This coming week, my husband Matt and I will have been married for 25 years. This is the same number of years we have lived in our house, and so we are left with the question of which anniversary is most worth celebrating. We never anticipated 25 years of marriage or home ownership, but here we are, 25 years having passed by without our ever taking much notice of time marching along.
I have often read that a good marriage requires effort, but being married for a quarter of a century has really been pretty easy for me, and my husband claims it’s been a smooth ride for him, too. I suspect this is because I am so tolerant of his many character flaws, such as not wiping down the counters when he cooks, blowing his nose at the dinner table, and telling the same jokes over and over again, and I manage this remarkable patience while also maintaining an absolutely flawless personality myself.
And so for us, it is home ownership that has been a lot of work. Just like our marriage, our home was brand new when we took possession of it a few days before our wedding. No one had ever lived in our house, and the backyard was nothing but weeds.
Thus, the work began almost immediately.
We set about fencing and cross fencing our plot of land, laying in sprinklers, planting trees and grass. We built a pen for goats and stalls for horses. The following summer, I put in a garden of tomatoes, sunflowers, gladiolas, cranberry beans, corn, lettuce, and summer squash.
I thought then that I should have been a farmer instead of a teacher because I loved tending my 20-by-60 foot garden. Every day, I spent hours pulling Bermuda grass. I adorned my living room with so many gladiolas it resembled a funeral parlor. Matt and I planted a peach tree, an apricot tree, an orange tree, a lemon tree. Matt built stools, tables, a desk, and more tables to put in our various rooms, and eventually he built a shop, too. I stopped buying clothes and started spending money on home décor, a phrase I had never used in my pre-home-owner’s life. Some teenagers stole my Camaro IROC, a car I had bought when still single, and with the money from my insurance, we put in a pool.
And then, just like in a marriage, a few realities began to set in. I realized that I hated pulling Bermuda grass, that we could never eat or give away all of our peaches and apricots, that lettuce grown in sandy soil is almost impossible to clean. The peach tree was the first thing to go, and then my garden got smaller every year, until I grew only tomatoes. I got pregnant and had no time for horses or cleaning stalls. We sold the goats. We cut down the apricot tree. The lemon tree died.
But the work did not really end. It just moved from the outdoors to the indoors. We remodeled the house, adding seven hundred square feet, mostly so we would have a place to put our kids’ toys. Cleaning our bigger house consumed my Saturdays. Our new kitchen, which we thought was a chef’s dream, required more scrubbing and sweeping and wiping than our smaller kitchen had, and so, while the kitchen might be a chef’s dream, it is also a housekeeper’s nightmare. And to pay for all of the shiny new stuff in our remodel, we doubled our mortgage payment. Then the housing crisis hit, and it seemed everyone around us was losing their homes and that we might lose ours, too.
Meanwhile, we acquired more goats and a couple of horses for the kids, and the outside work grew more demanding again. We had to put in a fence around the pool to keep our toddlers safe. We bought a pig. We built a new chicken pen and coop because we wanted our kids to have fresh eggs and because we thought having more animals around would help our sons become really, really responsible. We assembled a fort with a swing and slide.
And all the while, Matt and I grew older.
This year, I did not plant tomatoes. I found some wonderful heirloom tomatoes at Costco. Our orange tree needs to be pruned, but we do get good oranges every year, most of which end up rotting at the base of the tree. We have not had chickens since our dog Lucy, who cares nothing about whether or not our children will one day be responsible adults, somehow managed to get into the coop and—well, you can guess the rest of that story. I have hired some very nice ladies to clean my house. We sold one horse and the other died. Her ashes are buried behind Matt’s shop. The goats are long gone. The roses I planted in place of my vegetable garden have died because we’re on a well, and memories of the drought are still fresh in my mind.
Our house has been through a lot over the past 25 years. Like its adult occupants, it’s a little worse for wear, but still standing.
Last weekend, I went to an open house hosted by a friend of mine who is a realtor. The homeowners, a lovely retired couple, were still there when I arrived.
“Your house is beautiful,” I said to them. “How long have you lived here?”
“Oh, only 49 years,” the wife answered.
So, maybe 25 years isn’t such a long time after all. If that couple could hold on for 49 years, both to their marriage and home, then I think Matt and I can manage a while longer, too.
Brigitte Bowers is a lecturer in the Merritt Writing Program at UC Merced.