First Home Worst Home

Looking back on “setting up house”

Photo by Erik Karits on Unsplash

I think most couples look back on “first homes” and laugh at the ways in which we lived. Hubby and I have a couple of those places. One we “affectionately” refer to as “The Cat Pee House.” Our kids know where it is and sometimes when giving directions among the four of us, someone will say, “You know, near The Cat Pee House.” That title doesn’t even truly paint a picture of how horrible that duplex was. Thankfully, we did not have to live there for very long in the grand scheme of things.

Our very first home together was another duplex. It was seminary housing because Hubby was earning his Master of Divinity. It was one of those places that got a fresh coat of high gloss white paint on all of the interior walls whenever new students moved in. Glossy white paint about three inches deep, covering everything from electrical outlets to ceiling including the window sills. We lived there for about four years and I think we finally got one window open after a lot of scraping and prying with a butter knife.

At least they painted the place. The carpet had not been replaced in years and years. I can’t say that it was original to the house because there is no way. It was cheap indoor/outdoor carpet. Hubby called it “doo-doo brown.” This was an old home that I’m certain at one point was a one-family living space. It likely had beautiful hard-wood floors and cedar doors and crown molding. By the time we moved in it was split in two, our side the mirror image of the other with one bathroom, two small bedrooms, a kitchen, dining room and living area. All of the rooms were small, but we were newly-weds. It had a floor furnace that would burn your feet when you walked from the bedroom to the bathroom in the middle of the night. It kept things warm, though.

The carpet has been a point of discussion throughout our marriage. Did I mention that it was doo-doo brown indoor/outdoor carpet? We never walked barefoot on it. When my nephew, who was a pre-schooler at the time would run around without socks on, I had to be sure to wash his feet before my sister picked him up and saw how gross they were. That isn’t the best part, though. The best part, she says sarcastically, was the circle in the middle of the living room. Right in the middle of the living room there was a circle that was about 7 inches in diameter that was darker than the rest of the carpet. The texture was different too — the texture was that of cheap indoor/outdoor carpet after it has been melted under a very hot pot.

That was our best guess anyway. In our imaginations, a previous seminary student had popped popcorn in a pot on the stove then carried that pot directly from the stove into the living room, plopped down in the middle of the floor for some TV watching without putting anything under the pot and was surprised when they had a hard time picking the pot up when they were done. I wonder how many seminary students had lived with that spot before us. Enough to make it scary to walk barefoot!

There were also roaches. Those big-ass city roaches. You know the ones? They are as big as my hand and every time I turned off the kitchen light, they would have a party. They ran across that disgusting carpet too. I was eighteen years old, had moved several hours away from the only home I’d ever known, missed my Mama and Daddy, couldn’t open the windows, and every time a roach ran across the floor it felt like a sign that I had made a terrible mistake.

I never had to deal with getting rid of the roaches. Hubby took care of that. I would scream. He would come running and vanquish the monster for me. Most days I handled it okay, but there were so many. I was attending college, stage managing shows, working full-time, and coming home to roaches, uh, I mean Hubby. One night I must have just been so exhausted that I couldn’t take it anymore. One of those big-ass roaches ran across that doo-doo brown carpet with the burned circle in the middle and I burst into tears. Hubby killed the roach first then sat down on the couch and held me while I cried and complained about how horrible it all was. He stills gets rid of creepy crawlies for me if I ask him to.

It was horrible. And I didn’t even write about the fact that we were asked to keep every single piece of furniture we had moved into the duplex in one small room so that the new coat of high gloss white paint could be added because they didn’t get it done before our move-in date. So, furniture was piled on top of each other in the back room while we got married and went on our honeymoon. Why did we agree to do that?

I also didn’t mention that the power went out while we were on our honeymoon so everything in the freezer ruined. I don’t think too much about that because my dear sister who lived nearby wanted to surprise us and put up a “Welcome Home” banner inside our tiny abode so that it would be there when we came home for the first time married. She was so sweet to go to the trouble of getting a key from the seminary housing office. When she walked in, the smell about knocked her over. I would have walked right out and left it all the way I found it.

“They will never know this banner existed.”

SHE CLEANED OUT THE FREEZER, cleaned up the kitchen, and made everything nice and welcoming for us. I don’t think I ever thanked her enough for that. I am still grateful.

I’m grateful for all of it. As horrible as it was, it was ours. We couldn’t do much to decorate because of housing rules, but we put up country blue valences over the windows and wallpaper borders where the crown molding should have been. (It was the early 1990's!) We survived the first seminary degree, my bachelor’s degree, learning how ugly people can be when you work in the church, and a significant ice-storm which left us without power for two weeks in that house. We learned a lot about each other in those first four years together. I don’t want to go back, but I wouldn’t change anything if I could — except the carpet and roaches.

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T. H. McClung, she/her(s)

T. H. McClung, she/her(s)

In no particular order: Writer, pastor, Mama Bear, LGBTQ+ ally, wife, preacher, watcher of TV, seeker, mystic want-to-be