One day when I was young, my mother plopped me in the stroller, and set out from the third-floor apartment we shared with my dad and a small population of squirrels. She crossed the river that divides our town, and walked into a neighborhood of large homes and large yards, with plenty of children running in them. I'd love to live here, she thought.
Five years later, we moved in. I distinctly remember standing in the living room of my new home, looking at the chandelier, and breathlessly exclaiming, "It's a mansion!"
American dream? Not quite. My mom was in her dream neighborhood, but the house wasn't hers, wasn't even the bank's. It was the landlord's.
As I grew up I loved that house, from my bedroom that smelled like lilacs, to the yard where my brothers and I built many a fort, just to tear them down and build them again. As I got older, though, I began to question why we still rented. None of my friends lived in a rented home. Why did my parents seem incapable of doing something that seemed to be no problem for everyone else?
Eventually I became ashamed of the fact that my parents didn't own our home, and at times a bit resentful. What do you mean I can't get a dog without asking the landlord? Can't she just die and leave the house to us? After all, we were the ones in the house every day, fixing it when it was broken, and beating up on it when it wasn't.
"Nice house," friends would say. Thanks, I would think. Isn't ours. But you can bet those words never slipped from my mouth.
Then, much later than I should have, I had an epiphany.
My fiance and I were beginning to think about buying, and I was constantly thinking negatively about money "wasted" on rent. There I was, driving along, running through an internal anti-renting tirade, when I realized that renting "60 Win" (as it is affectionately known) was a blessing, not a curse.
By renting, my parents took us from a slightly-dodgy area, to one you'd see on Leave It To Beaver. My siblings and I ran wild through that beloved neighborhood with armies of kids. Recently, one of those kids, who now has memory loss, walked into my mom's yard, and, without knowing that she had spent countless childhood hours there, looked at my mom and told her this place "felt safe." Safety is exactly what 60 Win meant to my family. It's our family that has memories in front of the fireplace, pictures in the yard, and insider knowledge of just how tall a Christmas tree can be and still fit under the ceilings.
As an adult, I can see that my parents were able to put aside their own home-ownership goals to keep us in a place that was ideal for four rambunctious kids. Not everything in my childhood was perfect, but living at 60 Win was spot on.
Now that my youngest sibling is nearing high-school graduation, I know that soon my mom will be moving out of our beloved 60 Win, and maybe a new renter will move in. I no longer fantasize about my mom buying it and making it her own — a house that's perfect for a family of six isn't quite right for a single lady. Instead of thinking that my mom is coming away from twenty years at 60 Win with nothing, I now realize that she and our family have the most important things — the pictures, the memories, and the love. Although it will never be our house, 60 Win is and always will be our beloved family home.