I’m chuckling as I write that title because the “city” I live in is really just a speck of a city; a large town, really. There are 30,000 residents within our “city limits”. But moving into what’s considered downtown a few years ago when I built my home sure felt like a city.
I grew up on 2.5 acres of woods. Woods as in, wood piles. Wood stove. Wood spiders the size of your hand. Even (real) wood paneling on the walls! My dad chain-sawing every Saturday morning. I used to hate the wheeze of that machine, but now I miss it. Our house was formerly an old hunting cabin, adapted (somewhat hastily) by my father into a home.
There was no need for curtains on the windows as the lot was situated on a winding, quiet dirt road that was finally paved when I was a toddler. We’d go for hikes in the woods, hesitant but still eager to go “foraging” during deer-hunting season. Summer days were spent outside, screaming and screeching in the pool, getting into dad’s stuff in the garage and trying to build tree forts with dad’s leftover lumber that was always laying around. In middle and high school my friends and I would jump off the gazebo into the pool (so dangerous, I know) and spend hours making up silly routines on the trampoline. Fall brought hours and hours of raking. Wintertime we’d make tunnels out of the massive snow piles dad plowed from our long driveway. No one bugged us; no one really saw us out there on that property.
So how did I end up moving into the “city”? My mom was a fourth generation resident of our city’s West Side, formerly a dumping ground –literally– for the big hotels downtown. When I was 25 she decided to gift me a narrow but deep plot of land that had been in her family for decades. She gave it to me because I was planning on buying a house about a half an hour away, and she really wanted me to stay in town, close to my roots. As I’ve gotten older, I realize how important it is to have your family and friends (very) close by. I guess I “get it” now. So thank you, mom, for giving my the gift of land in my hometown that I love so much (I tell her all the time, but I hope she knows how much I appreciate this. It is, without a doubt, the best and most important gift I have ever received. Besides, ya know, the gift of life).
So, I built a house on that old family plot in the city. Approximately 176 trips to Lowe’s, 5 months, and one patient general contractor later, my house was done.
And then another house was built next to mine. Then another one. Then 2 more. Within three years my street was transformed. They’re gorgeous, well-designed homes , don’t get me wrong, but it felt so … crowded. My closest neighbors are a snug 16’ away from my home and their guest bedroom lines up eerily PERFECTLY with our master bedroom window. When I open the creaky garden storage bin, the neighbor’s annoying dog barks at the sound. I can hear my neighbors put their silverware away. Husband said, we need curtains! And blinds! And you need to get in the habit of keeping fully clothed in front of the windows! I brushed him off, not wanting to admit living so close to others requires a certain degree of social scruples.
Until one summer afternoon when our elderly neighbor, Janet, came over with a plate of cookies and we had this conversation:
Janet: “Oh, I just wanted to bring over some cookies for you guys. Your hydrangea are coming in nicely!”
Me: “Thanks, this was so nice of you!” [wondering why she was bringing us this unexpected gift.]
Janet: “Well, I have my grandkids over and, you know, they spend a lot of time here, and… they mentioned to me they really like peeping through the window into your house and… checking out“the lady in the bikini!’ ”
Me: (picking up on her diplomatically veiled yet effective way of letting me know that her and her entire household have been SEEING ME PARTIALLY/FULLY NUDE for God knows how long): “Oh! Is that right! Yeah, I swim a lot…”
Blinds were ordered and went up the next week.
Naked humiliation aside, once I got more accustomed to the many sounds and smells of living in our “urban suburb” as I like to call it, I really have been starting to enjoy living downtown. It was just a big adjustment. It’s funny; when we first moved in, the roar of the nearby freight train’s whistle bothered (and sort of scared) me. But now it comforts me. Kind of like that dad’s old chainsaw whistling away.