Call me sentimental.
The word “home” means a lot to me. I can walk or drive past houses of people I don’t know, and imagine the atmosphere that’s inside. If it’s a house that looks particularly cozy, I’ll imagine relaxing Sunday mornings with the smell of pancakes and the taste of syrup, the sound of laughter and the appearance of smiles on the faces of a family sitting around a table.
To me, that’s what a “home” is. It’s more than just boards and paneling and nails and screws and paint. It’s memories being made, and it’s memories stored away.
I’ve known what a “home” is, through the best of times and the worst of times, as a child and in adulthood as a parent. I’ve experienced that “Sunday morning feeling,” and loved it.
My family moved into our first home almost 19 1/2 years ago to the day. It was a happy time, moving in from an apartment. We could have our pets with us, we could hammer in nails wherever we wanted to hang pictures, we didn’t have to hear neighbors’ footsteps through the ceiling above us.
It was where our two very young boys could run around and play and laugh and be as loud as they liked, within reason. Almost three years after moving in, we would bring our newborn daughter to the only place she’s ever known as … “home.”
I’d take pride in our property. I’d aerate and fertilize the yard and use wise watering practices — early in the morning or later in the evening, never in the heat of the day — to keep it green, stepping back to look at it after trimming was all done. It didn’t take us long to put up a swing set for the kids to enjoy, or they’d spend hours riding a little plastic school bus down the street under close supervision.
It’s been a place where we’ve climbed up on the roof on July 4th to watch fireworks going off around the valley, if we weren’t setting off a few of our own. It’s a place where the kids would quickly grab a dollar and race out to meet the ice cream truck as soon as they heard the jingles coming down the street.
We’ve had backyard campouts and cookouts over a fire pit, cherishing time just spent talking and watching the glow of the coal and flames in the darkness under the cover of walnut and cherry trees. It’s a place where we’ve worked in the fall months to rake up leaves and rotting apples and peaches that have fallen from the trees for the worms to enjoy.
There’s been the deck that I’d sandpaper and stain, where I’d grill steaks and burgers and chicken and mushrooms and buttery corn on the cob. There was the sandbox underneath the deck that we built for the kids so they could play in the shade.
Old VHS tapes remind us of the numerous birthday parties with neighbors and friends from school, blowing out candles on the kitchen counter and opening presents on the dining table.
There are the bedrooms that the boys have shared or gone their separate ways as they got older, the one where our daughter would smile and shake her crib as she’d play with me.
There’s the family room where we’d watch movies together, where my lovely wife Amy would spend a lot of time and care painting a mural of nature on the wall, a work of art that’s been there for years and drawn gasps of admiration from people who see it. That mural was a very special touch, helping to give our place some uniqueness.
We’ve gone from the original split-entry structure, and we’ve added on two more rooms for an art and music studio for Amy’s painting and teaching. It’s an addition that’s been used as guest quarters, or just a quiet place for us to get away.
These are just glimpses of all the memories that have made our house something more than that. They’ve made it a home.
I had work that allowed us to make those monthly payments. Time went by, pay increases became smaller if they came at all, times got tighter, and a job was lost. Through a year and four months of being unemployed or under-employed and with the help of a temporary loan modification, we managed to stay in that home until a decent job could be found.
Even when that decent job was found, we were still reeling financially from the effects of lengthy unemployment. We filed for bankruptcy, but we were still in our home. We were still fighting to hang on to it. Just over a year later, that decent job was taken away. Rather than go through another long spell of unemployment, I took a job driving transit buses at between a third and half of what I used to earn. I’ve been doing that just over a year now.
We kept up the fight to hang on to our home as long as we could. Even with help from friends and family, it’s been a struggle just to keep the power on, natural gas to give us warmth in our air and water, keeping the water flowing, keeping food in our stomachs and clothes on our backs. What’s suffered has been our home. Repairs and upgrades that have been needed haven’t been made because we can’t afford to make them. House payments themselves haven’t been made.
Last December, I was considered the top candidate for a computer programming job that would give us more money than we’ve ever made. I remember where I was — waiting for a bus on a city street that I’d take over to drive for the rest of the night — when I got a text message from the tech recruiter letting me know that the job I was the top candidate for was given to someone else.
Call me sentimental. I cried on the phone to Amy that night with tears in my eyes when there was a break with no passengers to see me.
I’ve been busting my butt doing my absolute best in this full-time job for just over a year now. I’m grateful to have a job, but when it’s all you can do from that just to keep the power on, natural gas to give us warmth in our air and water, keeping the water flowing, keeping food in our stomachs and clothes on our backs, and it’s still not enough to hang onto your home … there’s something wrong with this picture.
Our days in this home where we’ve lived for nearly 19 1/2 years are numbered. It’s only a matter of weeks, months, we’re too early in the process to know for sure, but it’s happening.
We’re losing the only home we’ve ever known that we’ve been able to call ours. The fight is over.
I went for a better job inside the organization in the last few weeks, doing something I am very much suited for with my natural abilities in writing, photography and working with people. It would have given us a chance to at least afford a decent place to rent once we move out. A short four-question interview turned out to be the only chance I got at it. I received word yesterday that I was no longer a candidate. The email giving me the word made it feel like I was an outsider instead of someone who’s been working within the organization already for over a year. Again, tears came to my eyes, but I shook off the pain and the anger and the frustration and disappointment and went in to work, driving a bus for several hours into the night, greeting each and every passenger with a smile and a hello and a “thank you” as they’d step out. I had to fight off the pain pretty hard. After all, where are we going to live now?
Call me sentimental.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Consider this the rebirth of a blog that’s been put on the back burner much too long. At its height during my long unemployment, it was published daily and it was getting attention in some interesting places, among media and lawmakers. I’ve neglected it for the most part for about two years now, in part to try and spend some time with my loved ones because of a crazy work schedule that changes from day to day. Now, it’s time to carve out what’s needed to bring this blog back to life, on a regular basis. Now, you can look for it at least Mondays through Fridays.
I have so much to say, but yet I haven’t been able to speak. That’s about to change. I want to go about making it even better, reaching farther, saying more than ever before.