The Definition of “Small”

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What (actually) does today’s title mean?

I have what feels like 16 square feet of floor space now, but more freedom than possibly ever before in my life.

We inherited my grandma’s house in the city several years ago and recently moved from it. The family had owned it for 72 years when we sold it. That’s a lot of history in two floors of 1200 square feet each.

My mother and two of her sisters bought the house in 1946. Grandpa was a former coal miner and out of work, and Grandma never worked outside the home, but the three girls had good jobs for the time. They bought the house without ever looking at the second floor, and five adults lived on the first floor for years. (I never knew the way they arranged themselves; I just know my husband and dogs and I were cramped.)

My family wasn’t the pretty TV family or the funny sitcom family, either. They didn’t hate each other, but they “loved” each other in the way only families can. My mother and her sisters would never have chosen themselves as friends; yet, they stayed within the cage called “family” and made it look good whenever they had to. Eventually, one sister married and moved into her own cage — I mean, house — a few miles away, and another married and moved upstairs. This made my grandpa very happy: at one point, he had imagined having all four daughters in the same place, just like when they were little. I often teased my mother that she (and Daddy and I) could have been living in the attic (which could have been fun!) and the basement (yuck!).

The only ones left when we inherited were the upstairs Aunt, who was in a nursing home by then, and my mother, obviously long gone from the house but a constant presence there. We force-fit our belongings into the first floor, and partly the second floor, and the entire basement — think closer to 3000 square feet! And now we have around 100 with a sleeper bumpout on the back. We gave a bunch of stuff away and moved the rest. More on that later.

My earlier comment about cages has other meanings. We kept ourselves in that cage of family, doing what was expected when the house came available. The neighborhood itself was a cage, only a few of the neighbors worth knowing. The yard was tiny, the area had its ups and downs, and there is still a bullet lodged in the wall from the Sunday after Thanksgiving, two years ago.

I’ll take my 100 square feet on three acres in the country any day.