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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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The Full Suburban: Our first house holds many fond memories

UPDATED: Sun., Aug. 15, 2021

The Ditto family relaxes on the front porch of their first home during a “day in the life” photo session in 2016.  (Michelle Giles)
The Ditto family relaxes on the front porch of their first home during a “day in the life” photo session in 2016. (Michelle Giles)
By Julia Ditto For The Spokesman-Review

Back in 2016, right before we moved out of our first home into the one we’re in now, a photographer friend of ours asked if she could follow our family around for a “day in the life” series she wanted to promote for her photography business.

She would arrive before the kids woke up, she informed me, and then just kind of be our shadow as we went about our day. I immediately said yes. I’m a very sentimental person, and the idea of someone capturing on film our final days in our beloved house and neighborhood was something I couldn’t pass up.

She arrived around 6 in the morning and stayed with us all day until the evening, documenting sleepy-headed kids stumbling out of bed, an epic lay-on-the-floor toddler tantrum at the store, Logan and me laughing on the front porch and our family kneeling together for prayer before bedtime.

I recently found those pictures again and took a little walk down memory lane, my heart hurting a little bit as I looked at each one. It was only five years ago, but it seems like another lifetime. Everything seemed so much simpler then, and yet I know it wasn’t.

I was in the thick of mothering very young children – our youngest was still a baby – and I can remember well the exhaustion and all-hands-on-deck feeling that came with even the simplest of tasks and outings.

And seeing that little house again – we loved that house! In 2008, when we were finally out of school and officially sick of living in apartments, I had my heart set on owning an older home. I love history, kitsch and charm, and so we focused most of our house hunting in the South Hill. But after a month of fruitless searching, we still hadn’t found anything that felt like “the one.”

Desperate to find something – anything! – we circled back to a house that had been on our “Plan C” list, a 1920 Craftsman that was well taken care of but hadn’t been updated for at least 40 years.

It checked some of our boxes (great neighborhood, good bones, charm in spades) but failed other categories (orange laminate kitchen countertops, ancient wiring, possibly haunted basement). But I’m crafty and creative, and Logan is handy and resourceful, so we figured we could slowly turn it into the home of our dreams. Almost exactly 13 years ago, we took a leap and bought it.

The first night that the house was officially ours, we got right to work stripping the wallpaper that covered literally every wall – and even some ceilings (a 1940s design decision that I consider unforgivable). After a few hours of working, we started to notice the smell of melting plastic. Then smoke.

To our horror, we discovered that the extension cord we’d been working off had melted into itself and burned a hole in the green shag carpeting. Home ownership was not going well, and we were only a few hours in.

I wanted to take the house keys we had just barely received and throw them back on the Realtor’s lawn so we could happily continue to live in my parents’ basement for the rest of time. But we pressed on, and our house was an adventure and a treasure from then on.

Over the eight years we lived in our first house, we (and a few skilled contractors) left no room or surface untouched, eventually finishing off the attic and basement and completely gutting and renovating a couple bathrooms, the kitchen and the master bedroom.

Logan even fixed up the backyard a couple years before we moved, taking what had previously been a postage-stamp sized patch of grass and turning it into a neighborhood kid magnet featuring a play fort, rope bridge and zipline.

But as much as we loved that house and our neighborhood, tiny houses built in 1920 don’t accommodate families of eight with lots of stuff. It was a bittersweet day when we finally decided to move and build a house out in the Valley, where our kids would have room to roam, and we wouldn’t be packed into our house like a game of Tetris.

We couldn’t be happier where we are now. But sometimes we go back to visit our old neighborhood and drive slowly by our old house, and my heart hurts every single time. Those were the days. Thank goodness for memories and photographs.

Julia Ditto shares her life with her husband, six children and a random menagerie of farm animals in Spokane Valley. She can be reached at dittojulia@gmail.com.

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