I’ve always been a fan of home improvement television shows. Back in Boston, watching Bob Vila’s This Old House was an obsession, considering that there were few homes in the Boston area that WEREN’T “this old house.” In 1980, we bought our first home—an 1860’s post and beam Victorian, complete with porch and pillars. It was a wreck. Bob taught me to sand the old hardwood floors to a polished sheen, to install an insulated window to protect against the frigid winds of winter, to update a kitchen from the days when no one had cabinets, and to make the most of a stone and earth cellar. He was my idol, a man who could actually fix things (quite unlike my new husband) and take the tired bones of a once handsome Victorian and make a warm inviting space for a young family.
These days, there is a whole cable television network dedicated to the proposition that behind every dilapidated homestead there is a diamond in the rough, only waiting to be polished to highly marketable perfection. I happened upon the Property Brothers one day while I was having my teeth cleaned at the dentist. Nearly horizontal in the chair with a headset kindly provided to distract me, and trying to ignore the scraping and picking, I fell madly in love with Jonathan and Drew Scott. These twin Canadian brothers first disavow prospective homeowners of any delusions they might have about affording the house of their dreams, and then proceed to transform a cheap wreck with the right square footage into that very house. Nothing less than miraculous, in my humble opinion.
From the Property Brothers, I graduated to Flip or Flop. Tarek and Christina El Moussa are real estate agents who fell upon hard times during the 2008 recession. So they decided that instead of selling real estate, they would buy foreclosed and other distressed properties, fix them up and resell them. I’m no television critic, but a few seasons of Christina shrieking when the bargain house turns out to have (gasp!) cockroaches, and the renovated house has (gasp!) a subway tile backsplash and dark wood cabinets—well, I guess I’m easily bored. Although I have to admit, when a viewer who happened to be a nurse diagnosed Tarek’s thyroid cancer from her home screen—yes, I was impressed. I watch reruns just to see if I could have picked it up myself.
But when I happened upon “Fixer Upper”, I knew I had hit pay dirt. Chip and Joanna Gaines, a lovely couple from Waco, Texas are the real deal. Together they find houses that are sorely in need of TLC. Their typical clients are young, on limited budgets and are full of dreams. These two make dreams come true and they do it with compassion, empathy, minimal fanfare and great taste and impeccable style. And they do this, of all places, in Waco, Texas.
But all this is not why I want to live with Chip and Joanna. The real reason is that these two are the parents I never had. Their home, Magnolia Farm, is where I would have given my eye teeth to grow up. They have lots of kids. And horses and cows. And goats and chickens and kittens too. Joanna knows how to jump rope and she can do cartwheels. Chip knows how to make every construction project a playground and he is the consummate clown, juggling eggs to the delight of their children, even when one smashes on the floor. Their farmhouse has just the right amount of shabby chic appeal, light and bright and cluttered with the best things—crayons, coloring books, and a stray hair barrette. They are indeed the real deal. They are Chip and Joanna.
Since I am doing locum tenens work, and since I have always kept my Texas license, I am going to request an assignment in Waco. And I am going to go see Chip and Joanna. I want to see firsthand the magic that puts the heart where the home is. Isn’t that what we all want—a place where deep and true love becomes manifest in the visible tangible everyday life? Come with me. It’s never too late.