Thursday, February 11, 2010

House Hunting

I’ve always loved a good house. A house with charm and character always catches my eye. I often take the long way home just to look at a beautiful neighborhood. Age doesn’t matter, although it helps. Most houses today are giant boxes put up in a hurry, placed closed together, and every third house is the same just flipped with a different color paint or brick. Thankfully many people have a great appreciation for the old and charming. They tend to keep my beloved homes in character so that I can still drive slowly down their street in admiration. So if you frequently find me leaving a little early to get somewhere, randomly turning down a side street, or just gazing out the window, it’s because I’m in house heaven.

Houses are in my blood. Huh? Houses are in my blood. My grandfather whom I never met, Herman Herndon, was a building contractor in Modesto. Apparently he built quality homes that stand the test of time. I believe mostly ranch style, not cookie cutter, made with quality and character. My mom says during its time, a Herndon home was highly sought after.

I first discovered my love of houses when my mom would take me and my brother exploring. At the time Manteca was experiencing a big housing boom. New construction everywhere. My mom would walk with us over to where the model homes were being built, still just the wooden frames, and we would explore. I loved figuring out what room was going to be the kitchen or the living room. The bathrooms were easy. I would picture the house finished. Decorated. A family living in it. They never turned out the way I wanted. My brother and I would pick out scrap wood to bring home and build forts out of. Now there are rent-a-cops arming the model homes to prevent people like us. We weren’t vandalizing, just on an adventure, looking to build a fort with some free lumber that undoubtedly would have ended up in someone’s fireplace.

When my parents bought their house it was new. It was on the edge of town, open fields were just two streets away. I remember there being these three little houses in the middle of the one of the fields. The two on the outside were white, the one in the middle light pink. They were more shack like than house like. But someone lived there and called it home. I imagined them as playhouses. Then Wal-Mart came along and changed Manteca forever. There was a small amount of resistance to Wal-Mart building there, apparently there was an endangered owl species living in this particular field. My dad said he saw tons of those owls out at Livermore lab at night. That made me feel better. I’ll never forget the three little houses being burned down. The fire fighters were there, as it was a controlled burn to make way for Wally World. I was sad. I loved those little shacks, I had ideas on how I would have fixed them up and played house in them. Every once in a while I find myself forced to go to Wal-Mart. Sometimes I’ll think of my houses, how the owls are doing, and how my parents don’t live on the edge of town anymore. Thank goodness for Target.

As we got older and the summers got hotter, my mom would take my brother and I plus a friend each, to my uncle’s house in Riverbank, where his kidney shaped pool awaited us. My uncle was a dentist. He lived in a beautiful neighborhood close to the river. He had a pretty amazing house. After we finished swimming my mom would take us over to the Del Rio neighborhood, where we would oooh and ahhh over the houses. Every one looked like a giant mansion to me. Some so wrongfully modern in this country setting, others picturesque. There was one house that was at the very end of Del Rio. It was lower than the rest of the homes, in sort of a canyon. It had a brick wall surrounding it, its own private pond, its own special road to get to it marked with a tower like building and a gate. One time we went by the gate to look at the house and a guard dog came running up barking. My mom had a huge clunker of a Suburban, so she would park next to the brick wall and we would step on the sides to peak over at the house. The roof was the most fantastic thing I had ever seen. It was shake. But arranged in such a way that the house looked like something out of Disneyland or maybe Alice and Wonderland. Curving up and down, no straight lines. The house was massive had a tower and various other points of architectural interest that made even looking at the roof fun for a 10 year old. Well a 10 year old that loved houses.

Later my mom and I would go on walks to get some exercise. Sometimes we would go to the College area in Modesto for a nice change of scenery. I love the houses there. I decided if I ever moved to Modesto I would live in that neighborhood. I did move to Modesto, and rented an apartment off of Staniford, behind Longs.

I keep changing my dream house. For a while it was the house with the curvy roof, even though I never saw the front of it I knew it was magical. For quite some time it was the Victorian house on the corner of Orangeburg and Tully. It was slightly run down, but I would fix it up. It was a doll house. The back sun porch was completely surrounded by stained glass. Intricate purple flowers all over. There was a little balcony coming off the master bedroom, I would put a small bistro table and chair there and drink my morning coffee. The green awning over the balcony was a great shape, but I would get a white colored one and paint the house a cheerful yellow with white trim. The yellow and the purple flowers would contrast nicely and keep it consistent with its Victorianess. As I got older someone purchased the house and painted it all white with hot pink trim. I was annoyed. Now it looked more like Barbie’s play house. But I could fix it. Then the recession happened. Barbie’s grass was dying and soon a foreclosure sign was up. I was hopeful that the person who purchased the house would restore it to its hay day. He started out by replacing the roof with the common asphalt shingles. Not a good start. For the longest time a piece of trim was hanging halfway off one of the gables. I just wanted to take a hammer and nail and fix it. Soon all the pink trim was gone, cover up with maroon. The Orangeburg side was the test side for paint colors. The white was painted with some tan color. Above the tan were stripes of different trim colors: the maroon, a green, an olive green, maybe another. The owner didn’t bother to strip the paint underneath so the weatherworn wood splintered into the new taupe. The yard is now littered with various clunker cars with for sale signs on them. The stained glass has been shattered. Only about a quarter of it is left. In the window is a sign for the man’s business. His handyman business. Now I just get sad when I drive by.

When Danny and I were in the market to buy a house we chose Ripon. I liked the small town feel. It has good schools and some charm. Although I would love to buy an old home and restore it, neither Danny nor I know the first thing about home restoration, and for our first house I just don’t think that would have been a good idea for our marriage. I loved the house hunting process, every week we would go with our funny realtor Bob looking at houses. I was in house heaven. One day we saw two houses that had the potential to be our first. One was big. Very big. Family room, living room, 5 bedrooms separate dining room. Like new. It was a tract home. In fact it was the same model as some of houses built by the Wal-Mart in Manteca. I didn’t love it, but besides its typical tiny bedrooms and ridiculously large master, it was nice enough. The other house was on the opposite side of Ripon. Close to some very charming homes that I liked to frequent. The house is a semi custom 1989 build. I liked it. It reminded me of an older home. It had, arched windows, a cross gabled roof, and little windows on the two separate garage doors. Inside the mantel made it feel grand for its humble size, the decorative inset in the ceilings were painted a baby blue in the guest bedrooms, the pièce de résistance was the ironing board that was built into the wall. No I don’t love doing laundry, I just thoroughly enjoy little nooks and innovative use of spaces. The carpet throughout the house was a baby blue…not so cute. The roof was shake and was on its last leg. But I loved it. For a moment I was tempted to go for the newer bigger, shinier house. More bedrooms meant we wouldn’t ever have to move again, the roof would last a lifetime, and made sense.

Luckily my heart won. We bought the house with more charm. We are slowly fixing the things we don’t like about it… (Well the things I don’t like about it). It's not perfect, it’s not the curvy Del Rio house, or the once magnificent Victorian, or the French cottage around the corner in the ritzy court (my new dream house), but it’s a piece of my dream. Sometimes I go over to my built in ironing board and open it, not to iron, but to admire, or I lay on my guest bed staring at my ceiling very content. I’m sure I’ll always be on a house hunt gazing out the window dreaming of how I would decorate or what it would be like to live there, but for now I have my piece of a dream.

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