A few weeks ago, my family and I spent a Friday evening with Tom Hanks in The Money Pit. My sister and I curled tighter and tighter into the crevices of the couches while my dad laughed until he just about cried. If you knew my dad, you’d know what a rare sighting this is during a movie. Finding me cringing is a less-rare occurrence, but I found long ago that a certain kind of comedy, the kind where nothing less than the entire house goes up in flames or every priceless vase is demolished, tortures a certain part of my soul. War-time destruction? Apocalpyse? Natural disaster? I can handle those movies. Comedy of errors? You can find me tied in a knot behind a cushion.
What made this movie ultimately enjoyable for all of us was a simple fact: we recognized ourselves in a similar predicament.
If you don’t know the story, The Money Pit is about a couple who buys what appears to be a very fine house. Only a few repairs seem necessary to restore it to the great beauty it once was. But from the first night in the house on, the house begins to fall apart. The stairs collapse. Mud runs from the tap in the bathrooms. The electrical wires scorch out of the walls in the kitchen. The intrepid couple sticks it out and turn their life into a circus when construction crews move in to rebuild the house. While we haven’t fallen through a hole in the floor to the living room like Tom Hanks did, my family’s house has had its own unique features.
It is the first house that I consider home, for all its problems and insanity. Until we moved into it, my family had never lived in one place longer than three years. But it was no means the vision of a perfect home when my parents decided to buy it. The living room carpet was a pizza-mess of three-inch shag carpet with green, orange, brown, black, and grey fibers. Florescent orange countertops with etched flower designs and nearly black wooden cabinets were the central features of the kitchen. The upstairs bathroom showcased marble sinks and shower in a color that could only be called puke green. Two of the bedrooms tried more carefree interior design with lavender wallpaper and summer grass-green carpet.
It took weeks of work to move in. We excavated multiple layers of wallpaper, ripped up carpets, primed and painted almost all of the walls. The cast-iron stove built into the fireplace was dragged away, chipped floor tiles and ugly countertops were replaced. On breaks, I would play tag with my sister and friends, tearing out of empty closets in the upstairs bedrooms and dashing to the basement. We would cartwheel in the basement and sprawl on the vast pink ocean of carpet there.
Suddenly, it was new house. It wasn’t perfect, but it was home. Even before the furniture was arranged, it felt lived-in because we had explored every corner.
This house has been home for over ten years now, and we have grown more attached to it as it ages disgracefully. At least, I have. In the winters, we wake up in the night to feel an ice-cold blanket of air over the bed, shuffle down to the furnace, and re-ignite the pilot light with a maneuver of levers and matches that we’ve perfected over the years. When the rotary telephone in the booth beneath the stairs started ringing after midnight with no one on the other end of the line, Dad disconnected it. My sister and I learned the perfect sweet spots to cross the stair landing to the basement without the loose bricks clattering noisily.
This year will be different, though. In face of the house’s less charming idiosyncrasies like a failing septic system, rain showers indoors in the sunroom, and several windows that no longer shut fully, our family decided to attack the house again in a full-force renovation. It’s been a battle that we can no longer fight passively as things around the house begin to break down. Almost every time we investigate, we find another piece of the house that was jerry-rigged by the former owner, a man who supposed that he was not only very clever, but also very, very thrifty. It’s only been a few weeks since the construction crews began, but it’s already gotten to be a part of the routine. My sister and I, averred night-owls, get up early before the workers come to avoid being in our pajamas when they begin drilling, hammering, and banging all over the house. At the end of the day, we take tours around the house to see what’s changed. Though it often feels like this–
–with drywall exposed around windows, drainage pipes trailing off the roof, bits of the house siding torn off, tar paper exposed on deck beams, the yard strewn with bits and bobs like a hidden-object game, it is exciting.
I thought I would feel a little sad, taking up the loose bricks on the landing and remembering all of the people who have crossed their wobbling, clinking surface. I thought it would be hard to see the house torn up, knowing that it would never again look like the house I moved into. But I wasn’t. Not a bit. I thought, just as I’ve grown up in this house, it’s time for this house to grow up, too.
It’s not always the case that your surroundings change as you do, but I am grateful for the way that some changes in my life at the moment are so inescapably visible. It’ll be messy for a while, but these changes are going to be wonderful.
Picture and Gif from The Money Pit (1986)