BY SIRI BARDARSON
May 20, 2015
Downsizing is big these days and I have done it. A year ago I moved from 1700 sq. ft. to 665 sq. ft. and from 18 rosebushes to one.
According to the Census, the average American will move 11.7 times in a lifetime. Mobility and a shortage of usable space have inspired cozy Manhattan studios measuring less than 300 sq. ft. and a popular “tiny house” movement.
What is livable? What is living?
I bought this tiny condo the first time I saw it. I had searched for anything under 100K and ended up in Oak Harbor. I was scouring a neighborhood near the water and nearly missed the For Sale sign propped up in a window of a building that looked like an old Herfy’s hamburger joint. The place was so 1970s—just like me. The front door was nothing more than a slider and I couldn’t see much through the reflective coating. I jotted down the agent’s number and then I noticed the rosebush at the edge of the concrete patio.
The rose was lanky and blotched with black spot, like rosebushes get around here with proximity to the saltwater. It had the biggest bright orange rose hips that I’d ever seen, and I broke one off and twiddled the stem in my fingers while I stared 25 yards down the driveway to the saltwater of Oak Harbor. I hurried to my car and called the phone number from the sign and stuck the rose hip in my visor.
The next day, my real estate agent yammered at me as I stood in the living room. The condo was crummy with inexpensive faux oak laminate on the floor that was cupped on the seams. It had been freshly painted in dull sage in high gloss, the ancient uneven taping of the overhead drywall illuminated by the shine like zits on a greasy 16-year-old nose. It had a four-by-four foot kitchen that had a smell, but there was a view of the saltwater and the rose bush.
“I’ll buy it,” I said.
The offer was a short sale and I immediately had buyer’s remorse and suffered for the six months to closing. One evening after teaching, I grabbed some fast food and sat in my car in the February darkness at the end of the condo driveway on the street by the water.
What the heck had I done? My house in Freeland was a mile from the beach on an acre of land with 18 roses in my overgrown veggie garden and more Great Horned owls than one long night could stand. We had lived there for 20 years.
I took a bite of my sandwich and rolled down my window to breathe in the cold salty air of Oak Harbor. On the water in a puddle of streetlight floated the largest raft of Hooded Mergansers I had every seen. I calmed down.
Do you know Edgar Albert Guest’s poem, “Home”? The one that starts—“It takes a heap o’ livin’ to make a house a home?”
Here is the last verse:
Ye’ve got t’ sing an’ dance fer years, ye’ve got t’ romp an’ play,
An’ learn t’ love the things ye have by usin’ ’em each day;
Even the roses ’round the porch must blossom year by year
Afore they ’come a part o’ ye, suggestin’ someone dear
Who used t’ love ’em long ago, an’ trained ’em jes’ t’ run
The way they do, so’s they would get the early mornin’ sun;
Ye’ve got t’ love each brick an’ stone from cellar up t’ dome:
It takes a heap o’ livin’ in a house t’ make it home.
Maybe with the new paradigm, our experience with what we love, like roses, will be fleeting. Maybe we will pick up where that last stanza left off.
Many years ago, I won “Best Rose” at the Island County Fair. I know it’s near impossible to kill a rose bush. Does it have to be “new,” does it have to be “mine” to love it just as much and take care of it just as well?
I have a piece of a rose thorn embedded on the inside of my forearm from some rose wrangling in my old garden. It is like a tiny black tattoo on my white skin. I tried to get it out and I dug at it with a needle. It got infected and I figured it would disappear after time. Ten years later, it is still in my arm.
It’s the only bit of rose I’m ever really taking with me. I think about this deep in the night while I listen to the Great Horned owl outside the condo.
A Pacific Northwest native, Siri Bardarson is a writer with an emotional hotline to the vibrant magic of the Puget Sound area. She writes about the importance of the wild blackberry, daisies and natural time and how we are all in this together, and she plays her cello a lot. Siri loves her Whidbey Island home but she feels prepared to live just about anywhere.
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I was so surprised and pleased to read your blog! You are never completely out of my mind because I’m still taking cello lessons. Thanks to you, I’ve gone beyond French Folk Song but not far enough. And I’m still writing — the term today is “creative nonfiction” for made-up stories about one’s life.
Congratulations on your new digs! I keep thinking I’ll run into you at Lind’s. I hope that’s still within the realm of possibility!
Beautiful writing as usual, Siri. I’m still looking forward to visiting you there one day. And what about Herfy’s hamburger joint? Am I too much of a Johnny-come-lately to grab one of their burgers?
Sounds like that would have been living, for sure.