Thursday, January 30, 2014


“In my Father’s house are many rooms….” (John 14:2)

When my wife, Karen, and I bought our first house in the city, it needed a lot of work.  It was a 120-year old Victorian cottage that had been transformed from a family home to a series of apartments and then back again to a place where a family could live comfortably. It was a gorgeous house with bedrooms under the eaves, two baths and a kitchen big enough that you could roller skate in it. There were two staircases, one up from the living room and one up from the kitchen. We put a big old fashioned porch with a swing on the front of it. My brother-in-law, Michael, with some help and instruction, renovated the mother-in-law’s garden apartment so he would have a place to live while he was in college and then dental school. It turned out beautiful. A cousin, Todd, also lived down there. From time to time other people we loved also lived with us.  Both of my sons were born in that house.

Every weekend, my father or my wife’s father would come in town and help us to turn our place into something special.  Both of these men were always good with their hands and they taught me a lot. Mike and I redid the wiring and the plumbing, My dad, Garl, and I did all the woodwork, banisters, walls, shelves, and whatever else needed to be done, together. On my 30th birthday he built me an octagonal picnic table that fit around the catalpa tree in our backyard. There were a lot of lessons learned that I am glad I still hold in my possession. One of my neighbors, when went out to the suburbs, always called me the “hippy carpenter” because I knew how to do stuff and I had tools, just like my fathers. It kind of breaks my heart that today its takes a lot more time for me to do the things that once were very easy for me.

There was a time in our life when Karen and I thought about moving up to a bigger, newer house with more amenities. When our kids heard us talking they went bananas. They screamed and shouted, “No! This is our house! This is where our friends are! We will live here forever!” We never talked about moving again. The next time I move will probably be in relation to where my children find their “forever houses” and we can find a place where we can be warm and happy together.

As I worked today I was mostly alone except for my dog, Lexi, who stood beside me in anticipation, thinking that through some incredible magic, dropped screws might turn into food. While I was waiting for some wood glue to dry we walked around the house and did some light cleaning, picking up trash and dishes from kids’ rooms.  During my walk I realized how much I love this house.

Everyone has room of their own here and they are all perfect for the people that occupy them. Meredith’s with the orange polka dots, Matt’s with the faux bamboo, and Karen’s, with a four-post bed, so classic in muted green with totems and pictures of what she loves. Taking laundry downstairs to the utility room I passed by Ben’s old room in the basement and his bathroom. The bigger room was and still is a place for kids to gather, have fun or stay over. The recklessness and laughter that always went on down there I will never forget. Ben’s space down below was always a mouse hole he loved when he still lived with us and where he still goes to when he comes home to visit.

There are many rooms in our house and I am blessed that I get to own two of them. I have the garage which is where I do my art and we entertain the neighbors and friends when they randomly, but with welcome, stop by when the weather is warm. It is a cool spot on the side of where a car should be. I love the studio in the garage. It is a place where I feel safe and let my mind go wild.  I especially like that my children and their friends come here to sit on the couches, draw, write, play music or just talk to each other, while I work at my bench. What could be better than that? Our friend and neighbor across the street named our space the Underground Art Farm, and the name has always stuck. I am not opposed to that.

My other room is where I go to do my serious work. It is where my books are and where I sleep on a daybed. I have a tendency to snore and twitch when I sleep so me, and the lovely Mrs. Sharpe, decided it was better for the soundness of our marriage and all concerned that I have my own bed and my own room (conjugal visits allowed). I like my room.  It has two desks. One is a trainmaster’s that was given to me by Karen one birthday, and the other is one that grandfather built that stood in their bedroom. My room has lots of bookshelves filled with my favorite literature: Faulkner, Steinbeck, O’Hara, Eliot and Joyce among many. It has a massive six-foot collage I made, and many posters and pictures: Here is my collage.

Some of the paintings in my room were done by my Aunt Mercedes, who was an artist, like my mother and her father, and there is one that I treasure of Captain America, that was made for me  by my nephew, Patrick. My favorite thing in that room though is a picture of seagulls that was given to me by my older sister, Melissa. This is it.

She gave it to me for Christmas when I was in high school. I wasn’t sure why. She just said, “It made me think of you. I always think of you when I see seagulls. It makes me smile.” If my house were to burn down, I think aside from my family, this is the first thing I would try to save.

I am blessed. Sure my house has jigsaw puzzles scattered over the dining room table, there are shoes piled up in the foyer, chess pieces all over the living room floor that become dog treats, and there are papers all over the counters, but it is our house which I love.  I think we’re doing a good job because there are many who consider their house too. They see our house as a place to come to and rest.

Our house like, my parents’ houses, have many rooms. We all play our roles in those rooms: husband, wife; child, parent; brother, sister; friends and lovers. I like a portion of the second part of that quote from John. “I have prepared a place for you.”  If we have done nothing else in the world, we have done this... Karen and I have built a house that, despite its needs, is a place where everyone feels at home.  Just the way it should be.