What does it take to make a house a home?
Sometimes when I don’t feel like doing anything, I relax on my favorite leather chair and turn to Netflix. Netflix is inexpensive, reliable, informative and entertaining. Along with documentaries and cooking shows, I enjoy watching people hunt for the perfect house. It doesn’t exist, of course, but that doesn’t stop people from searching.
One characteristic of all newlyweds or seasoned house hunters is their insistence upon stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, and stone floors. The marketing genius who came up with the idea of going sockless must be the same one who brainwashed homebuyers into thinking they need a kitchen outfitted with “upgrades” to make their life complete.
Young couples looking for a “starter” house cringe when they enter kitchens and see traditional white appliances. Even couples who have “outgrown” their present home feel the same way. In the hunt for a new house, kitchens with “outdated” appliances are immediately considered unsatisfactory. People insist on the industrial look of stainless steel. I cannot understand why. One trip to the refrigerator, stove, or microwave and the new, unused look disappears. Fingerprints, bacon splatters, and dust make themselves at home, deaf to the frustrated cries of their owners.
I’ve yet to see a stainless steel refrigerator door plastered with children’s artwork, colorful magnets, or family pictures. The kitchen cannot maintain a sterile look if invaded with nostalgia, so I guess the kids’ drawings, decorative magnets, and family photos are stuffed in a junk drawer and forgotten.
Another must-have for homebuyers is granite, something I equate with tombstones. Twelve years ago, I worked for two weeks at a cemetery. I wanted a new challenge so I moved to Normal, Illinois, and began work on my Ph.D. at Illinois State University. After two months, I became disillusioned with my decision because I felt like a freshman. I quit the program and looked for employment.
The best I could find was selling final resting places. Although I was fairly certain everyone would eventually need such a place, I stayed only through the training period. When told on the last day of class that assisting in the removal of the departed was an integral part of the job, I ran for the door and home. So when I think of granite or marble, I think of the beautiful headstones and mausoleums sprinkled throughout that graveyard in Normal.
Another homeowner craze I don’t understand is cold, hard, unfriendly floors. My feet have been good to me for 67 years. The last thing I would consider inflicting upon them is an unforgiving floor like slate, tile, or cement. Such floors might look beautiful, but in my opinion comfort trumps beauty every time. A nice vinyl floor with a throw rug in front of the kitchen sink suits me just fine.
My nod to “updating” this trailer was purchasing new white appliances when the green ones gave out after 40 faithful years of service. On a whim, I installed new flooring in the kitchen, bathroom, and bedrooms and replaced green carpeting in the living room with beige Berber.
However, the 46-year-old Formica countertops have worn like iron-perhaps I should say granite-and look as good as the day they were installed. The oak stained cupboards went out of style with the last century, but they’re still strong and sturdy. My only concession to updating them was applying a fresh coat of golden oak stain to the cabinet doors and spray painting the knobs a pretty caramel color.
Ideas about the perfect house have certainly changed over the years. A few generations ago a bride was thrilled if her husband provided a home that didn’t come with a mother-in-law, water pails, kerosene lighting, or an outhouse. If a white Frigidaire stood in place of the oak icebox, the bride was elated.
If the woodstove had a dial on the oven door registering a remotely accurate oven temperature, the lady knew she had married a winner. And if the kitchen woodbox was full, a Jungers oil heater warmed the front room, the roof didn’t leak, the sash windows were easy to open and close, linoleum instead of dirt covered the floor, and mice were kept to a minimum, the bride had found Utopia.
In kitchens of old, a checked oilcloth covered a table that was both countertop and dining area. A cupboard was a piece of furniture, not a row of rectangle boxes running along the kitchen walls. The closest thing to granite was the black speckled dishpan on the woodstove with the galvanized rinsing pan overturned on top of it.
An indoor pump eliminated the need for water pails, and the washstand held the white enamel pan where everybody washed their hands after doing the barn chores.
There was no such thing as a “starter” home or “outgrowing” a residence. You started and finished in the same house and loved it all the more for the lifetime of memories it held.
Trends come and go and the hype surrounding stainless steel appliances, granite countertops and unforgiving floors may eventually disappear. I hope so because as the old time poet, Edgar A. Guest, noted “it takes a heap o’ livin’ in a house t’ make it home.” I’ll take the liberty to put my spin on that line and say it takes a whole lot more than “upgrades” to make a house a home.
Editor’s note: Sharon M. Kennedy of Brimley is a humorist who infuses her musings with a hardy dose of matriarchal common sense. She writes about everyday experiences most of us have encountered at one time or another on our journey through life. Her articles are a combination of present day observations and nostalgic glances of the past.