I’ve been dreaming about my grandmother’s house lately. Grandma Jean lived for over fifty years in the same small house in Beech Grove, Indiana, one of many built for veterans like my grandfather who had just returned from World War II. The houses are tiny by today’s standards. I’m not sure a queen-sized bed would fit into my mom’s childhood bedroom. Her two brothers shared a bedroom tacked onto the back of the house. Everyone shared one bathroom.
But that’s the way it was back then. The closets were tiny and nobody minded because nobody had that much stuff anyhow. An outfit for each day of the week plus a set or two of dress-up clothes for special occasions. A few cherished toys. The family record album collection. My grandmother’s art supplies.
Grandma Jean also lived without a car, which was a bit unusual. She never did learn to drive, even though Grandpa died young. She took the bus downtown to her job at the Indianapolis Star. Her house was only a few blocks from Main Street, complete with a small grocery store, a hair salon, a couple of restaurants, the community center, and a revolving assortment of other retail establishments. She had neighbors and fellow church members who helped out when she needed a ride somewhere further away. Eventually, her kids learned to drive and were happy to chauffeur her around.
I’m sure I overly idealize the way things were. I’m sure there were days it was a pain in the butt to live in a tiny house, to fight over the bathroom, to miss out on some last-minute plan due to lack of transportation. And yet I dream of her house and wake feeling that I’m missing out. I think for me her tiny house symbolizes community and comfort. More than that, it signifies a lifestyle of simplicity where material possessions are few and connections to people are many. I want to live in a neighborhood where I bump into my neighbors on the way to the barbershop. I want a house that is cozy and efficient and appropriately sized for exactly what I need – no extra closets where I’ll be tempted to accumulate junk. I want a front porch that invites passersby to stop in. Our car can hide out back – if we even have one.
Really, I wonder if my dreams of Grandma’s house were conjured up by Will’s dreams for our future. He is ready for a new house, one that will let us live a more pedestrian lifestyle – and by that, I mean a lifestyle based on walking, not a humdrum lifestyle. His new job at IU has reminded him what a burden a car is on campus and how much nicer it is to walk through the beautifully landscaped grounds. He has always been a passionate walker and recently he has become a believer that we really could live car-free.
All we need now is the house. It doesn’t necessarily need to be small, although with our budget we won’t be able to afford anything large in our target area. We want it to be within walking distance of campus and walking distance of a grocery store. Ideally we’d also be near the bus station and my parents. And with a bit of a lot, enough for a tiny garden or a couple of fruit trees – maybe even some chickens? I’m willing to trade a bit of square footage inside for a bit of acreage outside.
The more I dream, the more I imagine us with a house that is just big enough. A house that is just like Grandma’s.