Farewell to the stairwell
Published: May 24, 2011
For two years our home has been behind door Number 2 – in a “stairwell,” the fondly used synecdoche for multifamily, multilevel military quarters.
When we moved into this four-apartment unit, our in-house neighbors included an Army family, a Navy family and a Marine family. Our Air Force family completed the cross section of military services. If we’d had more space we would have invited the Coast Guard.
After a while, I grew accustomed to hearing the pitter-patter – sometimes stompity-stomp – of our neighbors’ children. Then last spring all three families PCSed at once. The building was suddenly still, echoing with only our own family's voices for a few weeks.
Until one morning in July when the stairwell resounded with deeper voices and much bigger feet. The household goods of our new top-floor neighbors and their four children were delivered to Number 4. A piano was unloaded, and someone played an impromptu concert on the sidewalk before the movers hauled the instrument upstairs.
I wrote on the Spouse Calls blog at the time: “I thought the return of next-door noise would annoy me. Maybe sometimes it will; I'm only human. But today, on a sunny summer morning, the sounds of movers tramping up and down the stairs and the new kids shouting excitedly to their parents, are homely and familiar.”
Within weeks we had three new sets of neighbors. A dual military couple – Air Force and Navy – with two little girls moved into Number 1. A new Army family moved into Number 3, and before long they added a new baby to their household of four. The stairwell was busy and buzzing once again with eight adults, a dozen or so kids and one dog.
The piano music on move-in day proved prophetic. The children in Number 4 directly above us play various instruments, including the piano, guitar and drums. A rock band practices at their house once or twice a week.
This sounds worse than it actually, well, sounds. For one thing, the band is pretty good and for another, these are really sweet kids. If they see me returning from the commissary, they stop whatever they are doing and offer to carry grocery bags.
“Mrs. Barnes, if our music is too loud, please tell us,” the guitarist son reminds me occasionally.
“Don’t worry,” I say. “We will.”
And we do. My daughter, whose room is right below the practice room, hits the ceiling with a broom or whatever is handy when the volume level gets too high. Later, in the neighborhood carpool returning from youth group, she ribs her friends about disturbing her peace.
My stairwell neighbors are a near-at-hand source of eggs or chocolate chips when I run short in mid-recipe. Sometimes they also provide employment for our children, in the form of babysitting or dog walking. We exchange baked goods occasionally and meals when they’re needed – one big happy family.
Okay, it’s not all sweetness and light. There are times when I am tired of other people’s noises, muddy tracks on the stairs, bikes, balls and skateboards on the sidewalk.
Our balcony is less than two feet from someone else’s window. This is no treat for our neighbors either. I’m sure our patio conversations often invade their kitchen.
I admit I’m ready for a little more personal space and my own driveway. Soon I’ll have it. Another turnover is beginning in our stairwell, and this time we’re joining it. We are PCSing stateside to live in a single-family suburban home.
Someone is stomping up the stairs right now, and children are laughing outside. Will I be relieved or lonely behind my privacy fence and automatic garage door, no longer surrounded by the hubbub and camaraderie of other military families?
When he saw pictures of our future home in the U.S., our son asked, “That whole house is just for our family?”
After stairwell living, it looks like more space than we could possibly use. But I’m willing to give it a try.