The first year I went, I collected all of the cookies and they were G-R-O-S-S. It seemed most had been stored in mothballs or they just had no flavor at all. I quickly learned and the next 2 years, I brought my bag to each house but refused the cookie. They thought I was nuts. I didn't care. I'm all about looking at the houses. Because...
a) I am super nosy
b) I grew up in this neighborhood but never knew the neighbors, so I never got to see their houses
c) I am always looking to see what people do for decor
d) I am really catty
I guess I should address the last one first. I live in an old house. Around 1810 was the building date for the front portion of the house. Actually, I should say circa 1810. Because here, everyone knows the word circa. It means they aren't sure of the date, so it's around that date. You see it marked on people's houses like a statement of pride. Around here, everyone seems to know the dates that everything happened in their houses. I'd like to know more about mine, but I am very, very lazy when it comes to that. And I don't know that I trust the info I find, because how do people really know if they are talking about the right house? And I fear I could become one of those people who constantly rattles off dates that extraordinary things happened in their house. And that makes for boring dinner conversation. Here are some important dates I can recall in my house:
circa 1979 we moved here with me and my sister a-ster but I don't remember the move
circa 1980 my sister e-ster was brought home and I was certain I was choking on a chicken bone because no one was paying attention to me. I was not choking on anything.
circa that same era my mother had to go back to the hospital for a kidney stone but I was afraid she was bringing home another baby (I don't think I choked on anything that time)
circa 1983 we got a dog and then promptly gave him away 6 months later because he was too much for us to handle
circa all of the 1980s, we had many a cat who disappeared or was hit on the street in front of our house
circa 1989 we moved next door to the new house
circa 1997 I moved back into this house
circa 2000 we put in an outdoor shower, truly the best $300 I've ever spent
circa 2010 we built a greenhouse
So as you can see, my house has lots of history. I have no room to remember troubling things like which year a room was added on or when it was floated over from the island or whatever. Because it was common in the 1800s to float your house over here from the island to sell to the rich folks who liked to summer here. And over time, they gave it to family members who lived here permanently and rooms were added as babies were born and renovations happened as money came in and lo and behold here we are in 2010 and some look nothing like the original and some have been so painstakingly preserved to look like the original, that this is where my cattiness begins. And I don't think my house was floated over here, by the way. I think it was born here.
In my old house, I am horrified that I regularly have to scrub with bleach to get rid of mildew on the walls and ceilings. Hell would certainly freeze over if I let 700 people march through my house on a stroll to look at my mildew. I've been in several houses on these tours where not only could you see the mildew, but it all smelled like it.
In my old house, I have some paint issues and flakes are currently falling from the ceiling because it's a catch 22 about replacing the ceiling entirely or just trying to deflake and repaint. Everything in an old house is a catch 22. If you replace one thing, you should really replace the entire room because you will have to rip it out again when you decide to really renovate. So instead, you wait until something actually breaks or explodes and then it's a crisis, so we make do and never actually do a real renovation. Again, no one is allowed to march through here on any kind of tour until we get this settled. This appears not to phase some homeowners and they open their homes right up.
In my old house, there might be one level floor and that would be the kitchen floor because it was redone circa 1978. All of the others are so charming that you could put a ball on the floor on one side of the room and go get it a second later when it rolls, on its own, to the other side. I say this is charming because that's what the people who stroll through these houses say, usually with a big, envious grin.
In my old house, I have replaced all of the carpets which were only about 15 years old because I was grossed out by the fact that other tenants had lived on them and there were some issues with irons or hot coals having been dropped. Apparently, as I learned today, it is enviable that some people have rugs up their staircases that are literally threadbare and DIS-GUS-TING because great, great, great aunt so and so made it and it's an heirloom. Can you imagine the filth, bugs, and whatever else live in those?
In my old house, my mother steamed off the old wallpaper and put her up own 30 years ago and someone else later steamed off her "modern" paper (the kitchen paper had orange potbellied stoves) and all of the walls are just painted. It appears that very old, mildewed, falling of the wall wallpaper is quaint and people love it. Really?? I have a shoe closet that has ancient wallpaper remains from probably circa 1800 that anyone can come look at and take, for all I care.
I could go on and on. I secretly love to go on these strolls so I can have a constant conversation in my head about how I would NEVER let the general public come within 10 feet of my house if it looked like that. And people are paying $15 per person to stroll through 6-10 houses that have some of the very features I mentioned above.
Some houses are truly gorgeous. And some have made do in really neat, but not cheesy ways. And some are actually new houses. But there are those that just shock me.
Instead of strolling today, I hosted at a house for 2 hours. And here, my cattiness continues as I share my study in human behavior. Here was what I saw for my whole shift.
I could never live in this house for many reasons (it smelled, it was left to look too old and cold, but mostly, there were no cabinet doors on the upper cabinets and really very little cabinet space at all. UGH. I must have cabinets.
The part that I marveled at the most, and that most people marveled at was this.
I had to stifle a laugh every time someone ooohed and ahhhed over this because I have the very same thing in my attic but I didn't think anyone would pay a penny to see it. And I'm horrified when someone does! And if you look closely, this is some of that ancient wallpaper that I mentioned. Some of it looked OK but a lot of it was just worn and hideous. One poor woman thought it was birch and was peeling off because it was meant to.
What's strange is that I took some pictures of the views from this house but they did not come up on my phone's site. Sad, actually. The views are truly breathtaking. They look out onto the river and from every room, you can see the river. And it was a glorious day today, so it was picture perfect from any window. Sorry I can't show that. It might make living in that house entirely worth it. But the living room, excuse me, parlor windows are the ancient glass that looks all wobbly, so you would see everything in a blur. And I cannot handle that.
So my human behavior study results are as follows:
1. people will do anything, and pay just about anything, to go nose around in someone else's house
2. people will bring friends along with them and whisper, or sometimes just outright say, bad things about the house
3. people will become experts on the spot and tell people the most asinine, untrue things and sound like the know for sure (like the woodstove that was in one room that is probably circa 1960 at the earliest and people kept saying it was the "original" potbellied stove. There was no pot belly, it was flat, and I am certain it was not the original because we have one just like it at the car wash. Now who's the expert?)
4. people are never happy with what they have. Judging the people on looks only, I am certain that they have fabulous houses that are much newer, with more modern features, that are much more efficient, yet they long for the "history" and old ways of the old house.
5. people will wait in line to go into a house that is supposed to have some great historical secret, like the house a few years ago that supposedly had a shoe that was found under a stair when it was renovated. Everyone lined up to see the ancient shoe in a glass box.
I am often suspicious of these wild claims that people make about their houses. Like those were supposedly on the Underground Railroad. Really? All the way up here in New England? I thought once they were north of the Mason Dixon line, they were pretty OK? We are pretty far north of that, so I don't know why anyone would have been hiding anyone. And many of these homeowners are so removed from the families that built them, it's all based on hearsay.
I know it is human nature to be curious. I told you in the beginning I am very nosy, myself. And I suppose it is our nature to always want what we don't have, no matter how good or bad it might look. And we like to sound knowledgeable, so we like to think we know everything and share it with those people of lesser intelligence who simply know nothing. And we love to show off and feel like we really own things.
If this was not our nature, there would be no one to open their homes and there wouldn't be anyone who would pay to go see them and the library wouldn't make a cent.
But I like to fancy myself a "normal" person who can stroll through a house, have a conversation in my head about the atrocities in it and how dare the person think they are so special they can just open their house to strangers and invite them to see their crap, refuse a cookie and carry on with my life. I don't have to dress in my holiday stroll garb. I don't have to waltz through every house saying everything is "lovely" at every turn. I don't have to thank the homeowner profusely for letting us in. I don't even have to bring a friend with me on the stroll.
But most importantly: I can run my usual run route all year long and tell myself "I've been in that house and that house and that house and that house...." because before I die, I want to have visited every house in my neighborhood. And to have made my inner commentary about them all.