I looked at photos of Millie for over a month before I met her. You know that birthday party feeling you had as a kid? Where expectation, hope, and reality meet the second you ripped open the first present? I had that as I drove onto Millie’s street. Google Earth showed her next to an abandoned and condemned unit that I knew had been ripped down, but what did that do to and for Millie?
I drove halfway down the narrow street. There she was. The bright yellow door in the pictures was a dull, dirt-smeared mustard in person. The storm door was separating from its frame. Weeds grew in her window wells. Orange cones and yellow caution tape cordoned off the abandoned parking project where piles of trash were strewn. Like an abused woman, she seemed to sigh and crumble under my stunned expression.
The tiny foyer opened into a narrow hall and stairway. Graceful, tall, despite the wrinkled and peeling walls that told of her hard life. How long since someone actually loved her? The smell of damp and neglect grew stronger as I walked to the kitchen in the back. Two large windows showcased neighboring houses full of rot, trash, and chaos. Crumbling foundations precariously braced by crooked two-by-fours. Graffiti. Broken, boarded up windows. Back inside, I gave the kitchen a hard look. Like Febreezing dirty undies, someone had slapped up a tile backsplash under filthy cabinets. Ancient grease droplets hung from the vent hood that vented directly into the ceiling tiles above. A shiny new sink and faucet gleamed like a practical joke. A board with long, rusted nails lay next to the wall. The Boy and Lemon were exploring, blissfully ignorant of my growing dread. “What have we done?”
I opened the basement door and walked down the twisted stairs. Abandoned and rusting, old appliances spoke of dangerous hiding places and the walls glistened with sweat and filth. Flashbacks of my childhood fears haunted me. I didn’t linger.
Back upstairs to the dining room. Expanded views of abandonment and neglect at the window, but the promise of space and light whispered inside. Through the doorway to the living room with its stately fireplace. Wads of gum defaced the tile and wood floors. Broken and missing vertical blinds partially shielded the room from the outside. I began imagining Christmas stocking hung from the mantle. “Maybe it’s not so bad.”
I can be pretty again…
Upstairs. An unexpected room greeted me at the top. A tiny, Lemon-sized room with just enough space for a bed and miniature art studio. The bathroom was next. New vanity, dirty tub and toilet. More gum. The middle bedroom was dark and cool. Future playroom? Now the master bedroom. Flooded with light, begging to be decorated in sunshiney yellows.
The attic. A tiny winding staircase ending in a huge open space. Rough and patched floors sang under my feet. The Boy staked his claim here and rolled out his sleeping bag, utterly delighted. A helicopter landed at the hospital on the hill above the house. The “Coolest thing ever!” for a 10-year-old boy. Another door, another bright room, perfect for Beanie.
I have to admit that after I unloaded the van, I sat in the kitchen for a long time. Pouting. In my imagination, Millie was rough–we knew that–but she was a suburban rough, not an inner city rough. In my mind, the basement would be fine for rollerskating and storage. The bathroom and the kitchen would be outdated, but clean. White walls and one potty wouldn’t bother me. Living here would be fun-adventurous not scary-adventurous. Reality was more House Hunters International than Divine Design. We drove to Target and loaded up on bleach, brooms, mops, scrub brushes, and other cleaning supplies. I scrubbed off years of grime from the bathroom, and Jason mopped the floor. Much better.
Time for bed. We made up pallets on the floor in the “playroom.” None of the other bedrooms had window coverings. I just knew I would never sleep. I could almost feel spiders crawling on me, and I could almost hear the sound of scampering mice in the walls. But, none of that happened. We all slept soundly undisturbed by critter or sound. Jason braved the freshly bleached bathtub for a shower, only to find out there was no hot water. I giggled.
We took a window-shopping trip to IKEA. Nothing makes a house feel more like home to me than dream-decorating. Millie is all mine, and she is begging for a make-over!
Stay tuned for the transformation.