Before I go, I have something to say

Homely Home

My college boyfriend was rich. Or let me put it another way – he came from a rich family. Just because “your daddy’s rich,” to take line from “Summertime,” doesn’t mean you’ve done a darn thing to deserve those tennis lessons or that Mercedes parked in the long, curved driveway. He was raised a rich kid, and had the allowance and the attitude to go along with it. I just didn’t follow the clues. When I met him, he was wearing the same jeans and work shirts every other wannabe hippie sported back then. His dark hair was long and unkempt, his glasses were square and dorky, and although he had a car, it wasn’t anything fancy.

He invited me to come to his home the summer after we met. He told me he lived in Larchmont, New York, which should have been a red flag, if I’d had any idea what Larchmont was, or Westchester County, for that matter. All I knew was it was near New York City, a place I’d been dying to see for years, and his father, an attorney, had his office in the World Trade Center. To his credit, I guess, he did try to prepare me when, one day as we were riding our bikes through a tony section of Cedar Rapids, he pointed to an upscale house and said, “That looks kind of like my parents’ house.”

I still didn’t get it. In fact, I insisted we stop – Jon and our two friends who were also heading east for summer break – to meet my parents and see my home, of which I was immensely proud, in Davenport. I’d always loved that ranch style house, which my father helped build. It was so sensibly laid out, so well kept by mom. It had a fireplace surrounded on both sides by built-in bookcases, and big picture windows in the living and dining rooms. It had three bedrooms, enough so my sister and I could have our own space, and all the wood trim was real mahogany. After we moved out, they got central air and wall-to-wall carpet, pretty swanky additions. The back yard was green and shaded; they’d even had the deck turned into a screened porch. I thought it was perfect.

The drive to New York took forever. Eventually, it was just the two of us. I was pretty bleary by the time we approached his place, but I can tell you to this day what woke me up. Jon announced, as we drove along a winding road, “This is where my father’s property begins.”

Can you imagine? How preposterous! This is where my father’s property begins?!

So I guess I was somewhat prepared when the mansion came into view. We’re not talking McMansion. We’re talking real, half-timbered, three-story, might-as-well-have-been-imported-stone-by-stone-from-Belgium-small-castle living quarters. Among the first words out of his mother’s mouth was an apology for being between cooks, so I would, unfortunately, have to put up with her own efforts that week. Oh, poor me. (When his sister made us Toll House cookies, she apologized for using margarine instead of butter. I didn’t tell her my mother always used Crisco.)

My face burned as I recalled his earlier silence as I prattled on about how great my own house was. Oh, what a fool I was. I felt embarrassed for years afterward. Silly little me, thinking my house was anything worth showing off. We used rag rugs my grandma had made! We had quilts my mother pieced on our beds! We didn’t even have a dishwasher, let alone a cook!

Don’t worry, reader. I did eventually come to my senses. Not only did I realize I didn’t want a house like that, I came to see that I didn’t want a boyfriend like that, either. I’m not saying that nice people don’t live in some of those pretentious houses, but – well, there are better things to do with that much money, and I’d rather live with a man who thinks that way.

Years later, I met a woman at my mother’s group. She struck me as very off-putting, but I couldn’t quite figure out why. Then she said this: “My husband and I have an amazing house we’ve built ourselves, but everyone we invite over seems so envious of it.” Hmm, I thought. I think I see your problem. Surely there must be a way to have an amazing house and still retain a few friends.

I lived my entire first marriage in a series of mobile homes – house trailers, if you will. I wanted desperately to have a real, site-built house, but we simply could not afford it. Our last home was very nice, its spacious living room with a cathedral ceiling and wood stove and a circle kitchen and windows framing the entire front range of the Rocky Mountains. But it was still a double wide trailer. It taught me humility, though, a lesson I’d already learned well enough from my mother and my grandparents, who were plain country people.

Now I live in a nice 1920’s bungalow with my nice second husband. I can’t help but think, what if I’d met him first? And what if my trip to visit him, that first summer after my freshman year of college, had been to meet his family? He would have taken me to his home in the middle of Iowa, to the farmhouse that still stands today, the plain, two-story, well-loved, practical, comfortable house on the prairie. And if that trip included a stop at my parents’ place, there would have been absolutely no reason for me not to feel proud of the place where I grew up. Home is home, after all. It’s not a competition.

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