Friday, January 8, 2010

The House on Miller Street: Champaign 1991

When we first moved back to Champaign from Montana, Fru found us a place on Union Street. We only rented back then (though Fru had owned a duplex on Ivy Court when I first met her). It was an okay place. It had heated floors--using a water system--which was nice. But when she became pregnant, she wanted a different place, so we moved into the little house on Miller Street.
And it was little: two bedrooms, one bath, small garage, tiny kitchen, a back and front yard. But it was cozy. It had been fixed up a little. And the house opened up to a large, long park across the street, a park with grass and big oak trees and catalpa trees, a playground. That was nice.
Inside the house, it was heated by a floor furnace. There was no basement, only a crawl space, and this strange furnace hung halfway down into it from the living room floor. It was rectangular--about the size of a foot locker--with a metal grate above it. It was gas. And when it came on, there'd be this rumble then whoosh--you could feel the sucking and projection of air--and then this constant run of noise as it blasted it's heat through the vents. There are cold winters in northeastcentral Illinois (yes, they actually referred to the area as northeast central Illinois), so that furnace would run and run and we'd have to talk louder or turn up the teevee or music or whatever. Oh well, we got used to it.
There was no central AC in the house. There was one window unit, then we got another: both in the bedrooms. We talked our new landlord into putting a unit into the wall of the living room, but the way the house was built the only way to accomplish this was to use the wall that was next to the garage. So, that AC unit drew air from the garage. So, I often opened the garage so it could have fresh air and someone stole my bicycle because the door was open. Yes. Okay. But at least we didn't sweat so much--northeastcentral Illinois also had hot summers. (We never had AC in Montana--didn't need it.)
I recall we had two landlords at that place. The first guy who rented it to us was kind of wacky. He was trying to build some kind of real estate empire and was buying things up, refurbishing them, trying to sell them--both small and big properties. When First Daughter was born, that landlord decided to re-shingle the roof. So, here we had a newborn (and we were brand new parents) and he's up on the roof all day for a week banging away with a hammer. Ah. But First Daughter slept fine and it never bothered her. Oh, and on the first day we moved in with all of our furniture strewn about and things in boxes and Fru pregnant and us trying to sleep in, here comes a gaggle of realtors to our door. The landlord was trying to sell the house as we rented it and he never told us he had scheduled an open house for realtors on the very next day after our move in. Crazy. The guy eventually got in over his head and had to do quick-sales of most of his property.
But the good thing about that realtor convention in our little rental house was that a realtor from that day bought it later and he was a good guy. We were good tenants and he was a good landlord. That worked. I remember once we'd called about the smell of gas in the house and a gas man came out, gave it the green light that all was okay, and I was home with First Daughter and she took a nap and so I--any new parent knows you can't get any sleep in those first days/months/years/decades--I fell asleep on the couch. I think my baby was asleep on the floor. We had a glass window on the front door and the landlord came over to check on our potential gas leak, saw us zonked out, and assumed the worst. He was quite relieved when I got up to answer the knock on the door.
The house on Miller Street turned out to be fine. We had fun--Fru and I and First and Second Daughter. There were nice spring days on the back porch, hot summer days, I planted some trees from seed (catalpa, locust; which I think are still there--decent-sized now) and had a great garden with carrots, onions, garlic, leeks, broccoli, green peppers and hot peppers, corn and tomatoes, eggplant and huge sunflowers. That garden was fun, fantastic (good old northeastcentral Illinois soil!) and we ate fresh food--oh, spinach, lettuce, kale--and the girls enjoyed picking the veggies with me.
We lived in that house from '91 to the spring of '96. We enjoyed the park across the street. We liked the proximity to other parks and downtown and the Schnucks grocery store, proximity to the Interstate to get out of town, too. There were snowy winters with the white piling up out the back french doors. There was a woodchuck--and actual woodchuck--living in our backyard for a few months. There was a squirrel--Lulu--who came to the back doors to beg for nuts. There was Kittycat Stone, a big orange Tom we adopted who would not come inside and lived around our house. He had been the backyard neighbor's cat--the old man behind us--but when the old man had fallen ill, his family came and got him but not his cat. He was a friendly cat to us but would not come inside--even during the coldest winters--but he survived. I passed the duties of taking care of him off to other neighbors when we too went away. In the spring and summer I left a section of the backyard unmowed so that wildflowers could grow (Blackeyed Susans, mostly) and rabbits moved in there.
Yes, we moved out of there and went to Florida. When we go back to Champaign--where Fru's father still lives, her sister and niece also--we drive by the place, we sometimes go to the park where my girls, now grown, swing in the swings, slide on the slide.

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