First Words — 09 August 2019
Letting down the greatest generation

By Mark Gauert

City & Shore Magazine

We loved our old house in Fort Lauderdale the moment we stepped through the door, except for one small thing.

“Why are these closets so small?” I asked the real estate agent.

There weren’t many closets at all in the two-bedroom, one-bath house built in 1943 we fell in love with on first sight. But what passed for closets in the small but charming first bedroom and the small but charming second bedroom were about the size of the kitchen cupboards in other houses we’d seen on our house search.

“I know, the closets are small,’’ the real estate agent said, sensing I was already negotiating a smaller offer in my head. “But you have to remember, not many people lived fulltime in South Florida when this house was built. Most of them lived up north and only came here in the winter. They didn’t need a lot of closet space for heavy coats or winter clothes – they came with two shirts, two pairs of pants, a swimsuit, a toothbrush…”

“And no underwear…?” I said.

“You have to remember it was wartime, too,” she said. “There were limits on what you could buy then. They were the Greatest Generation, and living simply was their patriotic duty to help win the war.’’

“I don’t know,’’ I said. “The war’s been over for a while now, but these closets still look like Army footlockers.’’

“I know they’re modest,” she said, choosing her words carefully. “But these closets are a gift. They will simplify your life.’’

I wondered how that would read in a real estate listing, if I owned the house and was trying to sell it someday.

Charming house! Gleaming hardwood floors! Big backyard with a tire swing!

And modest closets to simplify your life?

The greatest amenity of the Greatest Generation, long before Marie Kondo sparked any joy organizing and tidying up.

Would they see it?

I wasn’t sure, but we bought the house – did I mention we loved it the moment we stepped through the door? – and I attempted to simplify my life.

Did I really need more than two shirts? Two pants, a swimsuit, a toothbrush…


I did.

So things started to pile up around the modest closets. And overflow from the dresser in the modest but charming bedroom. And eventually hang from curtain rods, ceiling fans, cupboards in the kitchen.

“Why is my underwear with the sugar in the kitchen?” I said, not long after our second son was born. “I can’t even move in here anymore. We’ve outgrown modesty.’’

“It’s time to move on,’’ my wife confirmed.

So we gave up the modest house we loved the moment we walked through the door with modest closets for a bigger house we loved the moment we walked through the door but with significantly less modest closets.

“That’s better,” I said, shaking the sugar off my underwear and putting it away for the first time since our first son was born. It felt good. Right.

And immodest.

I’ve always worried I let the Greatest Generation down by leaving the house in Fort Lauderdale for a bigger closet in the suburbs. That it’s a personal failing. That I’m sacrificing unknown layers of character by having a place to put my underwear beside the floor.

I thought about that as I read this Fashion Issue, especially the story by Robyn A. Friedman about the 600-square-foot his and 600-square-foot her closets in an $18.975 million home in Delray Beach. That’s 325 square feet of combined closet space more than our entire 875-square-foot old home in Fort Lauderdale.

You could get lost in a closet like that, I thought. But maybe lose a simple gift.

I imagined Delray Beach house hunters, 75 years from our generation (maybe not the Greatest, but good, well-meaning people who just wanted a little closet space).

“I know they’re modest,’’ the agent-of-the-future tells them. “But this closet will simplify your life.’’

  • Mark Gauert,

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