My Family’s Houses

My several grandparents lived in several places. In a 12-room apartment in a Park Avenue building that’s oddly famous for having had an actual book written about it. In what I can only call an estate, in New Jersey, which has since been converted into a country club, a golf course, a housing development, and other modern conveniences. Perhaps a 7-11. I am not quite sure. And in a large elegant comfortable house in Massachusetts which is, I believe, still there.

I also grew up, with my siblings and my parents, in several houses. A conventional ranch house on the San Francisco Bay Area Peninsula, a conventional house in the hills of the same Peninsula, another house down on the expensive flatlands that had 35 rooms, and back up into the hills to a house with 5 acres. And horses. 3 horses. Technically 2 horses and a pony. The change in housing, from conventional to semi-outrageous, came when my father’s mother, his last surviving parent, died. He then inherited the remainder of the tail end of the family fortune, once large enough to warrant mention in the New York Times. And no, we are not Astors or Whitneys or Rockefellers.

But I suppose my grandparents hung out with those folks. They maybe came to our family weddings. Said hello on Wall Street. It’s possible.

Me I live in a 3 bedroom, 2.5 bathroom house with a den. Granted it’s in Northern California so is valued at what would be an exorbitant amount in the rest of the country, but really, it’s a conventional house. I can see my neighbors’ kitchen from my kitchen window. Hear the other neighbors’ kids scolded in their swimming pool. Hear the yelling of dads watching their sons play baseball in the nearby park. Why baseball always causes so much yelling I do not know.

I have been asked do I wish I could return to the days of my grandparents?

Today I mowed my lawn. Although my job has been partly found, the income is not enough to hire a gardener and the time involved is not so much that I can’t mow my own lawn. It’s hard work. It’s a little lawn, but I only have a push mower. And my lawn slopes like a hill. Granted, a little hill. But I’m not 30 any more. Do I wish I still lived as my grandparents did? My father’s mother, in a house with grounds so large it’s now a golf course? So well-to-do (for some reasons High WASPs think the word wealthy is vulgar) that they had an actual swimming pool, way back then?

No. I don’t. I’m not being particularly virtuous, either. Today I mowed my lawn in my son’s khakis and sweatshirt. My neighbor from across the street asked me did I need an electric lawn mower. No, I said, I count this as exercise. It was a beautiful day, windy, cool, blue skies. The dandelions were very yellow and I pulled them out of the ground with my weeder.

I wouldn’t mind more land. I wouldn’t mind more privacy. More sky I can call my own. But I wouldn’t want to relinquish my right to wear what I want to wear on my own lawn. I wouldn’t want to trade my right to wear sneakers, as a woman, to have hair trailing from my hair elastic and blowing in the wind. I wouldn’t want to give up my time nursing and raising my own children. Learning to cook. And I wouldn’t want tochange the world in which I know as friends people from cultures my grandparents most likely didn’t have any emotional or logistical way to access. Even though a great-great uncle tried, living with tribes in Africa, how close they got to the societal possibilities of today I hesitate to estimate

I don’t want to trade in what I have now. I wish I could have everything. I wish I could buy the art (oh for a Christo painting of the Running Fences), travel to the hotels, consider my options, in the same way they did. But I also know, again with no virtue on my part, that options bring anxiety. That lack of necessity causes doubt. I wouldn’t mind more land. But I like to mow my lawn.

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  • Wonderfully said. Thank you :)

  • Dani said it perfectly.

  • If I’m ever in Cali, I would love to sit down and have coffee with you. Better yet, a glass of wine. Because it’s Cali. Luh-huv this blog.

  • I really like your last paragraph…it says so much more than what is written. I would not want to go back to the time of my grandparents either!

  • “Learning to cook.”

    I was excited about going to a friend’s house for supper. She is Mexican from Puebla and I thought I would get some fabulous home-cooked Mexican food.

    It was awful! Bless her heart, she’s a terrible cook. And then I realized why: she comes from a wealthy Puebla family, so had maids and cooks and never had to learn to cook!

    PS I would not want to return to my grandparents’ time, either, but for different reasons! I have no wish to use an outhouse in the middle of a cold Wisconsin winter. Or even in the summer!

  • You tell stories that are not unfamilar to me. Though I am, of course, a generation further removed.

  • Stories are good. Of Wisconsin, grandmothers, generations, grandchildren. A nice glass of wine. A good story. And I’m on board with fireplaces too.

  • lovely post. i love mowing my own lawn too. there is something so good about it. xo

  • Lovely, contented thoughts Lisa…as an avid reader do you mind sharing the name of the book written of The Park Avenue building?

    Love and Hugs
    Art by Karena
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  • Everytime I read one of these points I start to think about writing another entry about my family history. Holidays make me extra reflective, I think!

  • So funny about the cooking, my mother has never never cooked in her life, both parents grew up with cooks and nannies and other what nots, and this continued in their marriage, it was a very different time back then, I couldn’t bear the intrusion to my privacy of having staff.
    That is a wonderful looking apartment building in NYC, I would love to step back in time and live there.

  • I have a very similar family story and feel exactly as you do, Lisa. I love the expansive freedoms, interesting people, and fellow Artsies and Seekers here in the People’s Republic (as we fondly call our fair city), and would never trade it for life in the ne-plus-ultra HW town in CT where I grew up.

  • The Park Avenue Front door looks beautifully European. It beckons me to come closer, and hear its many stories! Being close to the “societal possibilities” opens up a wonderful world, doesn’t it?

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  1. […] with that, here’s the first: My Family’s Houses, from April 2009. An excerpt […]