House Hunting in the 90’s

You’re going to buy a house… BY YOURSELF?

Yes, Daddy…women DO own houses by themselves these days!

Well, just make sure you own the land, Honey.  Don’t get involved with any of that condo crap…

Once a father, always a father.  Daddy was still giving his advice, even now at eighty-seven years of age and in failing health.  He still had a keen mind for numbers and understood housing in general, the values, the neighborhoods and the choices I’d have in front of me.  He’d walked through many of the same homes over the years, measuring the kitchen and bath floors to give an estimate on new linoleum.    We were discussing some of the choices and the streets I’d visited with the realtor; I was keeping Daddy apprised of the week to week update of house hunting as a “single” woman.

I’m going to miss this Texan’s company once I finally find a house.  He’s been really nice to work with.

Just be careful, Honey… you gotta watch those guys…you never know……….

I was by now forty-two, divorced for nearly six years, and had been back home long enough to realize that I’d be staying in the area close to the folks and my family.    I had decided it was time for me to once again own a home.  The folks had offered to help with the down payment needed, and a friend had introduced me to a broker acquaintance of his.  I liked the broker very much.  The broker’s part time loan processor had agreed to take me around on evenings and weekends as he still had a valid real estate license.  The latter worked two jobs, packing musical instruments and parts in a warehouse during the day, and then playing loan processor in the evenings and weekends, depending on the workload.

In the first three or four weeks, we had looked at all kinds of houses; many well-kept older homes were now in very sketchy areas; or the neighborhood had declined so much so that the majority of activity was slowly changing over to commercial zoning use.  Some entire streets had bars over the doors and front windows; not exactly your Ozzie and Harriet’s America.  Chances were I’d have to forego the better neighborhoods if I wanted to own anything at all.  As we had already scoured the existing listings on the market in my price range, bank repos were beginning to look like my last resort.  My realtor was running low on properties, but didn’t seem to mind as it gave him something to do besides spending evenings working on paperwork or reading.

Finally, he suggested that I take a look at a home in an older, unincorporated area; so, we two set off that next September Saturday morning to view it.  This particular home had been vacant for over two years.  Surprisingly, there were no signs of vandalism or destruction on the outside; even the inside seemed untouched.  Once I entered and walked on the hardwood flooring, and took sight of the built- in book shelves on either side of the fireplace, I was hooked!  The cottage had a small formal dining room just behind the living room but adjacent to the kitchen door.  The formal dining area was exactly what I had dreamed of, as cooking and setting a pretty table were some of my favorite things to do!

The kitchen was extremely oversize as was typical with homes built just after the Second World War.  Surely a table or banquette had once existed in the far corner from the sink; I could tell by the second ceiling globe’s location just off to the side.

A real, honest to goodness laundry room stood between kitchen, front garage and the backyard door.  I’d finally have walls for the wallpaper that I’d held onto for years!  The two bedrooms were good size, each with a closet; though, typical of the period, the closets were very small.  The home had only one bath; describing it as mid-size would be exaggerating, but it was workable enough for one and would suffice when My Only came down on weekends.

All in all, I kept walking around, smiling and returning time and again to the dining room, the fireplace, the kitchen, then back again.  In only a few short minutes, I had given myself away.

This is the one, isn’t it?

Yes, I think so…  I absolutely love it! It reminds me of the older home my aunts and uncles once lived in in Berkeley years ago.  It has personality…LOOK! The built in room divider!  I could just see my things sitting on the shelves there…

Well then, guess we’d better go back and write up an offer!

We left to do the initial paperwork at the office.  Then, each of us decided it was too early to call it a day; so now what would we have to do?  I mentioned the art and wine festival that was downtown this weekend; if I bought the glasses, would he pay for the wine?  Seemed like a plan.  We spent a really nice Indian summer afternoon in the downtown district, sipping some wine and realizing that we both loved art and artsy stuff.

As luck would have it, the Realtor and I had decided there was something more than first met the eye…somewhat surprising as neither of us was actually looking for anyone at the time.  When I think back, I suppose getting locked out of a patio door at one home for sale and laughing over a cheap liver and onions dinner one evening eventually broke the ice! He didn’t have much money nor did I.  Neither of us was anything more than we presented; there was no pretense. There was also no denying that we were beginning to run out of ways to spend inexpensive, Saturday afternoons…

The house closed about six weeks later.  I took ownership a few days before my last month’s rent was ended, and took a couple days off from work to paint a good portion of the home’s interior.   In between painting, I had begun stripping some of the old wallpaper.  We would eventually find beautiful redwood paneling surrounding the fireplace wall.

I say “we”.  I sent out Christmas cards earlier than usual that year, announcing my remarriage as of November 29th:

I bought a house and

the Realtor came with it!!!

 

Couldn’t have dreamed up that storyline in a million years…

We Were Americans

Mom and Dad brought a common heritage to their first and only new home on Rubberneck Avenue.  Our table had the same four food groups from “down the house” like our grandparents‘ home: wine, French bread, salami, and cheese.  The traditional hospitality of offering a casa croute (sharing of the house bread) continued on Rubberneck as well.

While our table often identified us as French descent, herein lay the distinction:  we were Americans first.  We joined the melting pot of other first and second generation families whereby respect and love for country were inherently as important as the November celebrated reason for gathering.   Like the Pilgrims at Plymouth, we ate turkey on Thanksgiving; the main course, however, was followed by the required bit of French bread and blue cheese to enjoy with the last sips of wine, while we listened to the stories that our uncles with accents had to tell.

The Seasons Are But Few

You loaned me once a garden, and whispered quietly,

See what you can create in it with tools and reverie.

You’ll draw from each day’s tending any lessons meant for you.

Understand the garden beds are loaned; the seasons are but few;

They’ll come a time when blossoms fade; remember well their place!

I heard Your Admonition as each season showed its face.

 

I came to know, try after try, each bloom would have one chance

To catch my eye; my stewardship became more joyful with each glance!

Nine years I worked those garden beds; my turn to pass the rake had come.

I one last time watched roses climb; old fashion scents spiced cinnamon.

The lemons, ripened on the tree, awaited the next someone’s hand.

Impatiens filled small garden spots, sweet rose-like, ruby, budded strands.

 

I walked outside the back, recalling once more words You’d said;

I touched the lilies; marguerites; the fuchsias bowed their heads.

Beneath the overhanging branch, I looked up toward the sky.

Releasing hold and heart, I whispered thanks, and accepted why.

When I’m Reduced to Prayer

 

When weakened by dismay, Lord, remind me that You care.

Restore in me a thankful heart.  Cajole me into prayer!

 

When weakened by life’s hurts, Lord, remind me that You live.

Restore in me a quiet peace. Teach me to forgive!

 

When weakened by earth’s trials, Lord, remind me that You know.

Restore in me a calm repose. Feed me; help me grow!

 

When weakened by life’s games, Lord, remind me You are near.

Restore in me a sense of trust. Protect me from such fear!

 

When weakened by temptations, Lord, remind me You were man.

Restore in me a humble bent. Call me, take my hand!

 

Time Keeper

Mom was a stickler for being on time.  She’d managed with a couple of alarm clocks, a watch and a bus schedule to get us anywhere we had to be, either the doctor’s office by 1pm or  downtown for shoe shopping and back to the house in time to fix dinner that evening for her family.

Each evening before going to bed, she’d walk over to the television set and clutch the alarm clock in her hand, then carefully wind it up and set it back in its place.  She loved the ticking of these Baby Bens, with the easy to read dials.  She preferred lighter colored dials in her later years, because they were easier to read from afar.

When I returned to the Bay Area, she happily used to call me each weekday morning to make sure I awakened on time and was “up”.  For some reason, she didn’t think I could rely on my home clocks. (Actually, her making sure I arose early enough often guaranteed I’d stop by for coffee on my way in to the office).  Mom kept a chalk board in the kitchen with my name written next to the 6AM wakeup call notation.

This was right up Mom’s alley; still taking care of her children.  She’d never want to hear that her daughter had arrived late to work!  Even after I remarried, Mom asked me if I wanted her to continue to call me in the mornings.  My Rogue thought the whole practice rather cute, so he’d answer the phone on occasion and assure her that I was awake, getting ready for the day, and then spend a short minute chatting with her.

I found it amusing to observe how in later years, she voluntarily became the official time keeper for old friends as well; they truly relied on her to make that reminder phone call telling them to set their clocks back in Fall and forward in Spring.  Of course by this time, we’d all been schooled on changing our clocks before retiring on that particular Saturday evening.

Her punctuality and clock-winding regimens come to mind especially at Daylight Savings Time.  There are days that I wish I could turn my clock back again to relish just a few of those wake up calls, the hugs and the kisses,  and the hot cups of coffee ready and waiting for me …

FROG IN A BLENDER

Forty years ago, I was a new bride, determined to run a home with matching dishes, orderly towels stacked in my linen closet, and a kitchen floor that anyone could eat from, even if anything was dropped; in MY home, a 3 minute rule would apply!

It was the 70’s but I’d had one too many mentors from the 50’s…so, all things were undertaken as the wife and my area of responsibility encompassed not only the home but also  the counter clerk/bookkeeper/inventory taker/purchaser and hr dept in our ma and pa shop.  Certainly, I was never bored, as I had several priorities during the course of any week.  We had one car, so working early in the morning and late in the evening on the home front was part of my daily routine.  As with any routine, it either works or it doesn’t.  When it works, it’s great.  But when it doesn’t…

The newness of being a young married and working all day with my spouse eventually took its toll.  The business of making a living was obviously the priority in our real world; the buck stopped at our shop counter.  My cooking was doing well, but it was quickly becoming obvious my home didn’t look anything like the photos in the collection of easy to decorate articles.  I had an artistic talent for color and display, so the color schemes, while good, did not quite compare to anything even close to what was “popular” except for the wedding gifts!  Thankfully, the rest of the collection was tasteful and in great shape, as it had belonged to my in-laws; they’d gladly passed it over since they no longer had a family room.

My belief that I could pull off the Super Woman scenario was beginning to wane.   I was careful to monitor my performance against the decorator magazine cover titles of my new homemaker status.  When I first hit my wall (one of many awakenings I’d have over the years), I was already rewriting my titles for future articles in a realistic, slightly off key, self-published Mad Magazine Does Homemaking periodical; perhaps the world will be ready for it someday.

Forty years later, I am now in the entremanurial stage of my life:  sorting through the top-heavy piles on my home desk!

Calendars of medical appointments blend with business opportunities, sitting alongside the household file that holds most of the insurance payments due, half-finished shopping lists, and a few decorating and recipe sheets torn from the two periodicals that still arrive in the mailbox. Weekly, I am  essentially moving one stack of paper, photos, drafts and binders from one side of the desk to the other, onto the floor, over the ottoman’s surface, then onto the one side of the bed that remains clear when My Rogue is not napping…I believe that is enough of a visual.

On any given day I am writing for my very own website, social networking, attending business meetings, sometimes donating a half hour here and there on my  civic or non-profit duties, and employing my creative side, fine-tuning the next snippet or my “natural look” , whichever takes priority for that particular twenty-four hour segment.

I have crossed over into this frontier;  the bonding of a still working wife and a long retired husband, sharing moments of joy and elation (panic attacks are mine) midst a range of exciting opportunities for retirement living in 21st Century America.

My home’s loft is now my working headquarters, but I am  boldly going where other American women have gone before… keeping a disciplined work day’s hours in-between breaking eggs, walking on eggs, or beating eggs to bind last night’s leftovers into a piece de resistance for lunch.

When I do take a break and come up for air and an evening cocktail, I ask myself:  just what chapter did this frog in a blender miss?

The Census Takers

Contrary to today’s penchant for overdoing all things, Halloween was pretty much a one day dress-up event years ago.  Beyond the costumes, trick or treating and the two-dimensional pumpkins and black cats hanging in the windows, the holiday itself was no big deal.

We didn’t jump in vans, didn’t hop from one area of the city to another, didn’t Trick or Treat until we were high school age; nope, Halloween Trick or Treating was for kids only.  We loved running from porch to porch, up the stairs where the lights were on to welcome us, quickly spitting out an audible thank you before running back down to the next walkway.  Our Trick or Treat bags were small, often plastic pumpkins or small paper bags we’d decorated, but they were adequate size for the amount of candy collected.

People knew people and neighbors didn’t move very often; generations watched second generations often grow up on the same block.  Cookies wrapped in wax paper or foil, home-made candies…one didn’t need to go through the bag to sort “safe” from “unsafe” treats.  Kids normally didn’t roam very far beyond the initial home front (about a three block area); if we even thought about going up another street or extending our route, believe me it had to be done with more than one parent’s blessings.  Neighborhood parents were just as watchful as your own.  It was a good time to be a kid as someone was always looking after your safety and holiday fun.

On occasion, Mom would let us help pick out the candy to give away.  Some years we’d have to remind Mom that raisins, no matter how cute they were in the small little boxes, were not really what we kids wanted in our bags.  She tended to go after the familiar:  Tootsie Pops, hard candies, peppermint sticks, bubble gum, things that were familiar to her when she was a kid.  We had a shallow wooden bowl that Mom used for the candy every Halloween.  She’d place it on the desk with a small notebook and pen; she liked to keep count of how many kids came to the door each year.  So did our next door neighbor.

It didn’t help that Daddy had already checked out the next door’s bowl of goodies; he’d return home, reporting how great the candy assortment was next door; none of his remarks improved either our home atmosphere or our bowl assortment.  Mom could be oblivious when she chose to be; just what was wrong with our candy selection?

At the end of the evening, when the porch lights had been turned off, Mom and the neighbor conversed via their respective kitchen windows (across the driveway) and compared their totals.  The variance was the same most of the time: for some peculiar reason, our neighbor always logged a higher number of Trick or Treaters.

These census counts became somewhat of a contest for the women, though none of us understood what the big deal was.  Certainly, the men were not interested in any of this nor were we kids.

Mom, always the one with the investigator mind, couldn’t figure out how any kids would have stopped next door to ring the bell without then following up our porch steps; both houses were in the middle of the block.  Likely, their methods differed; one ticked off numbers, the other counted the small number of candy bars left in her bowl.

Also very likely, Daddy had eaten more than one candy bar on his earlier visit…