Wednesday, January 16, 2008

'Little boxes on the hillside ...'

There's a certain kind of twilight at this time of year that reminds me of how it felt to come home from school when I was a kid. I don't know why that is, but around 4:30 in the afternoon, when I drive home from work and pass the row of little '50s houses (read: ticky-tacky boxes), it takes me back. In the late '50s and '60s where I grew up, it seemed we didn't pay too much attention to people's houses. In the postwar building boom, they all looked alike. Yeah, some people had great gardens and gorgeous lawns, but everyone's houses looked alike: little "living" rooms, eat-in kitchens, a couple of bedrooms (if you had three, that was large) and a bathroom. Most had cedar-shake siding (making them a bugger to paint). Some had shutters or awnings, but most had little "curb appeal," to use a term foreign to our parents, beyond a "picture window" in the front.

These standard houses made visiting pretty easy; you could always see who was coming up the walk, and you never got lost in a friend's house because it was identical, in most respects, to yours. Because of that, you didn't spend a lot of time envying anyone's house. Neither did your parents. You didn't hear grownups talking about so-and-so's beautiful countertops in this pre-Pottery Barn world. You might have heard a mom or two sing the glories of coved-corners in her linoleum floors, but that's because they were easier to clean, not easier on the eye. Appearances weren't all that important, I guess - no, wait. Appearances were important, but not in the way they are today. It mattered that your home was tidy and squeaky clean because that elevated your moral standing in the community. It mattered that you tipped your hat or nodded when greeting someone on the street because friendliness was valued even more than privacy.

My musings have to do with trying to figure out how I can employ these basic values comfortably in the consumerist, individualistic world in which I find myself now.

I'm not done with this post yet ... to be continued.

No comments: