My favorite moment is the empty room, standing alone with the bare walls of a new home. It feels exactly like what it is -- a clean slate, a new beginning.
In those empty rooms, I always make myself promises about how I’m going to live. I’m going to do things right – make my bed every morning, bring home flowers with my groceries, host more dinner parties. This is the house where I will be the best me.
In anticipation of this better version of myself, I bought a set of clean dish towels – white towels with roosters and French words written in the corner. I put the old towels in a bag of shop rags and folded the starched new ones over the stove door in the kitchen.
That’s as far as I got, a set of perfectly placed towels. Everything else is stacked in mislabeled boxes. Piles of newspaper float on the kitchen floor, discarded from unwrapped dishes. A couple of kitchen chairs sit on the side porch, waiting to be put inside.
Last week, I left the brick walls and sidewalks downtown where I had been living. The morning I moved, I walked down 3rd Street for a cup of coffee and stood on the corner waiting for the light to change. I joked with the man waiting with me about how drivers never look before turning left into the crosswalk. We agreed it was not the way either of us wanted to die.
As we crossed and parted ways, he called out to a car, “Don’t hit me. I’m not ready to go.” And we both laughed the relieved laugh of strangers who bond unexpectedly at a streetlight.
Since moving here, that’s been my life – the banter of downtown and life lived on foot within a six-block radius. The owner of Me and Billy stopping in the doorway of his restaurant to wave. The doorman at Hotel Blackhawk commenting on my cowboy boots as I cut through the parking lot. The hipsters smoking outside Analog; the line outside the Adler Theatre; the smell of smoked meat mixing with music from the front door of Duck City Bistro.
I moved a mile away from downtown and my whole view of Davenport shifted. The rhythm of my day altered. Instead of walking to work, I meet a friend in the morning and we ride along the bike path, talking politics and the wardrobe logistics of bike commuting.
And I stop on my way home to look out over the Mississippi River, that rolling mass of water. A trio of pelicans ride the current and at that time of night – right before sunset – the water turns a mix of pink and silver like fish flesh.
Part of the process of moving into a new home, as you fill the empty rooms, is the simultaneous purging and bonding with the former owners. The house still smells like someone else’s life. There is paint and wood on the shelves in the garage leftover from a project completed years ago. And I found a small metal pail full of nails, forgotten in the corner of the cellar.
I cleaned out some of the evidence of the former owners, but moved the bucket of nails to the corner of the work bench in the basement where it will stay.
Only a week in my new home and I’ve met most of the neighbors. It’s the social place I hoped it would be, evening walks and front yard conversations in the shade of 100 year-old oak trees.
I came home from a walk the other night, greeted by neighbors with welcome gifts of apple tart and homemade jam. They told me of the couple who lived in my home before me for 50 years. I listened to their description, holding the apple tart and feeling the warmth from it against the palms of my hands.