Post-retirement, I am discovering that my house is new to me again. I’ve lived in this house for almost 27 years now, longer than I’ve ever lived in any house. It’s different now. In a good way, but different. Being in a place all the time means that you relate to it in a wholly new and total manner.
My house is a 1920s cottage, on piers. Its floors aren’t quite even. Nothing’s exact. The ceilings are 10 1/2 feet tall. Some rooms have oak floors. Some have linoleum or vinyl. The original clawfoot bathtub is still here.
It’s not just that there’s new siding (three years ago), or a new addition (six years ago), or a new roof. It’s not just the color (it’s now neutral beige, the color of the siding, but will be painted soon in a color similar to the original). It’s not the new insulation, or the completely new pipes. Or the central air/heat (I had that put in sometime in the 1990s). It’s not the new low-e windows that replaced the old windows.
Nor is it the ongoing renovations inside (sometimes I think they’ll never end). Right now, the kitchen renovation is in a holding pattern. One of the two new kitchen wall cabinets is sitting in my living room; the other is in a workshop. At some point in the next month (I hope), these will replace the ones on the wall. They look similar, but are sturdier and will be fresher.
No, it’s not the physical house itself, not at all. It’s me. Or rather, it’s me in the house now, post-retirement, as in no longer working. The closest I’ve come is when I’ve been home between semesters or in summers. Those times, though, were mere tastes of what it is like now.
I am in the house now full-time, without having to dress and drive to school, operating out of my office. Now, I can wake up as I wish, dress when I need to do so, and leave only when I want/need to. Sometimes, I get up and meet friends for breakfast at McDonald’s, or for coffee at Starbucks. I can stay home all day if I want. I don’t leave the animals alone day after day while I teach. I’m with them a lot. My life is in this house, with some time spent out to socialize. But not to work somewhere else. If I work (on a writing project, on jewelry, on a lecture-discussion series), I am usually here (though not always).
Mostly, I find that I wake up maybe by 7 or 8 a.m. and read CNN and The New York Times and The Times of London online. I put clothes on to wash and dry. I sweep and mop the dog room; I deal with kitty litter. Maybe I wash dishes. Sometimes I crawl back into bed to read. Sometimes I watch television.
Today that’s just what I did. Plus call in refills at the pharmacy. And then I finished sorting three months’ worth of mail. Now I just have to haul the garbage bag of mail detritus out to the garbage can, along with other garbage bags from house-cleaning.
At some point, I move to my office (where I am now) and work on my blog, or on other writing projects. Right now, I’ve started re-organizing my office. While I was gone, my friend Patty (who watched the house and the cats several times a week) moved some furniture for me (thanks to her son Mark, who added more muscle). Now I’m re-organizing what I need to fit into the bookcase and wall unit. And straightening out my lovely new desk (thanks to Adam Williams, my friend who built it). Once that desk is straight, I’ll move on to the desk I use for jewelry projects. Right now it’s just a landing zone. Progress is slow, but the office I envision is emerging. Yesterday I cleared off the shelves in the bookcase and wall unit. Some boxes and cases are back on the wall unit. Now there are some boxes on the floor (which was clear), but those are today’s project.
My bedroom will get some attention too — I’ll make the bed up before I leave. It’s always a treat to come home to a neat bed. In the past, I often didn’t have the time (or get up early enough) to manage that. I’ve already started putting up clean clothes. Today, though, I need to pack for a few days at the beach.
My friend Connie and are were talking about this yesterday, when I dropped over to visit her briefly. Now that we’re retired, we decided, we actually live in our places. Full-time.
And I’m discovering that I really like that difference. I am here, full-on, and enjoying being here, as opposed to in an office at school, or at work.
It’s an indulgence I’ve never had. Maybe I wouldn’t have liked it if I’d always been a stay-at-home person, but that wasn’t my lot. Now I appreciate the place and the time and the opportunity to just be here in my own home.
One of the things I’ve always loved about my house is the space and the large windows that let in lots of light. In my years here, I’ve had many parties and entertained many friends. That stopped for a long time, when I simply didn’t have the energy. Those were the years when my mother and brother were ill, and after they died. Sometimes I’d have a few people over, but not on the regular basis that I once did.
And I don’t really want huge parties here. I do want to have friends over, with music pouring out and food and laughter. That’s one of the things this house seems made for.
Years ago, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young recorded “Our House” on their album Deja Vu, and these lyrics have always resonated for me:
“Our house is a very, very fine house
With two cats in the yard
Life used to be so hard
Now everything is easy. . . .”
Their lyrics really captured what I always saw as my ideal house — comfortable, eclectic, with pets and friends and food and music. A place where all my friends felt welcome to drop in. When I saw this house the first time, viewing it as a prospective buyer, I heard those lines in my head and knew it was my house. The light hit just right. I felt at home.
It was my joy to have parties, to entertain. Friends came over for dinner. I had barbeques in the backyard. I had Christmas-tree-trimming parties. Friends brought their children for Halloween trick-or-treating; adults came for what my friends Pam and Frank call Trick-or-Drinking. Decorating was fun. Nothing was too matchy-matchy. Most of my furniture was hand-me-downs from family. Occasionally I bought furniture.
When I felt like it, I’d move not only furniture within a room, but sometimes simply move entire rooms of furniture, deciding that I wanted my bedroom in another room, or that I wanted the dining table somewhere else. I balanced work and living here, finding time to clean when I could.
Somewhere along the way, it became a place where I lived — slept, ate, and existed. Things piled up. I didn’t entertain much. It was always a refuge, though, from the outer world, from some stress and chaos. But the joy was gone, and for a long time. However, that joy has been returning for a few years. It’s been something I’ve had to work at actively, and with some therapy, and with housekeeping help. The years of neglect have gone. I am finding order and comfort here once more. Sorting through so much stuff has freed me. I’ve tossed a lot. I’ve got more to toss. I’ve stored some. More boxes await sorting and purging.
And I’ve started renovating, finally, now that I have time again, having moved back to Lake Charles full-time from Egan. I’d like to play the twitch-your-nose-and-it’s-done game (as Samantha did in Bewitched), but that’s not happening. Instead, it happens in bits, in spurts of time, as I have money and my handyman has time. And I’m learning to be satisfied with the progress.
As I’ve had the opportunity to renovate, I’ve found even more joy in the opportunity to create my refuge.
Retirement truly has awakened me. It has awakened this house for me, but it has also made it new for me.
It’s my new life. In my old house. With three cats and two dogs. With candles. With music. My very very very fine house.