Home sweet homes, part two

by Jan Wheatcroft

We returned to Claremont after about a year in Arkansas. The summer heat killed everything and the winter cold finished the job. Jobs were scarce, outsiders were treated in an unfriendly manner, we were often covered in ticks, the rabbits froze and my sons hated being there. We raised pigs and goats and with little money left we were ready to come back to Claremont and friendly people. 

This time my friend Amy had found us a house to rent and thus we were on the move again back “home.” This house was on Bucknell, just north off of Arrow Highway. It had three bedrooms and a small added room to the side plus a fenced yard and a garage. It was in the driveway and the garage that we made Greek Retsina wine. We bought the grapes and friends came and stomped on them before we ran them through the press. With the addition of resin collected at Mt. Baldy we made the strongest wine possible. It was at this house that someone drove by and scooped up our husky puppy while the children were playing with her out front. 

Then a great Village house became available on Eighth Street and we were on the move again after a year. This house had age and charm and an empty lot next door filled with fruit trees. The perfect neighbor. There was plenty of room for the dogs to run in the back. 

But after a year, we decided to buy a house and with a generous loan from my stepmother and uncle we found a perfect home on East Green Street. It was on a large corner lot with two yards, one for grass and trees and one with a pool. The kids were thrilled. The house had three bedrooms along the back and what had originally been a huge dance studio in the front, with a free standing Danish fireplace in the center of the room. 

East Green Street is different from West Green Street, as it has older houses and is shaded by large trees. One of those trees, an old palm in front of our house, caught fire and burned down while we lived there. Finally, the Greek went back to Greece and I was left with mortgage payment and two dogs. So my sons and I decided to rent out rooms to college students. Luckily, we found two nice guys through our COURIER ad. They were kind and helpful to both me and the boys at a time when such support was needed. And then true to my gypsy spirit it was time to move on and we sold the house and traveled back to Greece for an extended period. 

But after a year on the Greek island I returned to Claremont. The schools there didn’t offer enough academic stimulation and the boys needed a better education. The Greek found us again and decided he wanted to return to the United States. We bought a house south of Arrow on Utah Court on a cul-de-sac with a flowering almond tree in front. We had Greek Easters here and I learned a lot about cockroaches when we broke up the cement deck in order to build a wooden one. Colonies of cockroaches streamed out into the back yard. I had never seen so many at one time. 

After fixing up the house and yard it was time for the Greek to leave and the house was sold. I moved on again, back to the Village.

This house was a lovely old wooden home at the top of Yale Avenue against a narrow alleyway. It was backed by a yard with a huge wooden deck, a small studio and a wonderful apricot tree that bore baskets of delicious fruit. Sadly, a misguided friend over-trimmed the tree unasked one day and we never saw fruit again. The main room had an extra-large window overlooking the garden and was a perfect place to sit and work. A raccoon family lived on the roof above my bedroom and had a noisy and active life. 

With the death of my stepmother I inherited some money and decided it was time that I purchase a house of my own, by myself. So I was on the move again.

The house I bought and actually lived in for 10 whole years was north of Foothill on Blaisdell, a cul-de-sac which backed up to the Bernard Field Station. I had no back neighbors except for hawks, roadrunners and rabbits to keep me company. There was a pool, some green space and a lovely small side patio area. It was here that my new right side neighbors became very good friends and are to this day, despite our future moves in different Claremont directions. 

This was a large house with plenty of studio work space, rooms for guests and family and a living room that was hardly ever used. The roadrunner used to visit my sliding glass door banging on it with its beak. I later learned it thought its reflection was another bird and I was not the object of its curiosity. I had a pond put in and a hole cut into the back fence so I could see into the field station.

After 10 years the cost of keeping up such a large home and pool for one person made me realize it was time to scale back. So I sold my first solo-owned house and bought another smaller one on the south side of East Arrow Highway. It had three bedrooms and was cozy even with one bath. The backyard was big enough for planting fruit trees and plant I did—a Meyer lemon, two different plums, nectarine, fig and tangerine as well as bushes of old time roses and two Madrone trees. Having such a fruitful back yard brought the bees. When they began to swarm I called a Bee collector who came and found the hive and queen. He just struck his gloved hand into the hive, gathered up the queen and walked across the yard with all the bees following him to his truck in a thick cloud-like pattern. He took them to a new hive and I was glad that they would be safe somewhere else. 

As I had been in Sri Lanka and had stayed in a colorful center where walls were painted orange, turquoise and maroon, I decided to paint my house those colors. It certainly stood out and caused a great deal of comment among neighbors as well as some rather rude letters of complaint. On one front wall I had a mural of goats painted. I loved that wall. I had my own large studio in the back and plenty of storage in the garage. I was very happy in that house and stayed there for 10 years. Then money became tight and I felt the need to cut back further. 

Space is no longer the most important aspect of a home for me. I was so lucky to find my present home back in the Village and back on Yale Avenue in a small complex where I now share a duplex with a great neighbor. It is like having extended family nearby. 

I have enough yard to have geraniums, a Meyer lemon tree and a tiny front porch to sit and watch the locals and their dogs walk by. My house is smaller than any other I have lived in but I have no great need of anything larger any more. 

Homes, for me, are like shells to a hermit crab. I have spent much of my life adapting my needs to the shells that are a perfect fit for the time that I need them. As my needs or interests change so do my houses. I crawl along checking out neighborhoods and houses until I find the one that fits. Then I move in. 


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