Unfolding the Map
Traveling up the Chesapeake Bay with William Least Heat-Moon (LHM), we hit Oxford, Maryland. A quiet waterfront town, his description of houses and fences gives me pause to reflect on my own current foray into looking for a house. At right is the Maryland state bird, the Baltimore oriole as seen on Wikimedia Commons. If you want to find Oxford, there's no better place than the map.
"On a peninsula between the Choptank and Tred Avon rivers, I came to Oxford, a seventeenth-century village of brick sidewalks and nineteenth-century houses. Only a few small streets branched off the main trunk, Robert Morris Street, a way of aesthetically cohesive homes and yards fenced by the Oxford picket - a slat with a design at the top that looks like an ace of clubs with a hole shot in it. The pickets were popular, even though painting the holes could take all spring."
Blue Highways: Part 9, Chapter 15
My wife and I have stopped thinking about talking about buying a house, and we have moved to talking about and then thinking about buying a house. If that seems confusing, well, that's just the way we operate.
The quote above, with its references to a picturesque village, nineteenth-century houses and picket fences, fits with my current thoughts toward finding and making a home for ourselves. We have been starting to move our thoughts toward what kinds of houses we would like, what neighborhoods we would like to live in, and how much house we can afford. Do we want two bedrooms or three, 1 or two bathrooms, perhaps a garage? How big of a yard? Most people do this sometime in their 20s or 30s, but not me and my wife. We're waiting until I'm almost 50 to seriously consider buying our first house.
I suppose the type of house is also on the table. It seems that in this particular area where LHM traveled in Blue Highways, "telescope" houses were plentiful. I had never heard of these type of houses until reading about them in the book. They are houses that started as small units, and then larger units were built onto the smaller ones until the houses look like the components of a telescope. In New Orleans, had we bought there, chances are that we would have found a "shotgun" house, so named because once you entered the door, each room followed the next in a straight line back to the kitchen. The idea was you could have fired a shotgun from the front door and the pellets would travel out the back door without hitting anything (although that doesn't make much sense because shotgun pellets spread out as they travel - a rifle house would be a better name for these houses). We rented a shotgun house for a year when we lived in New Orleans. Actually, it was a double shotgun because it had two shotgun apartments on each side of the house, and it could be a bit of a pain when we guests because they had to walk through our bedroom to get to the bathroom. People buying homes in New Orleans often would fix these houses up to live in and, if they were a double shotgun, to rent out one side to pay the mortgage.
Midwestern style brick houses never seem to be out of style anywhere - we'd see them wherever Midwesterners came to settle outside the Midwest. In Milwaukee, smack dab in the Midwest, these houses were always wonders to me. Even the ones that looked like they had the most age on the outside often had elaborate and beautiful woodwork inside. They were always at least two stories, and sometimes three. Many of our friends who bought houses had these style of houses, usually fixer-uppers that were bought cheap and became lifelong projects.
Out in Northern California, the ranch house reigned supreme, at least in the rural areas where I grew up. These tended to sprawl out. My mom's house, for example, has a large living room with two small bedrooms off one side and a kitchen off the other. A long hallway travels laterally from the living room, past a multipurpose room and a bathroom to another medium-sized bedroom and another small bathroom adjacent to the first. When I grew up, we added a room and therefore augmented the space in the house, though it is strange as the room is aesthetically separate from the rest of the house, even though it is connected by two doors, simply because it sits lower than the rest of the building.
In Albuquerque, the Southwestern style of house predominates. Many houses, modeled after the dwellings in Native American pueblos, have a pueblo-style to them. The most sought-after are adobe houses. Built of bricks made of mud and straw, they are plastered with additional mud and are therefore reddish-brown, almost as if they have sprung from the earth itself. They are perfect for desert living, as they tend to stay cool in the hot summers but trap heat from the sun in the winter. From above they look rectangular, but from street level their corners are softened and rounded and they are often surrounded by adobe walls. I find them very pleasant and relaxing, especially with a nice xeriscaped garden in front and in back. Of course, other styles of housing are available, including faux-adobes which are made with modern materials but are fashioned to look like adobe houses. That's the kind of house we rent currently.
So, there are a lot of things for us to consider, including price. I was surprised to find that even with my salary alone, we could afford a lot more house than I had expected. Now it's just up to us to decide, take a look at a few things, and eventually make a decision on one we like and for which we are willing to make an offer.
That's scarier than it sounds. Doing so means that we will be responsible for repairs and upgrades. We will have to make decisions about remodeling should any come up. It will be the biggest investment of money we will ever make. It will anchor us in a way that we've never been anchored before.
But, as I think about it, I really want to create and nurture a garden. I want a place to display arts picked up around the world in the way I want to display them. I want a room where I can put our beautiful Turkish carpet. And I want to grow up, to be an adult, and feel a sense of belonging and home that I haven't felt for a long time. And even though I probably won't have a picket fence, a low adobe wall would be a nice touch if we can find it.
I couldn't find a song that I knew that fit this post, so figured I put on my discovery of The Fall's My New Home.
If you want to know more about Oxford
Next up: Bellevue, Maryland