She’s the Norma Desmond of houses. Once glamorous and vital, she’s now faded and glum. I’m bringing her back to life brick by brick.
â€œYou know what this place reminds me of?â€ my new neighbor Carl asked. It was our first meeting, standing in the driveway of the house Iâ€™d coveted since I was old enough to ride a bike. â€œThis house is like a granny on Family Day at the retirement home. She puts on too much lipstick and blush. Sheâ€™s all dolled up in a tragic way, garish, and it scares the kids.â€ I was hurt by his words. In retrospect, Carl was right.
The Dream House rambles across two lots on a cul-de-sac off tree-lined Waterview Drive in Richardson. Built in the 1960s, it has a majestic mansard roof, dormers, and an expanse of windows across the back. The rear overlooks a gentle bend along Cottonwood Creek, and the yard slopes down graciously to meet the water. Wood ducks, mallards, and their offspring waddle between house and creek. I grew up in this neighborhood, and the Dream House was part of my daily route by the time I was ten. Iâ€™d pedal up to it on my purple banana seat bike and imagine myself swinging in a hammock between two large trees. What I loved about the house was its formidable size and perfectly symmetrical faÃ§ade. It looked like a house in the movies. More important, a house like this would hold a big family, and I was an only child.
My mother became ill when I was 11, and she was hospitalized for the better part of three years. When she was in the ICUâ€”which was frequentlyâ€”I was too young to visit, even for the 10 minutes allotted every two hours. And a hospital is no place for a kid. I hated the cafeteria food. I hated the smell. So, I was on my own a lot. I preferred riding my bike past Waterviewâ€”it seemed the neighbors were always having a party. They must be merry, I thought, and healthy. No beeping machines, tubes, angry nurses, gray hospital meat, or rubbing alcohol. To me, the Dream House equaled happiness.
Under the category of â€œCareful What You Wish For,â€ I now own the house on Waterview. It came on the market a year ago, and we bought it without hesitation. But we quickly realized that whatever glory sheâ€™d once possessed had long ago faded. Sheâ€™d been lived in, hard, for more than 40 years, and suffered from a series of not quite up to code remodels.
My Dream House was a mess. Water poured from the ceiling. The air conditioner coil was blocked, and it had to be replaced. And so would its closet companion, the hot water heater. The wiring had issues. There were plagues of roaches, rats, and carpenter ants, probably drawn by the eternal fountain of water spewing from a rogue pipe under the house.
My only working appliance was the garbage disposal. Every night, exhausted and sometimes crying after working all day on the house, Iâ€™d collapse into bed saying my prayers, â€œDear Lord, thank you for my many blessings, all of which I canâ€™t remember right now, and, oh, yeah, thank you for my Waste Kingâ€¦â€
Redemption came in the form of a voice message from my friend Bill, a Dallas ex-pat, now residing in the scenic cliffs of Pacific Palisades, California. â€œI watched â€˜Sunset Boulevardâ€™ last night,â€ he said. â€œWhen Bill Holden told Gloria Swanson, â€˜You used to be big.â€™ And she said, â€˜I am
big; the pictures got small.â€™ Your house is Gloria Swanson.â€ Heâ€™s wrong though. My house is Elizabeth Taylorâ€”strong, elegant, and a survivor. And sheâ€™s ready for a comeback.
Read the next installment of Amandaâ€™s Dream House renovation in our March/April issue and online at www.dhomeandgarden.com.