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Beverly Beckham: Turning my mother-in-law’s house into home sweet home

Beverly Beckham still has the original blueprints of her mother-in-law’s former house, shown in the drawing above.
Beverly Beckham still has the original blueprints of her mother-in-law’s former house, shown in the drawing above.

I moved into the house I have lived in for nearly half a century kicking and screaming. Not physically, of course. But in my head I was railing. I did not want to move from the small, two-bedroom ranch that was my husband’s and my first home. I loved everything about that house — the kitchen cabinets we painted yellow a few months before our wedding, the living room with its 1970s green, wall-to-wall carpet (which I loved to vacuum), the family room my Uncle Frank fashioned from our one-car garage when I was newly pregnant and making plans to turn our TV room into a nursery.

I loved most of all the memories that house held: It’s where I learned to cook, where I set the dining room table with fine china (a wedding gift), and served casseroles in silver plate dishes (more wedding gifts); where I entertained friends, where I lit tapered candles every night, where every day I played house, where every day I loved playing house.


But we needed a bigger house. We had a 5-year-old and a soon to be 3-year-old sleeping in the same small bedroom. It made sense to move. We knew they couldn’t share a bedroom forever.

So we went house hunting.

My mother-in-law was house hunting, too. She was looking for someplace smaller. We were looking for someplace bigger. In retrospect, it would have made sense simply to trade. She had a four-bedroom Colonial. We had a two-bedroom ranch. Our houses were right next to each other. We had lived next door to each other for 6½ years. Why didn’t we consider this?

Maybe we did. I don’t remember.

As it turned out, my mother-in-law moved to a condominium 4 miles away and we moved into her house.

Her house had gold wall-to-wall carpet in the living room, the front hall, on the steps leading to the second floor, all the way down the hall that connected the bedrooms. It had gold drapes in the living room. It had a white French provincial kitchen. It was all mahogany and mantels and Royal Doulton figurines, a house coiffed like a queen.


I wasn’t a queen. I came in and stormed the castle, hung brown and orange flowered wallpaper in the kitchen obliterating her pale pink walls. I made orange drapes for the family room (well, they were white but I dyed them orange), and replaced the pink and white linoleum kitchen and family room floors with a combination of brown checked linoleum. I turned her coiffed-like-a-queen home into an Eliza Doolittle.

And she never said a word. That was my mother-in-law, a kind and patient woman who put up with a foolish young girl who clearly had a lot to learn.

Flash forward to when I began to like that house. Was it the day I stood on the front lawn and thought, I love that flagstone walk? Was it the first June when her peonies grew and I staked them and fed them and gushed over them when they bloomed? Was it when I finally took down her gold drapes and she turned to me and said, “It looks so nice and bright in here?”

There was never a Road to Damascus moment when I realized that I loved every square inch of the house that was hers. My falling in love was a slow thing, the accumulation of a thousand small moments lived inside these walls. Countless meals at the kitchen table. Holidays. Parties. Graduations. Conversations. Celebrations. Songs. Laughter. Tears. Hellos. Goodbyes.


I think my mother-in-law would like all the changes we’ve made, the deck off the family room, the kid-friendly backyard. More windows, fewer walls. White siding. A new kitchen.

And no hint of orange anywhere.

We have her original blueprints. I look at them sometimes and imagine her looking at them, dreaming her dream house.

It wasn’t my dream house. Not in the beginning. It was her house. And everywhere I turned, I saw something of her.

Everywhere I turn, I still see something of her. But it’s this, the very thing I disliked decades ago, seeing something of her, that I cherish now.

Beverly Beckham’s column appears every two weeks. She can be reached at bev@beverlybeckham.com.