The House Rules

“It may only be four walls and a couple of nail kegs, but it will always be home to me.” ~ Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House

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“If you can’t make it better, you can laugh at it.” ~ Erma Bombeck

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It doesn’t take many years of living before you realize that everyone has some unique aspect to their personality.  Whether you call that trait an idiosyncrasy or a quirk, it is some small characteristic that seems perfectly normal to oneself, but it will drive others insane.

Houses can be a lot like people  They also have unique personalities – and those quirks that come along as personality baggage.  In fact, houses have rather forceful personalities – you abide by the house rules, or else.  That’s the only way a house will work.

The house in which I grew up, and where my parents still live, has plenty of unique little oddities.  If walls could speak, the other houses on the street would have called ours names.   If you got to know our house’s personality, you would have definitely called it a “freak”.   The house had several things about it that were strange, but because we lived with these weird things and got used the house’s behavior, its peculiar personality seemed quite normal to us.

For example, the oven wasn’t like “normal” ovens, but it was through no fault of its own.  The house, which was built in 1961, had a gas wall oven.  In those pre-digital days, the temperature was controlled with a round dial.  One day, sometime during the 1960’s, my father decided to be helpful.  (Ladies, we all know what happens when men try to be helpful.)  Dad was determined to clean the kitchen, and he chose a rather powerful cleaner (likely ammonia).

My father proceeded to wipe once around the oven’s dial to clean the surface.  By the time his finger completely circled the dial, he noticed that he not only removed grease, but the ink that labeled the dial with the various temperatures.  Which is why I grew up without the knowledge that ovens had actual temperatures; I thought you just turned the knob until it got hot.

Because this original oven stayed with us until I was an adult, the question when baking something was never “What temperature?” but “What time?”  My mother’s answer would be “twenty of” or “half past,” for we imagined the dial as a clock to determine the approximate temperature.  Of course, we never really knew for sure if “twenty of” was really 300° or 350° since we were relying on my mother’s memory of the original, unmolested dial, but that never stopped us from cooking.

Over the years we’d always muse that we could simply go to a neighbor’s house and make a tracing of their dial to ensure we had an accurate reading, for all of the houses on the street were built with the same appliances.  But I suppose it was much more fun to take a wild guess.  And since my mother was an excellent cook, her memory of that dial must have been rather good – we never burnt anything in the oven!  But, now that I mention it, almost every time we used the oven, the smoke alarm would go off – just another little personality trait of the house.

Our kitchen was strange in other ways, too.  The electrical system for the entire house seemed to be located on one circuit breaker – the kitchen’s.  In the summertime, we had one air conditioner in the kitchen window and one in the living room window to cool the first floor.  There were rules associated with the use of those air conditioners – not parental rules or the laws of thermodynamics, but house rules.  For instance, using the air conditioner while the television was on meant that you couldn’t make a piece of toast without turning off something first.  Using the microwave?  You’d better hope that there weren’t clothes in the dryer or you would have to wait.  Using the toaster and the microwave and the coffee pot all at the same time?  Dear Lord, do not flip that light switch on or the whole house would go dead.

Looking back at these things now, I can’t believe we lived with the idiosyncrasies that could have been easily fixed.  In the same house today, there’s a new oven with a spiffy digital keypad where you can actually set the required temperature.  The house also now has a central air conditioning unit, which required a new circuit breaker system, so the entire house is no longer routed through the kitchen.  But where’s the fun in everything working as it’s supposed to?  The house may no longer be called a freak, but without the goofy oddities it also lacks charm.

Now I live in my own house, with its own creaks and sounds and issues.  I know what the temperature is for the oven, but after all these years I still have light switches that work something but I know not what.  And please, if you visit, don’t dare flush the toilet if someone’s in the shower!

6 thoughts on “The House Rules

  1. Good one, Donna! You really had me chuckling with this one.

    I can’t really think of any idiosyncrasies in the house I grew up in. It was just an ordinary house. Not much personality.

    However, the house I’ve lived in for the last 21 years, and raised my kids in, has plenty of “unique attributes”. And the condo I bought last year… I could write a book about the weirdness of it, LOL!

    I so know what you mean about “house rules”. Thanks for the chuckle!

  2. Enjoyed reading this – very familiar sentiments. The most idiosyncratic house I’ve ever lived in is the one I now live in. I’ve heard repairmen call it a “Depression-era patchwork” house. A couple of smaller-than-usual windows just because that’s what they could pick up. A unique fireplace. And the original electrical wiring? Well, our original house rules were much like those for the house you grew up in. One repairman remarked: “This house must have been owned by an electrician. Otherwise, you’d never see such awful, makeshift wiring.” And one of the previous owners definitely set the (low) standards for “remuddling.”

  3. House histories like this are worth recording and sharing. I thought you would be interested in a new website we have just launched:

    Members are invited to record the history of homes that are special to them, ultimately creating a concise history of houses around the world.

    I invite you to add your historic homes. Membership is free!

  4. I thoroughly enjoyed this post. I laughed my way through it – from the “help” husbands give to the idiosyncrasies of your homes. With regards to my husband’s help, I finally suggested that he ask what would actually be helpful before doing it. We’ve lived in homes like yours where the wiring is crazy. In our current home, we wonder if there are ghosts because the stairs frequently creak, both day and night. If there are ghosts, they don’t (yet!) give us any rules…. We also have light switches that don’t light anything. Perhaps some day we’ll figure it all out. Thanks again for your humorous post.

  5. Great post. It reminds me of many idiosyncracies of our old house I grew up in. I still don’t think much of them when I am over there but now that you mention it…

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