Ten years ago this month we bought our little house in Jacksonville, FL. My family moved to Jax when I was in college in upstate New York. Prior to my mom getting a job here all I knew about Jacksonville was that everyone I had ever met from there had a southern accent. I didn’t really care what it was like though, really; all I cared about was that we were 1) leaving the Midwest, and 2) moving somewhere warm! I may have Michigan in my blood and endured -70° wind chills in Wisconsin, but I always knew I was meant to live somewhere warm most of the year. If Florida then so much the better, because Florida has Disney World and beaches to enjoy year-round! I often daydreamed of having a palm tree in my front yard one day.
I had always lived in small towns and Jacksonville is the biggest city I’ve lived in by far. But one of the best things about Jacksonville is that even though it’s a big city and has the amenities of a city, it feels like a small town. I didn’t grow up here, I went to community college where no one hung out with anyone else, and I work in a job with one other employee; it’s not as if I have a wide circle of acquaintances. Yet almost every time I go somewhere, even completely across town, I run into someone I know. And there are many different areas of town that all have their own feel and their own sense of community. So I got the perks of a city – tons to do: sports, museums, parks, restaurants, off-Broadway tours, and more – with the small-town feel I was used to.
Add to that the fact that tourists sail right past us and head for Daytona or Orlando, and we have miles upon miles of fantastic, uncrowded beaches, the cost of living is low, we only average 16 days a year below freezing (which, for the record, is way too much cold for me, but supposedly it’s nice to have four seasons. Heh.), and we still get Orlando theme park Florida resident discounts, and it’s basically perfect.
My now-husband visited me here many times while we were dating and engaged. He was also from a very small town up north, yet he found in Jax all the same things I did. After we got married we worked for a non-profit in the Gulf area of Florida, but when we realized it was time to move on, there was no question where we were going: home to Jacksonville.
We lived with my parents for a few months while we looked at houses. So many houses! I think we looked at 20-30 all said and done. It didn’t help that this was 2005 – real estate at the peak of its Bubblicious glory – so if we took any time at all to think on a house it was immediately under contract with someone else. Finally one day we went to see a house on its first day on the market. It wasn’t love at first sight; an older person lived there alone and it needed some TLC. But it was cute, it had a nice big yard, it was in a quiet older neighborhood, and it was walking distance to a lot of stuff. It had potential. We left to look at two more houses and then asked our agent if we could see that first one again. We did. We – and four other people – this was the first day on the market, remember?! – put an offer in. We won. A month later we closed on our first house. Ten years later we’re still here.
What a great little house this has been! When I think of all the fun we’ve had here in these ten years there are so many great memories. We’ve hosted friends and family including having something like 13 friends stay the night here for a local friend’s bachelorette party (this is notable because our house is less than 1180 sq. ft.); so many game nights and trampoline nights and movie nights; birthday parties and football parties and presidential debate parties; Pie Days and Christmas morning cinnamon rolls; three different and wonderful mutts; going from no kids to waiting for and having E. to waiting even more for and having B.; renting a room to an Army friend for six months, and then the other room to our now-sister-in-law for nine months, and letting various other friends who just needed a place to stay stay a while; celebrating when my husband finished his degree… and then again… and hopefully soon for the last time; learning to make sushi and Ethiopian food and really good coffee; eating on the back porch and reading and napping in the hammock in the shade and watching the boys play for hours in our big, lovely backyard; miraculously changing my mind about running and having a quiet, safe, pretty neighborhood to do it in, and being close enough to other nice neighborhoods to run to/through them easily as well; learning about couponing and saving a gazillion dollars; mysterious trees and unkillable roses and exploding gardenias; practicing walking in heels from the dining room through the living room and hallway to my room and then back again for the first time when I got into modeling; walking to the store a block away for that one forgotten ingredient – or driving if we need it fast or are lazy; meeting friends for breakfast a walk away at a little hole-in-the-wall place and then going to half-price sales at a thrift store; walking to church on beautiful fall, winter, spring, and sometimes even summer days; and so, so much more.
I always wanted a house full of happy things: bright colors; pictures of people I love; mementos from fun trips; comfy couches you can easily lose yourself in a book or a nap on; where people can come by anytime just because and feel OK to put their feet up and have some coffee and let their kids run around with my kids; where my dogs cuddle with me on the couch; where the house is overflowing with love and laughter. With the husband and kids I have, that last and most important thing would be any place we live, but as it happened, I got all that and more in this little house. It may not be on the beach, and it may not be in Hawaii, but otherwise? It’s everything I want. We even have a palm tree in the front yard.
Thanks for ten great years, little house. You’ve been awesome.
(But I wouldn’t mind some more closets.)