My grandmother lived in the same house in Portland for 47 years. I have now lived in the same house in Yarmouth for 31, far longer than I have ever lived anywhere in my life. I’ve been thinking about all the houses I’ve lived in – about 20 by my count – as Carolyn and I start thinking about what comes next, now that the girls are grown and out of the house.
Strange to think of all those houses, rooms, yards that were once so familiar, that were once “home,” now dim recollections long since inhabited by others.
The Hollanders have lived in my grandmother’s old house for decades now, but I still think of it – buttermilk yellow in memory, lilac in fact – as Nana’s house. My friend Tanya tells me the old slate-bed pool table with the leather pockets is still down there in the basement where I played on it the 1950s and 1960s. I forgot to ask whether the antique black slate sink is still in the kitchen. I hope so.
The fact that my family moved a great deal when I was growing up is probably the reason I haven’t moved much since. I lived in more than a dozen homes before I graduated from college. My daughters lived in one, two in the case of our oldest. Because my father was in the Navy and then got transferred a lot by Met Life, I lived in Brunswick, Waterville, Falmouth, San Diego, Mechanic Falls, Lewiston, Auburn, Groton, Mass., and Pawtucket, R.I., before we more or less settled down in Westbrook in 1960.
In 1966, unhappy as a salesman, my father went back to sea in the merchant marine and my mother took up real estate to pass the time. She quickly became one of her own best customers, such that my father used to joke that he was never sure where “home” was when he came home. My parents owned five different homes in Westbrook at one time or another with a few rentals interspersed.
My father, having graduated from Maine Maritime Academy and served aboard liberty ships in World War II, was in his final year at Bowdoin College when I was born in 1949, so my first home was an apartment in the building that is now the Elks Lodge on the Brunswick town green. Daughter Tess will be graduating from Bowdoin herself next month. It is the fact that the last of our three girls will be out of college (so we theoretically may have a little more money) that has us thinking about whether to move somewhere, and if so where.
When I suggest winterizing the camp up on Thompson Lake in Otisfield, Carolyn just rolls her eyes. Not only would she have to commute more than an hour each way to work in Freeport, but she probably can’t imagine living up at the lake with me. Then again, maybe she can.
So how about trading our little cape in Yarmouth for a big old Georgian townhouse in Richmond? You can get a lot more bang for your housing buck if you move out of the preferred suburbs. Or maybe we should move back into Portland. We lived in the Park Street row-houses when we first got married and loved it. We were both born in Portland and Carolyn grew up there. She’s the only Portland High graduate I’ve ever met. So moving back into Portland (Buy? Rent? Single-family? Apartment building? Condo?) would be like going home again.
But of course, you can’t go home again. And, anyway, I’m not sure we can afford Portland. The row house we lived in sold for $100,000 in the 1980s. I’m sure it would fetch more than a million today.
We have three little grandchildren now and another on the way, so maybe we should move out into the country, buy a big old farm with room for the little ones to run around in the fields and play in the barn. Plant a big garden. Maybe raise a few chickens and ducks. Get a goat.
On second thought, probably not.
Carolyn, who is fun-loving, adventurous and generally up for anything, would move in a heartbeat, but I’m afraid I’m kind of an old stick in the mud. So chances are we’ll just stick it out here in the mud, maybe make a few long-overdue improvements to the old place.
With 31 years’ worth of cultch and accumulation, this little house somehow seems smaller now than it did when there were five of us living here. Yes, that’s it – we’ll just stay right here where we belong.
Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Yarmouth. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.