Thanskgiving: Winding Up

I didn't use my computer this holiday weekend.  After a lazy Thanksgiving day, I was busy shopping, cleaning, and moving furniture.  My older son had been begging me for months to remove his double bed from his room and replace it with something smaller, since the antique bed took up more than half the room and didn't give him any space to move around much or relax.  After scanning piles of ads for Black Friday sales, I found two stores selling futons at bargain prices.  Luckily, the futon box fit in the back of my station wagon.  But moving furniture was the easy part of this process--cleaning my son's room, especially under his bed, was another matter.  After two days of vacuuming, tossing out food wrappers, scrubbing stains on the carpet, etc., his room now resembles a comfortable den, cozy but with room to stretch out.  My husband and I are both eyeing this space greedily, anticipating my son's departure for college three years in the future and the potential knitting/spinning/sewing room or office this area could accomodate.  We are neither eager nor ready for our son to leave home, but the challenges of four people (three quite large) living in a relatively small house can be difficult at times. 

My house is located on a street of modest houses in a pre-planned community, one that attempts to create a nineteenth century village feel.  There are Charleston-style row houses, craftsman bungalows, brick row houses, and a myriad of homes in other styles.  My town is one of the first of such mixed pre-planned, pedestrian friendly, and incorporated communities, where income levels and ages vary.  There is even an area with maintenance-free ranches for senior citizens.  In the 1990s, billboards on a major local highway used to advertise this community with the slogan, “Union County’s finest neighborhood” and people used to jokingly compare my town to the one featured in the movie The Truman Show.  Now, however, after years of rapid growth and development, my house is located on the less fashionable side of town.  A year or two before the real estate bubble burst, it seemed that everyone was moving across the highway, to an area with bigger yards, better schools, and closer upscale (or at least a step above our nearby Wal-mart) shopping.  Before the recent economic downturn, I used to feel stigmatized by the lack of status my home represented.  My blue collar neighbors were moving up and out, but my family had to stay behind in our small (by recent standards anyway) house.  We have no bonus room for a flat screen TV (we don’t have one of those yet, either), no extra bedroom, or space for an office.  Heck, we don’t even have room for the ubiquitous island in the kitchen. 

My house, though, is warm and cozy.  We have a new roof, and while it the siding is vinyl rather than brick and architectural details such as nice moldings and turned columns are absent, its plain colonial style is timeless.  What puzzles and makes me wonder, "Are we poor?" is that so many of my neighbors have recently moved in, not because they loved the neighborhood (which is very quaint and attractive overall) and wanted to purchase a modest house, but because they have experienced financial difficulty.  Our neighbors on one side lost their former 3,500 square foot house to foreclosure when the husband found himself unemployed for over a year.  Renting the house next door (which is larger than mine and impeccably maintained) was a big step down for them.  Another couple with three children has only one vehicle, a van with broken air conditioning that the family used to drive to their son’s baseball tournament near Atlanta during broiling temperatures last summer.  This family counts every penny, and brought pizza they’d purchased with coupons to Atlanta with them to eat on their one-night trip, so that they could avoid spending money at restaurants.  Other neighbors have five kids in a 1700 square foot house they rent.  I know from their landlord that this family is often late with rent payments. Sometimes I feel dejected that my home, of which I’m actually quite proud, seems to be located on a street that is associated with stepping down in the world or financial struggles. 

I must remember that people from some other countries would fail to think of my street as one where people fallen on hard times must resort to living.  I can remember when my husband and I sponsored an au pair from Lithuania.  When she saw her small bedroom and the tiny bathroom she would be sharing with my two boys (who were doubled up in another small bedroom), she began weeping—and surprisingly these were not the tears of a spoiled girl, suddenly aware that she ended up with the only au pair sponsor family without a Mcmansion, country club membership and beach house.  These were tears of joy.  She had grown up in a family of four (sometimes five when her grandmother lived with her family) in two rooms.  Our house, with its two and a half baths, dishwasher, and microwave oven seemed positively lavish to her. 

As we celebrated  Thanksgiving last week, I had to remember Beata’s (our au pair's) tears and view my life with a perspective that doesn’t concern itself with the Joneses or with what’s trendy or fashionable what’s a “good neighborhood.”  At this time, I must remember that I take myself with me wherever I go, and that the grass is not always greener on the other side.  I must count my blessings. 
What I’m Thankful For

My husband’s compassionate (sometimes saintly) nature he displays as he silently suffers and goes along with each of my latest whims, including my trip to Italy last spring and my upcoming visit to Vogue Knitting Live this coming January
My sons, ages 11 and 14, despite the fact that they rambunctious, sloppy, and determined to sometimes tease me till I cry with frustration

My treasured close friends

My cozy house

Good wine (better yet, wine with flavor that betrays its cheap cost) 

Fresh, unprocessed food and delicious recipes for preparing it 

Processed fast food--for those busy working mother evenings on the run

A lovely Thanksgiving meal, shared with family on a horse farm in the country (including four pies and one cake for nine people)

My cat and dog and the hours of entertainment they provide
My teaching job, however draining (more like life sucking) at times

My students on those days when my lesson meshes with their moods 

A job with summers off

Jane Austen novels and other good literature and the thoughts they provoke

Formulaic chic flicks and novels, for the escape they provide

Bookstores for browsing (let's hope some survive)

My favorite local knitting store and its warm atmosphere

And of course knitting and spinning with all of their psychological and aesthetic pleasures


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