T-minus 6

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.


Categories: Kelley's Kilometers | 7 Comments

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7 thoughts on “T-minus 6

  1. Mary

    So well written, Kel. I can actually feel the pain as I read. I am so so happy that you have all enjoyed this year in Paris so much and that it was such a great experience. You are blessed and so are we to have lived this with you. Take care and eat a lot of pain au chocolat this week! M

  2. Evan Fusco

    I’m getting sad and emotional for you reading these…Too much of a reflection of our own experiences. I can relate, very much to the “Home is where the heart is” thing. We’re taking our kids to Alaska this summer…the boys were born there but we moved to Missouri when they were only 10 months old. It will be much as you described where we try to convey on them the experiences and feelings we had when making our home there 13 years ago.

  3. Linda

    Hi Engle Family,

    Your reflections are beautiful & thought provoking. Whenever I read your blog, I can’t seem to put my phone down or leave my computer. Sometimes I let the phone ring or put off doing something because I want to finish reading your blog. Have a wonderful journey back to America. Whenever you need to talk about Paris or share photographs from your travels, don’t hesitate to call me.

  4. Patti

    What a great post! You have caught the essence of your year and mentioned so much – even the red fleece jacket. Hugs!

  5. Colleen Hartman

    Kelley, you write so beautifully. I hope there is a novel, a children’s book or some sort of literary contribution germinating in that brain. I know it will be sad to leave Square Alboni but you KNOW that you will come back to Paris. It will happen… a special summer vacation, maybe when Sarah or the twins graduate from high school you will take another trip to France. You won’t have to mess with doing all the tourist things, you’ll just know your favorite places and settle right in for a ‘home” visit. Paris is special but will always be extra special to all of you . Some one will say,” Remember when we lived in Paris and we…..” and you’ll have to smile.
    I’m not good at “leavings.” I hated saying good by to the little house on Broadmore and the nicer house on Rock Ridge, but I each time knew it was a choice to move. Now, Pleasant Ridge was a different situation that move was dictated by my knees. I loved that house. ( And feel so bad that the people who got it practically destroyed it! ) but I digress. So it took awhile to make the condo feel like home. Many times I would see something that I liked, a picture or a piece of furniture and my brain would put it in a different “home.” You will see your flat and think of it as home at various times after you are back in WI. What a wonderful adventure you have had and you have captured it so beautifully in your blogs. What a gift you have for writing. Don’t wait until you are as old as I am to put your gift in print. I hope I’m around to see it and feel very fortunate to have been able to “see ” France with your eyes. Hugs C.

  6. Karen Hoffmeier

    I knew you would cry during that last church service so I didn’t even want to ask. I have hated closing doors for the last time. My hardest was our first house on 16th street, mom’s house on Montgomery and closing the door on her house after she died. I guess when one door closes another one is waiting to be opened. I am so very grateful that you kept this wonderful blog with the many photos. You are all loved and we will be here to welcome you back to your Wisconsin “home”! Travel safely and with great memories that most of us will never know about. Sarah, Elizabeth and Julian are lucky to get to call you and Tom, “Mom and Dad”!

  7. Julie

    So happy that you and your family have been able to have this amazing, life chanaging adventure. I am also thrilled that I was able to be a tiny part of it. It was fun to see the photos and read your descriptions and know what you were describing. I think this year is just going to position you to be thinking more about your next adventure, I know it has inspired me to think about mine.

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