WE HAD a house in the suburbs, two cars, a pool, a stereo and three TVs. The man of the house had a college education, a good job and a wife devoted to homemaking and children. So I cringe when I hear that the next generation should have more. Really? Can the planet handle more? Couldn't we make do until everyone catches up?
It's not that I'd deprive anyone. Especially my kids (though all indications are that they're still in the dark about this social theory).
For instance, Chris and her husband have bought a row house in Baltimore. The first time they take me on a drive-by, I do the politically correct thing. I keep my mouth shut, though I have a tendency, anyway, to go blank in the face of horror.
The kid was raised in the suburbs, for Godsake. Our lawn was weed-free, edged and hedged right up to the treated lumber fence that hid the expansive deck and pool. This wasn't what I had in mind when I thought of a generation "making do."
The 160-year-old row house looks like, well, a house 160 years old. Paint flakes off the bricks, grime clouds the windows, displaced shingles flap over window frames.
"Just imagine how it will look after I work on it next spring," says Chris.
Stepping cautiously among broken bricks, dog droppings, a pile of weathered lumber and a scattering of dried twigs, I grope for words. Open to view on the adjoining property are the neighbor's discarded kitchen table, cement blocks, bikes and dining room chairs, a blackened screen door and a graying fiberglass storage shed.
"It will be exquisite," I reply.
Enthusiasm at a peak, they break out paint, brushes, rollers, industrial strength cleaning liquids, steel wool, sander, edger, paint thinner, tack cloth, sealer, polisher, rags, sponges, screwdrivers, hammers, ladders (regular and extension), fans, etc. I assign myself rags and Windex and head upstairs.
Looking out from the third floor, I notice an occasional skylight and roof deck. East and west, church steeples grace the horizon; but for the most part, a crazy quilt of rooftops wanders awry, a patchwork of slants, shingles, smokestacks, clotheslines, utility poles and TV antennae.
We lived on a hilltop on the back circle of a suburb. From the carpeted, furnished back porch, which overlooked the pool, we viewed foothills caped in forest. And sky -- did you ever notice in the suburbs how everywhere the sky is?
Across the narrow Baltimore street, the screen door of the bakery keeps the flies outside in the hot air. The abandoned row house beside the bakery sags under the weight of its rough-cut wood shingles. At the corner, a scrawny teen, a cigarette dangling from his lips, pulls at the door of the carry-out and slouches inside. To the south is a stolid gray warehouse; but if they put the bed against the side wall, I muse, they won't even see the warehouse.
I finish the windows and replace Chris on the paint team while she runs to the carry-out for "the best crab cakes around." After lunch, she will begin refinishing floors.
Our house was new and, within two years we'd added a new driveway, two new babies, a dishwasher and a color TV.
I take my paint can to the bathroom closet and ponder. Cathy, our other daughter, and her husband bought two dogs and a 150-year-old farmhouse in rural Connecticut. The property came complete with mice and raccoons. Cathy dreams about adding a kennel and more dogs. She's not concerned that the back porch might rot to death. Wrought-iron patio furniture isn't even on her list. Most everyone in the suburbs had wrought-iron or wicker or anodized aluminum.
Dave, our son, probably won't buy a house for awhile. After high school, he ran away to a ski resort, mastered the advanced trails and bought new skis. But since then, his only serious purchase has been an 11-year-old car, which he bought after pedaling a bicycle from Wyoming to Pennsylvania and concluding four wheels and a roof are good enough.
Dave likes volleyball and wants to work on a space station or teach high school. Either way, he figures he'll have fun.
At 25, we had new living-room furniture and carpeting, a console stereo and a seascape to hang above the fireplace. Everyone loved it.
Dave cooks more than the girls do, and not a one of them can iron a shirt. They play games a lot and laugh more in a week than I did during my 20s.
I don't think they have a clue that the last generation had more.
Ginny Cunningham writes from Silver Spring.