Home is the starting place of love, hopes and dreams” - Unknown
It was a muggy day late in June of 2004, when my mother received the call. She had been offered an agricultural teaching position. A position which she quickly accepted, as my father and she had agreed she should take the first job she was offered in order to get us away from the family farm for a time.
I was nearly 16 at the time, and for some reason I did not want to leave. Whether I was only being difficult, or my understanding of what truly constitutes the end of the world was lacking, I just didn’t want to move away from where we had lived for the last 11 years. But regardless of my feelings on the subject, mom accepted the job and we were soon hunting for homes.
Many days were spent on the road looking at houses in the areas surrounding Afton and Creston, but nothing was quite what we needed – until we found it: a small three-bedroom home in Afton.
It wasn’t much, really, but it was sturdy and built of hardwoods, which was the go-to in its time. The floors were white oak, many of which remained stained with the original varnish. This was it. Even I, though less than enthusiastic about our current situation, could tell. This little house was the one.
So, there we lived. This modest little house sheltered us through my next two years in high school, through my parents’ divorce and even after my mom had moved on. There I remained when I began college and thereafter. There were short bouts of time that we did not reside there, but we always came back. Years of laughter, holidays, fights and love were poured into this house, it was our sanctuary.
In May of 2012, I was wrapping up my latest semester at Iowa State and had decided to put my education on the back burner. At the time, rejoining the workforce and purchasing my first home sounded appealing. Several homes were on the market, but nothing was right; either a house was too expensive, or it needed far too much work. My mom was finally ready to leave the area and she asked me if I would like to buy the home from her. I wholeheartedly agreed.
So, once again, that little house in Afton became the hub of a family, but this time it was my chosen family. There I roomed with four of my closest friends, until I chanced upon the moment of my life – I met my then, future, wife.
Following our marriage, my mom approached me and said she wanted to just give me the rest of the home, as a means to support myself. I was, of course, somewhat beside myself. I gratefully accepted my mother’s gift. I knew nothing. Naïve at best.
Soon I was a landlord. Nearly three months of testing the market for selling this house passed and a family of four approached me about renting the property, which again, I accepted. The rent would be welcome and perhaps would give me a chance to sell it in the future.
If only I had known the potential horrors of being a landlord and truly respected what had been a sanctuary to me for so many years.
The tenants were great for a time, until an evening this past June. I received a tip that they had vanished. Finding myself in a panic, I rushed to my old home. There, to my horror, I found this precious treasure of a house in disarray and decay, soiled nearly to its bones.
“Where did I go wrong?” I thought.
Perhaps it was my lack of foresight. Perhaps it was my lack of experience. Truly the wrong was in my lack of respect for this house many people painstakingly built and maintained over the years. Yes, I admired it; yes, I did not want anything bad to happen to it; but true respect is shown through action. Had I really respected this home, I would have cared for it better. I would have ensured those living there were not destroying it. I was easy to be mad at them, but it is often better to learn from our mistakes and hold no ill will to those who have wronged us. Especially when we had a part to play.
Too often, we do not know what we have until it is threatened, or it is no longer ours. My alarms were going off and a deep-seated, long term life lesson was learned. Perhaps even a lesson that reinforced many before it, in a quantifiable, and relatable way. Respect and care for what we have, the pie in the sky can wait. The home that I knew as a young adult was in trouble and so the work began. Now it was my turn, this house took care of me, finally it was time for me to take care of it. Stripping wood and painting, cleaning ducts and replacing floors. The great care that was once taken in building this home now laid bare for all eyes to see until it is restored so it may yet again house a family who may cherish what it has to offer; a family who can call it their home.
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