I can’t remember exactly when it started.
Perhaps when the toilet upstairs overflowed, leaving a stain the shape of Italy’s long-toed boot on our den ceiling. Or maybe it was when the sinkhole in the backyard burped open—a gaping six-foot maw that could have swallowed any one of our four children whole. Or maybe it was as far back as when we first moved into our house seven years ago and realized that in order to turn on the hall bathroom light, one had to use the switch in the guest bedroom.
“This wouldn’t happen at our farmhouse,” my husband, Fred, said to me.
“This wouldn’t happen at our farmhouse,” I agreed.
We don’t own a farmhouse. We own a two-story Cape Cod on a dead-end street in Smyrna built in 1985, apparently by a DIY-er who was overconfident and woefully inadequate in his electrical and plumbing skills.
But, oh, our farmhouse.
It rises from the center of verdant, rolling hills (covered in solid sheets of crystalline white in the winter). There’s most certainly a pond. A small red barn that’s been quaintly renovated into a quiet writing studio for me. Chickens cluck cheerily. A dog barks. The sky is impossibly blue. The tomatoes in the garden, impossibly red. Inside, there’s a fireplace, walls of exposed brick in the warm kitchen, scuffed hardwood floors, and, yes, shiplap. I’m okay with Joanna Gaines. I’m going for the setting of a Country Time lemonade commercial.
It’s in Vermont. Or Connecticut. Wherever the Gilmore Girls live. Never mind that my husband and I have never been to Vermont or Connecticut. Or that the Gilmore Girls do not exist.
We talk about this house with hushed reverence, sometimes exuberant joy. We talk about it when the electronic garage door breaks and when we stub our toes on the lips of linoleum peeling up from the floor of our master bathroom, and when the cold-water faucet in the tub just fell off one day right in my hand. We’ve talked about it through tears of laughter in the summer when the squirrels pick the green orbs of tomatoes off our carefully planted stalks and bring them to our deck to eat, as if to ridicule the idea that we ever thought ourselves competent gardeners. We’ve talked about it through tears of not-laughter, when rats invaded our attic, costing us $18,000 in new insulation, roofing, and siding.
We know these are the trials of homeownership. We know we are lucky to have a roof over our heads and an air conditioner that works (for now) in the thick heat of Atlanta summers. And most days, we love our little Cape Cod, its faulty wiring, rickety deck, and all.
But then, a tinny voice calls from upstairs: “Mom! The toilet!”
Fred and I catch each other’s eyes.
About the author
Colleen Oakley is author of the critically acclaimed novels Before I Go and Close Enough to Touch. Formerly the editor-in-chief of Women’s Health & Fitness and senior editor of Marie Claire, she has written for the New York Times, Ladies’ Home Journal, Women’s Health, Redbook, Parade, and Martha Stewart Weddings. She lives in Smyrna with her husband, four children, and the world’s biggest lapdog, Bailey.