Our street is busy.
The busiest street I’ve ever lived on, anyway.
The constant whoosh of cars still sounds foreign to me. Whenever the bass of some big Buick blares by the house, I can’t help but look out the window. Daisy accompanies me.
She barks. I don’t.
The first house I called home was a 1970s ranch where we lived during the 90s. It sat on the last leg of a dead end road. Pine Street.
My room was located at the end of the house. Last window on the right. I had a peach-colored comforter and a blue boom box with red and yellow buttons. I’d pop in my cassettes—the Space Jam soundtrack, Celine Dion, George Strait, the Spice Girls—and imagine stage-worthy scenarios with packed audiences. In front of my dresser mirror, I’d dance and lip sync while wearing my purple velvet dance leotard. The flower print one. A two piece because it showed my belly button. ‘Cause I wanted to be a little bit scandalous.
The house had a basketball hoop, and a dog kennel, and a two-car garage. Across the street, thick woods thinned toward the shore of the Bad River’s brown waters. When an unexpected car made the slow, bumpy drive down, down, down the road to our driveway, it was an Event.
“Who’s here?” my mom would ask, her eyebrows reaching the sky.
“Some car,” I’d answer.
“Oh. They’re probably just turning around.”
I’d step back from the big picture window to hide my owl eyes. The car pulled in, backed up, headed where it came from. I felt disappointed that they were leaving because it was such an occasion, to see a car. We usually saw more deer than people.
Every year on Halloween, we used an orange plastic bowl from McDonald’s…one of those free gimmies for buying a Happy Meal. It had black triangle eyes and a toothy smile to resemble a pumpkin. We filled the bowl with Neapolitan taffy and left it on the porch, just in case any stray trick-or-treaters wandered our way. We bundled up and went to a few houses to collect Kit Kats and Twix bars. When we got home, our pumpkin bowl remained untouched.
Since we didn’t have neighbors, there were no neighborly waves. No borrowed cups of sugar. No fear of noise complaints. During the warm summer nights, my little brother and I took turns riding on the back of Dad’s yellow Honda Mini Trail bike. The engine snarled as we squealed past our fence in the front yard, past the orange and yellow marigolds my dad planted, past the wild rhubarb we never picked but probably should have.
I loved when Dad steered us along the overgrown trail into the gnarled woods. I’d close my eyes and feel the wind’s fingers tangle my hair. The bushes tickled my face. The scent of Black-Eyed Susans filled my nostrils, lodging the memories into my mind. They come forward whenever I smell the wildflowers now.
Twenty years have passed since I lived on Pine Street. I can still remember the address. Can still recite the phone number.
One afternoon a few months ago, I stood across from my mom in the kitchen while she folded bath towels.
“Did you ever feel pressure from other parents?” I asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Like, did you feel like you needed to send us to a certain school, or do things a certain way?”
In other words: Mom, did you feel the need to drink the juice out of the Perfect Parenting punch bowl?
Mom spread the pink towel on the counter. Folded one end in, then the other.
“Honey, you grew up on a dead end street across from the Bad River,” she answered matter-of-factly. She added the folded towel to the pile. “And I think you turned out just fine.”
Nowadays, my husband and I have neighbors. There’s traffic. We’re two minutes from the Class A high school. But we get a taste of the country, too. Behind our house, it’s all fields and tall trees. Blackbirds chatter like the old men drinking black coffee at McDonald’s.
A sugar beet field stretches along the south side of our house. A few weeks ago, a weathered farmer went back and forth with his harvester outside our window, scraping the fields clean and crop-free. He was so close to the house, we could have reached out and given him a high five.
Daisy barked. I didn’t.
Whenever I’m coming or going from Meijer or (let’s be honest) TJ Maxx, I pass the same line of houses. One house uses a projector to splash holiday-themed light designs on their brown siding. Not just for Christmas, either. This year, I’ve seen hearts for Valentine’s Day, and stars for the Fourth of July, and eggs for Easter. Another house further down is long and skinny and brown. It has a burgundy star hanging on the front. The fancy red brick two-story across the street has a perfect lawn and a stunning chandelier. It makes me think of that ballroom scene in “Beauty and the Beast.”
Other houses are sandwiched in between the rest, but they all blur together so they look the same. Like a boy band. I see them as The Bunch of Houses on the Left Side of the Street.
At the beginning of this summer, one house broke free from the pack.
It started with the bushes.
Normally, thick green bushes concealed this house from the road. But one day, they were gone, revealing a house that faced the road dead-on, defiant in its visibility. Like, “Yep. I’ve been here this whole time.” It was small—900 square feet? 800?—and shaped like a tissue box. White. Yellow caution tape criss-crossed the driveway. A hint and a warning.
As Adam and I made our daily drives into Saginaw to run errands or do whatever, we’d glance at the house. The once-hidden yard had turned into the Center of Hustle and Bustle. Men wearing jeans and construction boots were always there: moving drywall and carrying siding and pushing piles of dirt with a Bobcat.
We still weren’t quite sure what they were doing until they did it. In July, a huge garage-like structure stood large and looming next to the small house. It was two stories, and at least double the size of its partner.
“So do you think it’s a garage?” I said as I stared out the passenger window while Adam drove straight. “Or a new house?”
“If it’s a new house, I don’t know why they’re so hell-bent on saving that original house,” Adam glanced out the window, then back at the road. “Why make the addition bigger than the house that was already there?”
“Yeah,” I nodded. “You’d think it’d be easier to just start from scratch. Build exactly what you want.”
The new house-garage was too big, the old house too small. The pair didn't line up. Like a tall, gangly girl and an awkward pre-teen boy trying to slow dance in a middle school gymnasium. It didn't make sense.
But then—then!—it did.
The changes to the house were probably gradual. Not to the owners, or the workers. But to us, it was as if it all happened overnight. Like a drastic haircut combined with fresh makeup and a new outfit, the pieces all clicked together to create The Big Noticeable Change.
That change? A hallway.
The builders had connected the small house to the huge garage with a hallway, or a breezeway. Either way, the two weren't separate anymore. Suddenly, we realized: they weren’t building a garage, or a new house. They weren’t starting over. They were adding on. It was one big house.
We saw the other changes come quickly afterwards. The gray siding. The white garage doors. The new roof. They still aren’t done. Every day, it looks more beautiful. More cohesive.
What looked like a hodge-podge of a situation is now a beautiful, updated home.
“Look how pretty that house looks,” I told Adam as we drove by once again. They have recently added a copper-colored awning to a portion of the old house.
“Yeah,” he nodded. “They’re really coming along with it. It looks so different.”
“It’s crazy,” I said, turning to face the windshield. “We thought they’d be better off starting from scratch.”
“Guess we were wrong.”
I admit it: I was skeptical at first. I didn’t see the vision. Not that the opinion of Lindsay the Nosy Neighbor matters. But all I saw was a tall square garage-house dwarfing a small tissue box house. I kept thinking, "Why salvage the old when you can start brand new?"
The little house down the road taught me something though.
Maybe we don’t need to start over by tearing down.
Maybe it’s good to keep the bones. Rebuild by adding on to the existing foundation. The original isn’t always a hurdle…it’s a starting place to create something new. Starting over can mean making something beautiful out of what others on the outside see as Not Worth It.
Maybe adding on is a way to let go.
All it takes is time, and effort…and a hallway to connect the two.
(Yes, I'm creepy and took a paparazzi-like photo of the house down the street.)