient, threadbare carpet. I could hear the voices of a real estate agent and my pregnant wife echoing downstairs, discussing the endless possibilities of the living room with its cathedral ceiling, fireplace and built-in shelves.
On this gray winter day, I looked out of the window at the curve of the road on what would soon become my little street and the suburban houses and manicured yards of my soon-to-be-neighbors. I desperately didn’t want to leave the city and move to the ‘burbs, but we agreed this was best.
“Well, I guess this is our new home,” I thought to myself. Somehow, it just felt right after all those months of house-hunting, and I imagined spending the next chunk of my life in that home raising a gaggle of kids there. In my mind’s eye, I saw birthday parties and kiddie pools, and family meals and Jenga tournaments. Norman Rockwell would’ve been proud of me.
For the most part, that all came true. I still can’t really tell you exactly where I live. I have a Mount Washington zip code, but the area looks and feels more like Pikesville, something that was initially hard for a Randallstown guy like me to swallow. Some people call it Summit Park or Smith-Greenspring. On my deed, it says “Mount Washington Summit.” Wherever that is.
I’ll never forget telling Gilbert Sandler, the late, great bard of Jewish Baltimore, that I’d moved away from my little funky apartment in a grand old edifice near Johns Hopkins University in anticipation of my first child. He responded, “Oh, where’d you wind up?” When I told him I was living on the county side of Mount Washington, Gilbert, a lifelong city dweller who’d lived in Mount Washington for decades, fixed a stern, disapproving look on me and said, “Alan, there is no county side of Mount Washington.”
Finding a house is one thing, making it a home is another. Homes need a lot of TLC, something that’s often in short supply for those of us living fairly busy lives. Sometimes, having a home is like a romance (or a bromance). You start out highly attentive and gung-ho, but you can often take your home for granted. Sometimes, you don’t bother getting something fixed or painted. You just want a place to flop yourself down. With kids around, it’s never easy to keep things clean or neat. But on the other hand, you wouldn’t have it any other way.
It was a real wake-up call for me a year or two ago when my kids, who are no longer little, expressed indifference about whether we took down the wooden swing set in our backyard that we had installed during their younger years.
“We don’t use it anymore,” they said. “Plus, if you got rid of it, there’d be more room back there.”
Incredulous, I refused to believe them. “You mean if I grabbed an axe and chopped up that swing set into firewood, that playground where you spent your childhoods, you wouldn’t care?”
They merely shrugged, although I’m certain the image of me chopping wood amused them. “It’s just a thing,” they said, “It’s not alive or something.”
Maybe they’ve got the right idea. Nostalgia is the domain of fools. But sorry, I’m not ready to give up my old swing set quite yet. I’ll leave it for the next owners to chop up.
We hope you thoroughly enjoy our Home & Garden issue. As the great sage the Chofetz Chaim said, “The trip is never too hard if you know you’re going home.”
Alan Feiler, Editor-in-Chief