Tuesday, March 6, 2012

There Are Worse Things Than an Ugly House

My family lives in a cream-colored stucco condo shaped like a shoe box. The best thing that can be said about it from the outside is that it is inoffensive. My husband is an architect, specializing in high-end custom residential work, and we joke that our home is the antithesis of an architect's house. Our rooms are just a bunch of rectangles fit together without finesse.

But though my home is nothing special to look at, there is a house in our neighborhood that has always bothered me for its lack of, well, something. It is right on the corner where I turn into my neighborhood 5,000 times a week. Also of the cream-stucco ilk, the house boasts 1970s orange brick accents that could really use an update.

In the last year, the homeowners have done other improvements however: adding some really basic concrete steps that, unaccountably, lead up to the front door by way of two ugly utility closet doors. Then they added a wonky-looking black iron railing. And though I of the stucco shoe box am not one to judge, I did. It bugged both my husband and I. "If you're going to do something, at least do it right," we would remark. These "improvements" stuck like burrs in our aesthetic socks.

About a month ago, however, they made another addition: a porch swing. And often, I see the woman who lives there sitting on it with her grandsons. One is a baby. One is about three years old. They are out there in all different types of weather, easing back and forth, looking up at the sky and across the street at the trees bordering the schoolyard. They cuddle and they point at things and she whispers into their ears and they laugh.

For some reason, this makes me really happy, seeing that sweet grandma take time to swing with her boys. Before the porch swing, I had been thinking not-nice thoughts about her because her house wasn't pretty to begin with, and she had made it worse. I imagined I knew something about her that mattered, like having an ugly house was some kind of a moral failing. But now, I know something real about her: that she made an effort to create a place to just be with people that matter to her, and takes the time to actually do it.

I smile at her whenever I turn the corner now, especially if she has the boys with her. The last few times I waved. Grandma waves back at me, probably wondering wh0 I am and why I am grinning at her.

Perhaps one day I will stop and tell her: I always wished there was something beautiful to look at on this corner. And thanks to you, there is.

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