Thursday, June 16, 2005

A Blast From The Past

While spending last weekend in Chicago, I got a real "blast from the past." My husband was working on his computer, and he noticed several directories where he'd archived photos of Duloc Manor in various stages of construction. With me gaping over his shoulder, he ran through the dozens of files that brought old memories flooding back. It's only been two and a half years, but it feels like such a long time now that life in Florida is the norm.

The first photos dated back to January of 2003, when we thought that our home would actually be a condo. We had signed a contract sight unseen, so we were very excited to finally view the site of our future home.

At that time, Spring Park Terraces was a vast construction site, with skeletal buildings rising up from the sand lot in various stages of completion. We had selected a second floor condo in a four-unit building, but the first level was barely started. We managed to find an identical building in a later stage of construction, so we traipsed through the debris, ignoring the warning signs, and snapped as many photos as possible. I tried to look past the cinderblock walls and imagine the drywall and fixtures that would make it look like a real home. We also took a few of our actual building, even though there wasn't much to see.

The later photos in that subdirectory tell the story of divine intervention. We had only selected a condo because we didn't think we could afford a regular house. But on the way out of town, we noticed an open house and stopped in out of curiosity. The real estate agents we met there told us about the triplexes and took us out to Roseville corner to see a model. It was perfect! A cozy little home with a front and back yard, and (best of all) it was in our price range.

Next, they took us to a barren plot in East Village that would someday be a full-fledged neighborhood. It was surrounded by reserve areas, with a ballfield and swimming pool just down the street. Even though we had to get to the airport, my husband managed to snap a few hasty photos.

He didn't take too many, since we were locked into the condo contract. We loved the triplex, and the East Village location seemed perfect, but we had already put down earnest money that we couldn't afford to lose. It seemed pointless to document a place we wished we had bought, but at least I convinced him to snap a few.

As luck would have it, we were able to get out of the condo contract on a technicality. Now, those photos weren't just a wistful "what-if" footnote to our Celebration adventures. They were pictures of our real home-to-be.

During the construction process, William Shatner became our friend as we nabbed hotel and rental car deals on Priceline every few weeks. We would select the Downtown Disney area, which could mean anything from the Hyatt or Hilton near the Disney shopping area to the Gaylord Palms all the way out on Osceola Parkway. We would visit the construction site for some updated photos, then drive aimlessly to learn the area.

Each subdirectory of photos represented a different trip. Duloc Manor progressed from a flat slab to a maze of rising cinderblock. Moving through the photographic slide show was like viewing an animation flip book or a time-lapse film. As the walls rose up, they progressed from chicken wire-covered black to insulation-pink to the present-day beige. The yard slowly transformed from a wasteland to barren grass and then to the standard configuration of scrubby little bushes and trees.

It was weird to look at the naked insides of the half-completed building in the photos and overlay the way it looks now in my mind's eye. The dark cinderblock family room is now bright and cheery; I curl up on the soft in front of the television, with cats piling onto my lap. The bare pillared porch is now festooned with flowers, with a porch swing swaying in the breeze. Construction noise has been replaced by the tinkling of windchimes. The bare pipes sticking out of the concrete in mysterious configurations are now plugged into the various plumbing fixtures. The plywood staircase with its rickety temporary bannister is carpeted and solidly closed in.

We have lots of photos of the model, too, since it was almost identical to our unit. We snapped pictures showing the room configurations so we could figure out our future furniture placement. My favorite moment captured in time is the day my husband used the rental car keys to do measurements in the formal room. In the model, it was open, but in Duloc Manor it would have French doors. The photos prove that his unscientific method of figuring where the doors would end was actually uncannily accurate.

I cringe when I see the bordello red wallpaper in the model's master bath and the bright green walls, festooned with parrots, in the Harry Potter powder room. The front bedroom featured an odd framework of twigs on the ceiling, with a stuffed monkey hanging down. It's hard to imagine that room the way it turned out in Duloc Manor (it's my husband's office, and although he's lobbying to paint it pumpkin-orange, it's thankfully stuffed primate free).

We were pretty thorough in creating our pictorial; there's only one other thing I wish we had documented. Since we stayed in so many different hotels, I wish we had taken a photo of each of them. Now, more than two years later, they are a mere blur in my mind. We do have some of our rental cars on film, since they were usually parked right in front of the construction site.

Suddenly, in one of the last subdirectories, the photos changed quite markedly. Mixed in with pictures of the house were various shots taken in furniture stores. We ordered much of the furniture before Duloc Manor was completed, arranging for delivery after the closing. To keep it fresh in our minds, we took photos of the floor models of each set we purchased. How odd to see the same sofa that I've spilled coffee on innumerable times flashing on my husband's computer screen in its pristine showroom condition.

Next up were the photos of closing day; we know that for sure because my husband's video camera is sitting on the kitchen counter (he brought it to document the walk-through). Even though the house was done, and technically "ours," we still continued to take photos of each major change. We were still commuting back and forth to Chicago, and it helped ease our homesickness for Celebration to be able to pull up Duloc Manor on the PC.

Now, I stared in amazement at the pictures of my solar lamps placed inbetween the baby hedges. Those hedges have grown so huge that they tower over the lamp posts, which I finally removed. I marveled at how open the family room had once looked, when it contained nothing but a couch set and two rockers. It used to be an echo chamber, but now it has "shrunk" considerably with the addition of a huge television and entertainment center. Traumatic memories came flooding back when I saw the infamous "topless" kitchen table; it took months to finally get the right parts to fix it. After sending the wrong ones on three separate occasions, the furniture store finally sent a second table which was cannibalized to make ours whole.

In the very last directory, I saw the Duloc Manor that I know and love. Rather than empty walls and bare furniture, the photos showed those little knick knacks, artwork, and other personal touches that make a house a home.

When we finally reached the last photo, I felt like I had just traveled back in time and then returned to present day. During the construction process, I wondered if we were visiting Florida a little too often (even though we were careful to catch airfare specials and get cheap hotels) and taking too many pictures. Now, I'm so happy that we documented every step in the process of buying our house and turning it into the Duloc Manor of my dreams. Digital photos don't take up anything but hard drive space; you can always delete them, but you can never go back in time to take the photos that you missed.

Digital camera: $300
Priceline hotel: $65
Rental car: $15 per day
Plane tickets: $115 roundtrip
Construction memories: Priceless

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