Missing the Northeast: Row homes

This was a conversation I had with a friend when I first got to college in New Jersey six years ago:

Me: “Oh, I grew up in a row home in Philadelphia.” Friend: “A row home? Is that like an apartment or a condo or something?” Me: “No, you know, a row home. Where all of the houses on the street are connected. Sometimes a house will share a walkway or a driveway with another house.” Friend: (blank stare) “You mean a townhouse?” Me: “I don’t know what that is.”

Apparently, outside of Philadelphia, the term row home is completely alien and, for some reason, one that is impossible to decipher despite the fact that it can easily be defined as a home…in a row. And whether it’s called a row home or a townhouse, it’s kind of amazing to me how shocked people outside of Philadelphia get when they find out you have lived in one.

Since graduating from college and working out-of-state full-time, I’ve lived in a few different places with varying degrees of extra space. Don’t get me wrong. It’s been nice, but I would never give up my upbringing for anything.

All of the Ducks in My Row (Home)

I grew up one of six people – the second of four children – in a row home in the Northeast, never really having my own room and barely able to find a quiet place to read, do homework or talk on the phone.

And you know what? I loved every minute of it.

I always tell my family that living in the house where I grew up, in the high-volume-of-family-members situation I was in, helped me to prepare for going away to college and going off into the real world, especially in terms of living with a roommate with varying interests and preferences.

Yeah, you might not have a whole lot of privacy, but it’s sometimes nice to have your family so close together. And it makes simple skills, like sharing and time management, a little easier to develop.

The Neighborhood

There’s something almost comforting about knowing that there is somebody right next door to you, whom you can call your neighbor. It’s nice to be able to walk to the other side of the driveway simply to ask your neighbor for a cup of sugar.

There is almost this sense of belonging or camaraderie that comes with sharing walls or a little patch of walkway with another family. And it is camaraderie such as this that makes celebrations, like block parties, possible.

I’ve known many people throughout my life who have lived in bigger homes – anywhere from duplexes to veritable mansions – and had never even met or could not come up with a single fact about their neighbors. As somebody whose next door neighbors have almost constantly served as a factor in the lives of my family, I have always been interested by this.

One story that always comes to my mind is from back when I used to do homework at my family’s dining room table. When we were younger, my mom used to discourage us from having the TV on while we were doing work. Therefore, I always got shaken out of my concentrated state every day at 5 p.m. when “Move Closer to Your World,” the Channel 6 Action News theme, started blasting from my next door neighbor’s TV.

Coming Back Home

Although I don’t see myself moving back to the Northeast anytime soon, I have grown to admire my tiny childhood house, sandwiched among a row of similar houses. Growing up in a row home has helped me to appreciate the space I now have and the privacy I have been afforded.

Also, as enjoyable as I assume it must be to own acres upon acres of land, there is always something relieving about simply having a few patches of grass to take care of from time to time – many of which are often shared with your next door neighbors. Having recently moved out of a house (rented) with a bunch of roommates that involved us mowing a huge lawn every other day, maintaining a row home seems pretty appealing right now.

But the real thing I enjoy when I come home, aside from simply seeing the architecture of the houses all lined up next to each other as I pull up to my block in my car, is simply sitting down at the dining room table, ready to eat dinner when, through the walls… “Move closer to your world my friend, take a little bit of time…”

Ah, the news is on.

Missing the Northeast is a column written by Stephen Wilson, a former Northeast resident who moved to New Jersey for work. You can read his column on the last Monday of every month.

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