Thursday, March 8, 2012

Houses and Holdings

 I disliked looking at houses when we thought we might buy them. There is an element of personal judgment in an open house that made me uncomfortable, with the visitors evaluating the owners' decisions in renovations or expansions, decorating, furnishings, and other possessions, while at the same time the price tag set by owners ruthlessly judges the shoppers' financial status. But like many of our neighbors, I like to look at houses on the market in our area. Without the pressure of wondering whether we can afford it, I do like to see houses--oh, look, that's the same trim they used in our house--what people have done, and how they furnish them. (Which suggests that the discomfort was purely selfish.) A novelist I know very slightly, the friend of friends, said that he enjoyed visiting open houses to see how people lived.

For many years we would set out with the Washington Post real estate ads on a Sunday, and look at houses. We looked mostly within about four square miles of northwest Washington, DC, and a bit of Maryland. In Washington, we looked mostly in the area west of the park to about Reno Road, past which the houses became too expensive, but also in Shepherd Park and Colonial Village. In Maryland our bounds were Dale Drive in the east, Connecticut Avenue on the west, and the train tracks to the north.

Now, she has an excellent eye and strong memory for anything to do with houses. We have conversations now and then that begin

"We looked at that house before it was renovated, remember?"
"Umm..."

I remember houses less by their space--unless that space is very large, very small, or oddly laid out--than by the objects in them: the art, good or bad, the exercise equipment, the family pictures, the books. An open house in the neighborhood the other day set me to thinking about objects I had noticed:
  • off Dale Drive in Silver Spring, a Heptateuch on the bookshelves
  • in Northwest Washington, somebody's Silver Star citation from 1967 or so
  • off Pooks Hill Road, the apartment furnished in bachelor--a weight set, a bicycle, and the photograph of a lean female midriff on the wall
  • off Nebraska Avenue, the house furnished largely with crates of LPs and with action figures--divorce or inheritance?
  • not far away, a house with 21 copies of John Lewis's memoirs on the shelves
  • in Hawthorne, a house with a beauty salon in the basement
  • also in Hawthorne, the house that had a gas fireplace and electric stove
  • in Shepherd Park, the neighbors with a score of wind chimes
  • everywhere, family photos, some reaching back nearly a century

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