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22 Year-Old Me Would Be Happy

In November of 2014, I purchased a 2 bedroom, 2 bath, 1957 California craftsman. I had no business buying a house, save for the fact that it felt like home. The night before I first scored a chance to view it (off-market), I drove 30 minutes South from my apartment in Cardiff, just to stand outside and look at it. That particular pilgrimage wouldn’t have been so odd had I not also walked by the little abode earlier in the day. I made two trips and drove a total of 75 miles to stand outside this house like a weirdo.

Standing in the chilly October air, I heard polka music and smelled bratwurst, a sensory experience that brought me back to the days of growing up in a town with a strong Polish and Italian influence. An Oktoberfest party was going strong a few blocks away in a Mom and Pop grocery store parking lot. For whatever reason, I got tears in my eyes. This was my home. I was a 32-year-old single girl with zero prospects for a houseplant let alone a roommate or a boyfriend. I owned a bed, a couch, lots of books and journals, and a few suitcases full of clothes. After I moved my little life- used to being boxed up and hauled to somewhere else in the country- I sat down on my couch in my living room. Frances Mayes’ line from Under The Tuscan Sun echoed in my mind,

“I bought a house for a life I don’t have.”

A real “Huh, look what I did” kind of moment.

Fast forwarding 4.5 years, I’m proud to say that I have FIVE houseplants, a rescue cat, Annie, and a rescue dog, Franklin. All doing well. Oh- and a husband, Will. I’ve kept him alive too. This house did indeed become a home, first for life as a single girl and, not so many months later, a home for a dating-to-married couple and their crazy fur babies. But this isn’t really a story about my home.

Living in South Park has become a special thing. Granted, it’s the longest I’ve kept a single address, but watching the neighborhood evolve without losing its soul has been a heart-warming experience. When I was 22, I wrote a journal entry about where I wanted to live. One of those “when I grow up” entries that allows one to daydream and imagine a future beyond ramen noodles and living with their parents. It was such a powerful entry for me that I ripped out the pages and kept them within reach for years (yes, I still have them). And all these years later, I find myself in an even better version of that place. 22-year-old me would be happy.

When I first moved in I was sitting on my front porch one evening. Several people stopped to ask me how I liked the house, tell me about the prior owner, ask me what I thought of the renovations, and see how I was settling in. This caught me off guard. This was different than the 3-story walk-up I had come from in D.C., where neighbors made a special effort to avoid speaking to one another. I went two years without speaking to one of my neighbors, and in an hour I had met a half dozen people by simply sitting on my porch. I even woke up to a bag of produce from one of their gardens one morning. I have to admit the East Coast cynic in me took awhile to adjust. This is why they say you can’t go from living in the West to living in the East.

Our neighbors are friends. Good friends. We travel to Mexico together, have sunset happy hours and take care of each other’s homes when someone is away. We throw block parties and around-the-world parties and New Years parties… lots of parties, and lots of outdoor dinners with food from the gardens. There’s just so much love and gratitude for where we live, it undoubtedly adds to our lives in a big way.

I was inspired to write this piece after walking my dog to the park this afternoon. Eclectic in every way, I realized just how much joy I get from walking and watching the neighborhood breathe. Seniors who’ve spent the last 3 decades here enjoy coffee (at one of seven coffee shops, yes, seven) next to young professionals who’ve just moved from somewhere much busier and disconnected. The shared values for solace, peace, local business and community are visible pretty much everywhere. New shop owners comment on how welcoming the neighborhood has been and how tightly knit the community is. When new restaurants arrive, they assimilate to the South Park vibe by listening to customers, serving local coffee and beer, and supporting South Parkers however they can. They care, which I think is a rare thing. We have an Old House Fair to honor the historically preserved homes, a few clean ups, a Taste of South Park, a tree lighting around the holidays and, four times a year, we have a Walkabout, where I inevitably purchase something I don’t need but I love just the same. Everyone has a dog or three, some people have a kid or two, but everyone likes to eat and drink.

I wasn’t sure why I wanted to write about our neighborhood, but I think I wanted to memorialize this day and these last few years. Things inevitably change and, while we all feel it’s important that South Park continue to keep its soul (like all of the special places we love), one never knows what the future holds. Life in general is like that I suppose. Everyone has times they look back on and desperately miss, maybe wishing nothing had changed. But then we evolve, and those new times become the old ones we hold on to. Today is, one day, going to be one of the “good ole days”.

Each year I become better at living in the present moment, rooting down in what I’m seeing (the sun setting from my living room), feeling (gratitude), smelling (jasmine flowers) or hearing (the bustle of people talking on their evening walks). To me, these are the memories we take with us, however we choose to do so- from writing a blog no one reads to blasting their ubiquitous memories into the world wide web of Instagram. There’s an old quote I found when I was traveling through Europe a few years ago, and it rings so true:

Remember the little things. One day you’ll realize they were the big things.

In gratitude,

Gianna