Tuesday, April 14, 2009

My Family's Houses

My several grandparents lived in several places. In a 12-room apartment on Park Avenue in a building that’s oddly famous for having had an actual book written about it. Who knows why? In what I can only call an estate in New Jersey, which has since been converted into a country club, a golf course, a housing development, and other modern conveniences. Perhaps a 7-11. I am not quite sure. In a large elegant comfortable house in Massachusetts which is, I believe, still there.

My parents also lived in several houses. Among them, during their marriage, a conventional ranch house on the San Francisco Bay Area Peninsula, a conventional house in the hills of the same Peninsula, another house down on the expensive flatlands that had 35 rooms, and back up into the hills to a house with 5 acres. And horses. 3 horses. Technically 2 horses and a pony. The change in housing, from conventional to semi-outrageous, came when my father’s mother, his last surviving parent, died. He then inherited the remainder of the tail end of the family fortune, once large enough to warrant mention in the New York Times. And no, we are not Astors or Whitneys or Rockefellers. But I suppose my grandparents hung out with them. They maybe came to our weddings. Knew each other on Wall Street. It’s possible.

Me I live in a 3 bedroom, 2.5 bathroom house with a den. Granted it’s in Northern California so is valued at what would be an exorbitant amount in the rest of the country, but really, it’s a conventional house. I can see my neighbors’ kitchen from my kitchen window. Hear the other neighbors’ kids getting reprimanded in their swimming pool. Hear the yelling of the dads watching their sons play baseball in the nearby park. Why baseball always causes so much yelling I do not know.

I have been asked do I wish I could return to the days of my grandparents.

Today I mowed my lawn. Although my job has been partly found, the income is not enough to hire a gardener and the time involved is not so much that I can’t mow my own lawn. It’s hard work. It’s a little lawn, but I only have a push mower. And my lawn makes a hill. Granted, a little hill. But I’m not 30 any more. Do I wish I still lived as my grandparents did? My father’s mother, in a house with grounds so large it’s now a golf course? So well-to-do (for some reasons High WASPs think the word wealthy is vulgar) that they had an actual swimming pool, way back then?

No. I don’t. I’m not being particularly virtuous, either. Today I mowed my lawn in my son’s khakis and sweatshirt. My neighbor from across the street asked me did I need an electric lawn mower. No, I said, I count this as exercise. It was a beautiful day, windy, cool, blue skies. The dandelions were very yellow and I pulled them out of the ground with my weed tool.

I wouldn’t mind more land. I wouldn’t mind more privacy. More sky I can call my own. But I wouldn’t trade my right to wear what I want to wear on my own lawn. I wouldn’t trade my right to wear sneakers, as a woman, to have hair trailing from my hair elastic and blowing in the wind. I wouldn’t trade my time nursing and raising my own children. Learning to cook. And I wouldn’t change the world in which I know as friends people from cultures my grandparents most likely didn’t have any emotional or logistical way to understand. Even though they tried, living with tribes in Africa, how close they got to the societal possibilities of today I am hesitant to guess at.

I don’t want to trade in what I have now. I wish I could have all of it. I wish I could buy the art (oh for a Christo painting of the Running Fences), travel to the hotels, consider my options, in the same way they did. But I also know, again with no virtue on my part, that options bring anxiety. That lack of necessity causes doubt. I wouldn’t mind more land. But I like to mow my lawn.



Blogger Dani @ Weddings Fresh said...

Wonderfully said. Thank you :)

April 14, 2009 at 4:46 PM  
Blogger thepreppyprincess said...

Dani said it perfectly.

April 14, 2009 at 5:12 PM  
Blogger Once A Bride said...

If I'm ever in Cali, I would love to sit down and have coffee with you. Better yet, a glass of wine. Because it's Cali. Luh-huv this blog.

April 14, 2009 at 6:22 PM  
Blogger smiles4u said...

I really like your last paragraph...it says so much more than what is written. I would not want to go back to the time of my grandparents either!

April 14, 2009 at 8:43 PM  
Anonymous class factotum said...

"Learning to cook."

I was excited about going to a friend's house for supper. She is Mexican from Puebla and I thought I would get some fabulous home-cooked Mexican food.

It was awful! Bless her heart, she's a terrible cook. And then I realized why: she comes from a wealthy Puebla family, so had maids and cooks and never had to learn to cook!

PS I would not want to return to my grandparents' time, either, but for different reasons! I have no wish to use an outhouse in the middle of a cold Wisconsin winter. Or even in the summer!

April 15, 2009 at 7:23 AM  
Blogger Meg said...

You tell stories that are not unfamilar to me. Though I am, of course, a generation further removed.

April 15, 2009 at 9:23 AM  
Blogger LPC said...

Stories are good. Of Wisconsin, grandmothers, generations, grandchildren. A nice glass of wine. A good story. And I'm on board with fireplaces too.

April 15, 2009 at 6:01 PM  

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