With the corn half-grown and the rising heat of summer melting and bubbling the tarred-road boundaries of my world, our great migration began. From a secure and well-loved home eight blocks east and five blocks north of the courthouse square, I was to be uprooted and carried to a house nine blocks west and thirteen blocks south of that same square. It might as well have been Uzbekistan. They can move without me, I thought. They can have their new house. I’ll stay here. They’ll be sorry…
A morose and angry twelve year old, I pitched my version of a fit. I refused to talk. I refused to pack. I didn’t want to move. I may not yet have absorbed the word “subdivision”, but I’d seen the reality. Flat, barren and treeless, its low, porchless houses ambled through bare and dusty plots of land. There were no cherry trees to climb, no patches of wild asparagus, no hollyhocks to pluck and stitch into fragile, short-lived dolls.
On the other hand, the new house did offer a turquoise bedroom and twin big-girl beds. When my parents discovered a favorite school chum’s family would be living only two blocks away, there was the gift of a grown-up bicycle and unexpected permission to ride it to her house. I grew less morose, particularly when my parents mentioned there would be a party. I’d never heard of house-warmings, but I knew about parties.
In the late 1950s, we wore gloves to church, dressed for town and cut crusts off our sandwiches. When an occasion for a party presented itself, the same attention was paid to detail and “proper form”. Days – perhaps even weeks – were spent planning and preparing the menu. There would be individual cheese balls, tiny cream puff shells for shrimp or crab and cocktail meatballs no larger than grapes. There would be colored toothpicks galore sporting little chunks of this and that, and above all, there would be drinks.
On the night of the house-warming, one friend of my father who’d had a few of those drinks wandered away and had to be fetched back from the cornfields. The hunt was easy and hilarious, since he was belting out an indeciperable song con spirito, but the true highlight of the evening was the acknowledgement of my parents’ accomplishment.
Most of their friends had come to our small Iowa town within a few years of each other, and most of the men worked together as engineers at Maytag. They knew each other well, and had grown into a close-knit community. World War II had affected them all, and its reminders were everywhere. Rebuilding – lives, relationships, a country – was the name of the game, and building a new house as part of that rebuilding effort was well worth celebrating.
For my father, the son of an Iowa coal miner, a survivor of the depression and an engineer by virtue of knowledge and skill rather than academic degrees, the experience was especially sweet. He was rightfully proud of his accomplishments and of the doggedness that had made the house possible. When the community gathered around he and Mom for a night of affectionate celebration, the gifts they brought and the congratulations they offered warmed even the heart of this formerly morose twelve-year-old girl.
Musing over my parents’ housewarming today, I realize anew how important that sense of community was for them. After the complexities of building a house, after so many hours spent in the process – meeting architects, pulling permits, revising plans, dealing with cost overruns – it had to have been unbelievably touching to be surrounded by friends offering gifts and congratulations, friends eager to tell them in a multitude of ways, “It looks wonderful”.
Eventually I had my own “house-warmings”, though they were, strictly speaking, dorm room-warmings, cottage-warmings and apartment-warmings. Still, each occasion was touched by joy, gratitude, a sense of adventure and the sheer pleasure of sharing new surroundings with friends.
When this blog was new and readers of my first, tentative postings on another site showed up for a “blog-warming”, I was utterly charmed. I’d never thought of transferring the concept of house-warming to a blog, but I liked it immediately. Even with widgets and links still fighting over placement and a few boxes of paragraphs and images still waiting to be unpacked, I didn’t mind guests.
After all the solitary hours at the computer, after all of the revisions and unworkable plans and mysterious obstacles encountered while trying to create something pleasing, it was wonderful to have friends stop by with their virtual covered dishes, cinnamon pinwheels and bottles of wine, saying, “It looks wonderful.”
Today, Google shows 10,700,000 entries for housewarmings, but only 9,520 for blog-warmings. I’m not surprised, and I certainly don’t expect Martha Stewart, Nigella Lawson or Ree Drummond to pick up on the trend and publish blog-warming recipes or lists of virtual gifts.
But those who are part of this sometimes brave, occasionally snarky and offensive but always entertaining new world, those who are helping to re-shape old traditions in new and creative ways, know the truth. Human beings are meant to connect. Laughter and good wishes are an appropriate response to new adventures, and gratitude for what has been often walks hand in hand with joy in new possibilties. Whether it’s a traditional house-warming or a modern blog-warming, the point is the same: life is better in community.
In the old days, there was a common Irish blessing for house-warmings.
May the roof above us never fall in
And may we good companions beneath it never fall out.
For our new day, the old blessing still applies, though slightly amended for people who have yet to meet.
May the hard drive that connects us never crash,
And may we good companions around it never clash.