On Walsh Street

Our Walsh Street home.
We moved in exactly nine years ago.

Our first day in the new house, the mail carrier "blessed" us with seven catalogs addressed to the former owners: Pottery Barn, Walpole Woodworkers, Restoration Hardware--more than I can recall. Abhorring junk mail, I dialed each toll-free number to request mailing list removal, an action I repeated daily. Even so, it took months to stanch the flow of advertisements.

When we moved back to my hometown of Grand Rapids, we initially lived in a house that had belonged to my parents. On a busy street, close to the road, it wasn't particularly suited to a family with a curious toddler unable to grasp the danger of fast-moving vehicles, so we asked my Realtor mother to watch for something in a quieter area. When she eventually called about a well-priced home in Alger Heights, she added a distressing disclaimer that since her clients come first, she planned to give first dibs to another couple. After much pleading, my mom relented and showed us the house. A principled real estate agent who does right by her customers, I only succeeded by reminding her that we were her clients, too, having told her ages ago we wanted a bargain in the pleasant city neighborhood I fondly remembered from my childhood.

A snowy Walsh Street.
As we drove down Walsh Street, we passed many attractive brick bungalows, each cuter than the next. I adore vintage charm in a house. So, when we pulled up to the one with the 'For Sale' sign, I beheld the vinyl siding and cheap replacement windows, crestfallen. But the price was right, and the lot 50% larger than typical for the neighborhood--perfect for a vegetable garden. I think we knew before crossing the threshold that it would be ours, vinyl and all.

On a snowy, snowy day we moved in. Judy brought us pumpkin bread, and others came to greet us. The elderly man across the street peered out his window at his new neighbors. When we finally met Walter, he proved a dear, caring man who was especially kind to our autistic son, and always eager to invite him in to share a Dutch windmill cookie and to pet Kitty.

George, Irene, and Grandpa Joe
Next door, Grandpa Joe whiled away afternoons on his porch glider, chatting up walkers, offering biscuits to neighborhood dogs, and waving to passing cars. He'd often invite our son onto his lap for his special rendition of That Little Boy of Mine, and we felt, when he sang,

He's all the world to me
He climbs upon my knee

To me he'll always be
That little boy of mine

 that he really meant it, even though he sang it to the other neighborhood children, too.

We know numerous neighbors, and cherish their presence. Many of them save their boxes and packing peanuts for Laura's Last Ditch. Steve taps our maple tree each spring (another neighbor, Navin, even made a mini-documentary of the process). Two days ago, Steve brought us homemade maple syrup. He stops by regularly to share a cup of my husband's Romanian coffee, sometimes with another neighbor in tow. On Valentine's Day, we discovered heart-shaped cookies on our back porch, courtesy of Lena across the street. A few years ago, neighborhood musicians formed The Walsh Street Orchestra, meeting on the front lawn to serenade passersby.

The Walsh Street Orchestra. We get together once a summer
for a potluck, followed by music. Everyone's welcome to join
us for dinner and a concert.
People used to buy a house, put down roots, and stay. Neighbors knew each other. Now, many think nothing of leaving their neighborhood, sometimes even moving out of town away from the support of family and friends. A nicer house beckons, a bigger one where kids won't need to share a room; a more lucrative job, a more prestigious end of town. I'm not convinced it's an advantageous trade.

When we came back to the house for inspections after our offer was accepted, the owner left for "retail therapy." The first time we heard the expression, my mom and I chuckled. The beautifully appointed home clearly showed she knew how to shop. The Realtor's description on the listing card promised "Pottery Barn-style decor" and, boy, did it deliver.

Walter with our son, taken on Walter's
Polaroid camera, around 2005.
I've noticed, when people have a second child, they often buy a minivan (never mind that two safety seats fit easily into a sedan). In my neighborhood of smallish homes, they usually move. Most real estate agents consider Alger Heights a neighborhood of starter homes, failing to consider that families used to stay, that families can stay. Indeed, Lena across the street raised four children in her little house. Walter and Grandpa Joe remained until they died or could no longer live independently, both staying into their nineties. Neighbors mourned their passing. I hope to live in our little home until I'm called to my heavenly one.

And I hope others will make the same decision--to commit not to bail when things get a little crowded; to enjoy neighbor therapy before retail therapy; to resist mindless spending and compulsive upgrading so there's time and money to help those for whom a little starter house would be a miracle, caring neighbors a balm, a loving family a dream.

I have a good enough car, good enough clothes, good enough house, good enough family, and a good enough life. Others might find them lacking, but they're from a most unusual catalog, called Extravagant Blessings. And when you enter my Walsh Street home, I hope you can tell I shop there--not because of my style, but because of my thankfulness.

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

8 comments:

  1. What a charming story, and what nice neighbors you have. There is a neighborhood like that in our town, where the houses are smallish, but the people who live there are very loyal to that neighborhood even after many of them could afford to "move up." There are lots of renters in my neighborhood, but we've been lucky to have the same homeowner neighbors on both sides of us for 17 years.

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  2. Wonderful blog entry, Laura. Glad you were able to use the Maple Syrup video :)

    We did buy a minivan when we were pregnant with Quinn, knowing that we would have another child. BUT, I just want to let you know that I use the minivan for my business, too. I've often got the back piled with gear when I'm on a shoot! Now you know. :)

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  3. I'm definitely not saying no one should buy a minivan unless they have a mess of kids! But I do think people tend to buy one just because they think that's what people do when they have two kids. I think practically everyone with two kids either has a minivan or an SUV.

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  4. I thoroughly enjoy your blogs, which I find thoughtful and motivating. This one is a good example.

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  5. My sentiments exactly! We've lived in the neighborhood for 15 years and have no intention of leaving. We just changed churches so that we also attend one of the neighbhorhood churches and that couple pictured on your post has waved hi to me as I've walked on your street. Barbara Bush linked your blog on Facebook - I'm going to follow now!

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  6. I do love our little neighborhood. We're a street away from Walsh. "The cookie man," aka Grandpa Joe, always gave our dog his share of goodies.

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  7. Laura, just stopping over from TheHighCalling.org. Thanks for your comment, and for this view of life you share with readers (and neighbors). My father's line was in the same house for 150 years or so, but having moved many times growing up, I thought mobility was the norm. I'm finally realizing how much I value staying put and being content.

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  8. @Sam: Thanks for your comment! We moved around a lot, too. Now I enjoy staying put and am not even fond of travel.

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I'd love to have your comments and reflections!