a most unexpected home

I’ve lived in the same spot for more than two years now, the longest I have lived anywhere since I graduated high school and proceeded to change at least my street address once a year for nearly seven years.

My house is not in a cool neighborhood. My neighbors are a deaf couple and their children who have loud dogs, a typical Harley-riding Milwaukee man, a lot of young Hispanic families and a few houses so still and quiet I can only assume the residents are elderly. At the nearby Target I see young professional women like myself, but on my street, I am the only 20-something college-educated white woman around.

My house is oddly decorated, cluttered and full of people. It’s essentially a Mexican house that the I own (well, me, Fermin and the bank to be exact) and live in. My sister-in-law cooks for about ten people at a time, depending on who might be stopping over in the coming day. Whenever a birthday rolls around a birthday cake from the local Mexican grocery is cut and eaten around midnight, when everyone is home from their respective restaurant jobs. The oven, while not a storage cabinet as I have seen it used in Mexico, is hardly used by anyone but myself. We eat far more tortillas than slices of bread and the forks rarely make it out of their drawer.

When we bought the house, I had big plans to tear out all the grandma-print wallpaper in the dining room and kitchen and turn them into sights straight from a Pottery Barn catalog. I imagined buying nice furniture by our second year, perhaps even tearing up the carpet and refinishing the hardwood floors.

The things we have accomplished in the house are much more practical than what I originally imagined. When we added a second bathroom upstairs we had to break through the wall in the first floor bathroom (that I had already de-wallpapered and painted) in order to fix a pumbing problem. We carpeted part of the basement to allow more living space and replaced the old windows to save on the heating bill. I painted the upstairs living area a blue that I no longer like and want to re-paint.

I’m not sure what people think of the way I live, but I’m not really too concerned about it. My house, like my marriage, has become an unintended experiment in cross-culturalism. I no longer worry that I don’t have nice furniture and trendy paint colors. The decorating I like is not what the rest of my Mexican family likes, and new furniture is not practical in a house with an almost-toddler and several men who work in restaurant jobs.

For a while before we found out about Fermin’s interview I thought we might buy another house for ourselves and rent this one to everyone else. Some days I want to do that, others I really don’t. So I’ve traded the “American” way of a married couple living together in their own quiet house for a community of working immigrants. So it always smells like Mexican food and there are about a hundred shoes in our front entry. So I’ve given up my compulsions to have everything neat and orderly. These things just don’t matter to me anymore.

Every weekday morning I leave a relatively low-income, urban neighborhood and pass the wealthy suburb I grew up in on my way to work. My dad and stepmom still live in the brick ranch with the wooded backyard and the corner lot in the quiet suburb of Elm Grove. My mom lives in a meticulously kept suburban condo that she swears is sometimes messy when no one else is around. My lifestyle, at least on an American scale, is vastly different than my parents, and many would consider it lesser.
I get to play with my nephew every night. He’s hopefully learning English as well as Spanish because I talk to him every day. I’m forced to use Spanish on a daily basis, but I also get to help my housemates with their English homework. I love that I can hop on the freeway and arrive in downtown Milwaukee in less than ten minutes. Soon a brand new Menards and Pick ‘n Save will be added to the list of stores within walking distance of my house. I know all the ways I can drive to miss traffic, where all the bad potholes are on my way home from the gym and where to get the best tacos in Milwaukee.

I work my day job, my ten hours per week at the restaurant because I love it, I write my blog and my columns, and I go home, to my full bungalow on Milwaukee’s south side. I could never have predicted I would live here, like this, at any time, but nevertheless it is good, it is comfortable, and it is home.

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