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Thursday, April 13, 2017

Without helmets

I’m incredibly lucky. I was born in the early 1950s. America was in the midst of an unprecedented era of peace and prosperity. Anything was possible; after all we were the nation that had just saved the world from tyranny.

Our President was beloved by most everyone – even one of the dogs in our Kenilworth neighborhood was named “Ike” in honor of the man. The good guys and the bad guys were obvious – that sentiment was translated into our games and discussions. Khrushchev was viewed as the ultimate bad guy and to be called a communist or Russian was a total insult.

Like most families at that time, we only had the one landline and the one TV set with the 5 channels. We had to share and take turns watching different shows. My brother and I would argue over what we would watch; until my dad would get concerned that we were watching too much TV. When that happened, he would reach behind the television set and remove the fuse and take it with him to work.

That was it for television, until he’d put the fuse back in on the weekends.

Life moved a little slower; flying was out of the question: too expensive. We always drove or took the train to faraway places. Construction of the interstate system was just underway; it was a big deal when the Eisenhower was built -- right through some neighborhoods in Chicago.   Although you wouldn't know it today, driving Edens made the commute to the city easier.

The dads disappeared everyday on the morning train, and the mothers -- who were anything but helicoptering -- loosely orchestrated our lives.   It was sort of like acting in a play with only female leads – the men were always the supporting players.

We walked or biked (without helmets) everywhere. It was simply not cool to be driven. In fact, you were considered a bit of a wimp and even teased, if your mother happened to drive you to school.

We were like the mailmen – “Neither snow nor rain nor heat…” kept us from walking back and forth to school every day – actually -- twice a day. I always came home to a hot lunch.

Hank, an older retired policeman, would lead children across the street at the corner of Kenilworth Avenue and Abbotsford Road. But I never walked to that corner, because – well, I knew how to safely cross Kenilworth Avenue without Hank's assistance!

I'm not naive. I know that my 1950s childhood was idyllic and that not all my contemporaries lived as well and as nicely as we did in Kenilworth.  But to me, this life was normal.

Our parents felt such gratitude that they had survived and had done well after the stresses of their youth.  They chronicled their own lives in terms of cataclysmic events. They used phrases like “Before The Crash, “During The Depression,” or “after The War” to specify various years. Their lives were utterly defined and entwined by these tragic historic years. Where I might say, “When I was in college,” my mother would say, “during the War.”

Probably because of their haunting youths, the Kenilworth parents seemed to fall into two categories. Some parents denied their children nothing. It was like they didn’t want their kids to feel the same deprivations that they had felt growing up in the Depression.

Or they were like my parents, who said “no” to just about everything. Don’t get me wrong – my parents weren’t selfish: we had wonderful vacations and lovely Christmases – they just didn’t want to waste money. The little unexpected gifts that happened along the way are still very memorable because of their infrequency.

Finally being able to buy their forever home, was a huge deal for my parents.  It was a lovely old house on Warwick Road near the Holy Comforter Church.  It was built sometime around 1912 and my parents were the second owners.  When we moved in, the house was in a bit of a time warp -- probably hadn't been redecorated since the 1930s. But my parents were so thrilled and proud: it was Mother's dream home and it was where they lived for over forty years.

My dad was on call most weekends, so he didn't do much around the house.  My mother was busy with all of her civic activities, so decorating and changing the house became a budgeted annual line item for which they saved.   One or two rooms at a time would get decorated.  I slept in my little pink bedroom with the wallpaper peeling off the walls and with a light bulb dangling from the ceiling for 4 years, before that room got decorated. As I look back, it really was pretty pitiful.

My folks had already lived there for fifteen years before they got around to remodeling the original kitchen.  (Even the little cabinet door to the exterior for the "ice" box was still there.)

In the forty years that they lived in the house, my folks never updated the bathrooms.  We had no showers and I shared a bathroom with my siblings.  We had no central air conditioning, either -- just window fans and air conditioners.  The closets were pretty small, so my dad kept his clothes in my younger sister's bedroom.

I thought I grew up in a happy home with ample space.  It was a nice house on a great street in a beautiful suburb.  In fact, I thought we had a fabulously luxurious house.

Given the exacting expectations of today's buyers, I guess we didn't live so well.

Probably, because of the way I was raised, I am always a bit perplexed by many of the buyers today.   Their expectations for new homes seem so... well... over the top.    Even having to remove wallpaper or paint walls to a different color are considered reasons for eliminating homes from consideration. Some of the comments I hear on a regular basis actually sort of amaze me.

I'll never forget the buyer, who was looking at a four bedroom/two bathroom house, turn to me and say, "I can't possibly expect my children to share a bathroom!"

I must have looked at her, like she came from another universe.

Even more shocking to me are some of the buyer requests from their home inspections.  There is a fearfulness about taking on a house -- with all it's history, quirks and karma.  I remember one buyer actually asking the seller to replace all the plumbing and electricity in the house just because it was older!


Any way you cut it, buying a home is not without work or without risk.  Life is full of uncertainty and risk.  Expecting the sellers to turn over a perfect, risk-free house is unrealistic -- in fact, I think it's a bit absurd.

Making a house your own home is part of the deal.  This may include fixing loose hinges, replacing an outlet or switch, painting the trim or rerouting the gutters.

Buyers today seem to want the sellers to take on all the risks.  I always wonder why.  Don't they want to create their own home?

But then again, I always rode my bicycle without wearing a helmet.

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