Feels Like Home To Me

Over time, I've picked up a reputation as an old-house guy. It goes back to the mid-80s, when I was writing for Old-House Journal. At the time, OHJ was the only reliable source of do-it-yourself information for old-house owners. We were telling people how to fix 100-year-old windows when everybody else was telling them to rip out their old wood windows, and put in some swell new plastic ones. Since I left OHJ, I've stayed busy writing about old houses, inspecting old houses, and fixing up my own old house. So, don't you know, people think I just love old houses.

Well, that's not exactly it. Truth be told, all houses are old. Everything in a house is made out of earth and wood, both of which are about 4 billion years old. If you're only of those people who feels special because nobody lived in your house before you, get over yourself. Somebody lived in your house when it was a cave.

Anyhow, after nearly 20 years of house saturation, I'm not exactly romantic about houses. I think of houses pretty much the same way oyster shuckers think of oysters-ten thousand down, ten thousand more to go.

Now, some of you might be thinking: Well, Jowers, if you're not an old-house guy, what the heck are you? Well, I'm going to tell you: I'm an old-neighborhood guy.

What I really like is a nice turn-of-the-century neighborhood. In the 1900s and 1910s, Americans got fed up with Victorian extravagance. Houses got humbler. Furniture got simpler. People who wanted to be fashion-forward threw their Tiffany glass in the trash. Clearly, the tastemakers of the early 20th century were my kind of people.

When wife Brenda and I moved, I didn't know any of this. I was a rock & roll guitar player. I knew more about the bugaloo than I did about the bungalow. But I found out all I needed to know the first day we went house hunting. We drove out to the house and found ourselves smack-dab in the middle of the prettiest place I ever saw.

"We're living here," I announced.

"We're just getting started," Brenda rejoindered. "We've got a long list of streets to cover."

"Well, let me out while you go cover more streets," I said. "Because I'm by-God living right here." So Brenda stopped, and I got out at the corner. There was a house for sale near that corner, and I meant to buy it.

Well, don't you know, it turned out that house was way too expensive. We passed on that one, and bought a fixer-upper.

I think I've just about figured out what made me get out of the car that day: It was an epiphany. A few times in my life, I've gotten a sign so strong and so clear that I had to follow it. I know, that could be an indication that I'm psychotic, but so far, I'm undiagnosed.

Anyhow, the epiphanies have told me, in chronological order:

*Get out of that assbackwards little cotton mill town."

*Marry Brenda."

*Live here."

So far, the epiphanies have been on the money, each one a life-saver or a big life-changer. And they have something in common: To get the message, all I had to do was believe my own eyes.

I could look at Burnettown, South Carolina, and know I didn't belong there. It's the only place I know where a man can say he's a musician, and nobody will believe him. In Burnettown, nobody dreams that big.

One look at Brenda, and I knew she was a warm, sweet woman with the patience to put up with me, and the courage to dope-slap me when I needed dope-slapping. Better yet, Brenda can take affection as well as she gives it. That's good, because if there's one thing I can't stand, it's a woman who's all the time doing things for you, but won't let you give anything back.

A quick look at my little neighborhood shows exactly what it is: It's a settled, comfortable, connected place. A longer look tells you that you can stand on a sidewalk anywhere in the neighborhood, and you're connected to every neighbor's front porch, and front door.

If you're out for a walk, and it starts raining, you can walk up on one of those porches, and chances are somebody will come out of the front door and visit. It looks like a place where children might wander from yard to yard, and it is. It's the kind of place where new neighbors move in, and somebody welcomes them with a nice pie.

Best of all, people fall in love with the place just from looking at it, so we end up with a population of folks who like their home life warm and cozy.

So, take it from a man who's been up to his eyeballs in houses for a long time now: There might be some minor joy in the bricks and mortar, the gewgaws and doodads, even in the bonus room with the big-ass TV. But there's nothing better than finding a place where you know you're home as soon as you turn down your street.