My friend, Barb, sent me a note today that said, “Have a safe trip back to Wisconsin — I won’t say “home” because home is where you make it, as you have discovered, and you can have more than one. You will always be able to call Paris ‘home’ now.”
As I sit on my rented brown couch in my rented living room/dining room/office/kitchen/family room in my rented apartment on Square Alboni, I can see Julian’s lunch box on the counter all laid out for tomorrow. Sarah’s final grade report is on the kitchen table where we put all the papers that need to be discussed, reviewed or signed. I am close enough to hear Elizabeth’s little cough as she is sleeping. Our bedroom light is on, meaning Tom is still reading the book I gave him for Father’s Day. And Chili’s blanket is on the chair although I don’t see him as he must be snuggled up next to Tom. He knows when it’s time for bed. My red fleece is hung on the back of a kitchen chair as it got a little chilly during the rain storm late this afternoon. And I can hear the boats on the river as it closes in on 23h; time for the Tour Eiffel to twinkle at the top of the hour. The boats, with their tourists, will hover around until that happens.
I love this little apartment. It is our home. I picture the kids bringing their own families to Paris some day and making sure they walk this area saying, “This is where we lived! Right here, next to the train and the river and the bridge and the Eiffel Tower. And there is our bakery! And this is where we walked our dog and this was our code to get into the building. Let’s see if it still works.”
Because I know that’s what I have done with my kids. I have driven down 16th street in Newton, Iowa, pointing out the sidewalk we used to get to school. Pointing to my friend’s homes and the light post that served as “base” for Kick-the-Can every summer evening. They know all about Ewers Drive in St. Louis, where Tom grew up and how he lived right down the street from Grant’s Farm and those famous Clydesdales. And we drive them past our apartments in Orlando and go to our old church in Bloomington, MN. All of those places have such a strong hold on us. We try to remember all our old phone numbers and addresses; even our friends’ phone numbers! Do you remember yours?
We are returning to a lovely home. The Big Yellow House, as we call it. It is our home and I am sure each one of us, Chili included, will sigh with relief and comfort when we climb back into those beds for the first time in a year. But will we look at our space differently? Will we relish in the ability to have our own space again or will we call to each other in the evenings to come into a room together because it just feels lonely? Will I get bothered by the fact that I can’t see or hear everyone from where ever I am at? It will be interesting to see.
I do know that by spending a year renting, I don’t ever look around a room and think, “I really need new curtains” or “I should replace these towels” or “I should look for something for the table”. It has been so freeing! I hope I can hold on to that because I am so happy here and it has nothing to do with the age or the shape of the furniture, the design of the bedding or the art on the walls. We don’t think about any of those things at all. The art work isn’t even ours! And yet it’s home just as much as a home filled with all our one things. We don’t feel like we are using a place that belongs to someone else. This is our apartment. So much so that we don’t even want to think about the fact that very soon, this will be someone else’s home.
Knowing we would be living more “compactly” than we were used to, we had some concerns. We wondered what it would be like for the kids to share a room. Would it feel like staying in a hotel room where no one ever settles down? Absolutely not. These kids are fantastic, sharing their space so easily and without hassle. We have enjoyed our nights reading together in their room, rotating backrubs and foot massages with Chili moving from one bed to another just looking for the perfect snuggle spot. We have rotated in and out of that little bathroom but, really, no issues besides some reminders that “Other people still need to shower!” Most of us like to linger in the tub. I have no idea who they get that from.
Even the tiny kitchen worked just fine. The space was limited so we had a bit of bumping around as we tried to get dinner on the table or lunches made in the morning. We will always remember the purple-handled set of knives (really, a set of steak knives but it’s all we had to work with) that bent to the right every time you cut through something. When she gets her own apartment, we will probably purchase Elizabeth a set of the Teflon, clip-on handle cookware because she thought it was so cool. I tried to reminder her of the lovely brushed stainless-steel All-Clad cookware I have at home, but she was impressed with the clip-ons. The kitchen served it’s purpose and new French dishes were created with favorites to bring home.
I can’t wait to have a dryer again. And a water softener so our guests don’t mistake the towels in the bathroom for sandpaper or have to drink out of cloudy glasses. I am looking forward to a vacuum that can suck up more than a hair at any one time, although I only have hardwood floors and one small rug here so it wasn’t a big deal. I can’t wait to have a specific place to hang my coat or put my umbrella when it’s wet. And a nice pillow. Yes, that will be a treat.
This is our home and our memories of Paris will be grounded in this place. We have celebrated birthdays, Christmas, Thanksgiving, an Engle Staycation, hosted many guests plus friends and sleepovers. Chili knows the place so well he can sense when the elevator is coming all the way to the 6th floor and we have no idea how he does it. And when we are all home, he can relax and sleep and eat because don’t we all relax more when we know everyone is home, safe and sound? I am reminded of the song, “If These Walls Could Talk” as inside these walls we lived our life. We built a home. How wonderful these walls felt as we returned at the end of a long school day or even a wonderful vacation. To come in, slip your shoes off and be home. I’m trying not to think about all the “last times” I am experiencing this week but I just know closing the door for the last time on Saturday is going to be tough.
And just in case you were wondering, yes, I cried through almost my entire last service at the Cathedral this morning.