In September 2017, we moved out of the city. More than nine months later, I am still processing this decision, even at the close of the 2017-2018 academic year. The Boy, The Girl, and #3 performed exceptionally well this year, achieving their own goals and hopes for the year, an affirmation that we made the “right” move.
I wrote the following piece in August 2017, as we closed on the sale of our house. Conceived as a letter to the new owners, it became an ode to our house, our block, our neighborhood, our family. I don’t remember if I sent it to them or not. I include it here because I think it’s a pretty good piece of writing. YMMV.
We found this house on a house-hunting trip in June 2002. We were moving from San Francisco, the first wave of the portable work-from-home jobs afforded by the tech industry. I was 28. The Dad was 29. We wanted to buy a home and have babies, neither of which was possible on our salaries in 2002 in the Bay Area.
We did weekend warrior-style looking: houses back to back to back on a 5-day trip. I don’t remember the tree-lined street or vibrant park we passed on the way to the house. I don’t remember the proximity to the L or the highway. My first lasting memory of the house was getting to the kitchen and saying “I hate this floor!” Fifteen years later, I still hate it. But also, 15 years later I still love the stained glass window, the hardwood floors, the afternoon sun as it falls across the 2nd floor bedroom at the front of the house, the oak molding and trim, the banister rail where we hang our stockings at Christmas, the wide front porch, and the morning light as it streams in through the kitchen windows.
My first memory of owning this house is sitting on a $20 floor cushion from Cost Plus World Market in the master bedroom, four months pregnant and kind of uncomfortable, for hours while while waiting for our moving van to arrive from California. The house had a very pleasant smell, one that reminded me not of my childhood home, but of my parents’ best friends’ home: natural materials, wood polish, and the paws of outdoor cats. The first thing we did is have the ducts cleaned.
We did not live here a full lifetime, but from this house came much life. All three of our children were born in Chicago and came home to live at this house. My oldest child (The Boy) was born not even a year after we moved in, and he has at one time or another claimed almost every space and room in the house as his own. I spent 6 weeks on the living room couch under bedrest while pregnant with my 2nd child (The Girl). My 3rd child’s (#3) first bedroom was actually the closet of the north-wall bedroom, which was just big enough for a crib and a standing adult.
My children learned to walk, talk, and read in this house. The Girl broke her elbow in this house. I spent my first mother’s day as a mother in this house. The Dad spent his first father’s day as a father in this house. I passed thousands of hours nursing, rocking or reading to children in an upholstered rocking chair that was in the north-wall bedroom we used as a nursery. The Dad spent hundreds of hours walking a child to sleep on the front porch.
A family of introverts, we spent a lot of time just living and being in this house. We baked cookies, entertained neighbors, hosted playgroups and playdates, did infinite loads of laundry, put together puzzles, handed out hundreds of pounds of Halloween candy, read books, played games, broke glasses (many of them shattering into a zillion pieces on that darn kitchen floor!), rearranged furniture, assembled wood projects on the work bench, painted rooms, had friends over to play, discussed books, listened to the radio, watched and cancelled satellite, danced, studied, sewed, baked contributions for the Ridgeway Block Party cake walk, did homework, slept, ate, bathed, cried, loved, fed, learned to ride a bike, and participated in seemingly millions of conference calls in and from this house. We even hosted an IKEA home visit.
My children first went to school from this house. For every year from 2008 to 2016, there is a photo of my children on the front porch of N. Hamlin Ave., the house number visible on the column. The children are scrubbed and (usually) smiling, sporting their new backpacks. It became an annual tradition to walk to school as a family on the first day of elementary/middle school in September. We have done so for the past nine years.
By and large, this house has been good to us. I always had the sense that it was protecting me, cradling me in its comfortable above-grade rooms. The basement, however, was harder, less kind with its square edges, right angles, and sharp poky things.
Over the years of owning this house, our street and our neighborhood have evolved. On one of our first exploratory walks, we went to an old-school Italian restaurant on Kedzie and Irving Park Road. It’s been a Chase bank for years. The Walgreen’s at the corner of Pulaski and Irving Park was a Mobil gas station in 2002. The mattress store on Irving Park Road was an Ace Hardware with a specialty in model trains. There was no Home Depot or Target. Tony’s Fresh Market was called Tony Finer Foods, carried nothing organic, and was known by older neighbors as a Butera. The townhouses at Irving Park Road and the Metra tracks by Six Corners were a working Comcast building. The closest Trader Joe’s store was in Downer’s Grove. There was a shoe store with a beautiful mural on the SE corner of Irving Park and Lawndale; it’s now a gravel parking lot. Disney II High School was a combination middle school for neighborhood kids and a private daycare facility called Kidwatch. Greater Independence Park Neighbors Association (GIPNA) did not yet exist. Independence Park Advisory Council did.
During our time in the neighborhood, the Ridgeway Block party welcomed us with open arms, swelled to unimaginable proportions (like a street fair), closed ranks again, and recently evolved again as more young families moved to the block. It is always the first Saturday in September after Labor Day. We attended; it was among the good in good-bye.
When we moved in, our block of North Hamlin was populated 90% by elderly and retired people. We learned our property was once the corner house, but had been subdivided in the 50s and the brick house built. A neighbor on Ridgeway took care of the former owners, who left the property to her. Our nextdoor neighbors were lifetime owners whose matriarchs are in their 90s. Directly across the street from us, the house is the house of little kids; the current family is the 5th family who has lived there since we moved in. A few squiggles kept pizza and Amazon delivery drivers confused between our house and one across the street. The east side of the street has a lot of two flats. The west side of the street has more single family homes. There is a block captain at the top of the block.
Local-famous area residents include: author Audrey Niffennegger, who says no one cares because she doesn’t have a dog or kids; Tribune columnist Eric Zorn; Jeff Tweedy of Wilco; chef Matthias Merges; and Sun-Times reporter Lauren FitzPatrick. I’m sure there are others.
We are shuffling off to a new (to us) house, a new neighborhood, new potentially famous residents, new rituals, and new memories. I don’t know if it’s possible to repeat the deep emotional investment into our new place as we have had here.