Saturday, December 5, 2009

#77 Can You See the Potential?

In 1995 Marc and I bought, what is now, our 257 year old labor of love.

On a cold December Sunday, we went house hunting. We had been doing this for almost a year without success, but on that morning, we saw an ad in the paper for an old farm house. Since this was just the sort of thing we were looking for, we bundled up our 2 year old son, and off we went. The minute Marc saw the house, he fell immediately in love. He had told me that if we were ever going to move out of the city [we had only ever lived in cities - DC, St. Louis and Philadelphia] that he wanted an old house with land and lots of nooks and crannies. When we called our agent Monday morning to tell her we wanted to see this house, she told Marc that what he had fallen in love with was an 8 acre estate undergoing zoning hearings to be sub-divided, and that the house was being sold - "as is". He was still in love, and without my knowing, he and the agent went to look at it during his lunch hour. He called me at work later that day and told me that he had just left the property, and that if I could sneak out of the hospital [where I was working at the time], the caretaker would be there for another hour.

So, I snuck out. I drove up the creepy, overgrown, snow-covered drive and rang the doorbell. The caretaker opened the door and invited me in. All I remember thinking was that it was colder in the house than it was outside, and that this was one SPOOKY old house. I was also thinking that perhaps I should come back with Marc, however when I turned around to tell the caretaker just that, he was gone.

I could give you a room by room walking tour, but let's leave it at this. There was mold growing up the wall in the parlor, the wallpaper in the library was brown at the seams, the rose-colored carpet in the master bedroom had nail clippings large enough for me to see without having to bend down, all the bathrooms were circa 1950's, and there were some rooms that had such a slant from settlement that I felt dizzy and off balance. The basement [which I still don't like to visit alone] was unfinished - literally. The floor was perhaps cement, but it had layers of dirt on it. There was a really old wine cellar with wood shelves filled with bottles of wine. It was dark, long, narrow, and damp. There was a well [as in water well] built into the wall at the end of the cellar, which led to underground tunnels, which led to somewhere outside my house. I later learned that Quakers owned our home and were part of the underground railroad during the Civil War. Of course, at that moment, alone in this dark basement, listening to all sorts of creaks, moans and scurryings, all I could think about was the possibility of spirits, not of the alcoholic kind, left over from the past 200 odd years. Last, but not least, the kitchen. The kitchen had a yellow linoleum floor, a sink, a fridge, an oven and a pantry. OMG, no dishwasher? There was no cabinetry and there were long fluorescent lights on the ceiling. There was a room to the left of the kitchen that was probably the servant's "hang-out". It had a toilet, the washer and dryer and an industrial sink. No dishwasher. I walked back into the kitchen and through a swinging door into what was the butler's pantry. Praise the lord, a dishwasher... and some cabinetry.

When I got back to the hospital, I called Marc, and told him I had been to the house. He asked me, "Can you see the potential?", "Did you love it?". NO! I told him. Are you crazy? Do you realize how much money we need to put into this house? Just to live in it? Not even to decorate it? Do you realize there is no central air conditioning to cool 7000 square feet and 3 stories? Do you realize that there is lead paint in almost every room? Did you see the mold? Did you see the wisteria pulling the pebble dash stucco with horse hair off the house? [which I learned is very, very, very expensive to fix and/or replace]? Did you hear the ghosts [I didn't actually ask him this one because I was too embarrassed]?

Well, guess who gave in. It's the end of 2009, and we've been living in our money pit [she came by the name honestly] for 13 years. A lot of work and love have gone into this house. Our carpenter became husband number 2 and our painter became husband #3 since they both pretty much lived here for the first 8 years. Sadly, I had to divorce our landscaper and electrician, but am now dating a new landscaper, and thinking of just having flings with an electrician. We're on very good terms with our plumbers because truthfully, they're the only ones who know how the plumbing, heating and AC systems are rigged in this place. Finally, as I sit here in the butler's pantry, now my office, I am so glad that Marc saw this home's potential. This house has allowed me to discover many things about myself that, had we not taken this chance, I may never have known. Do I have the home I dreamed of? No. Unlike Marc, I didn't have a picture of the house I wanted, but if I had been able to imagine one, my dream house wouldn't even have come close to the one we live in.

As for the ghost[s] -- after a number of nocturnal and one afternoon visit, I decided to have a little chat with him/her/them. I went into the basement [Zoe, our doberman was coaxed down with me] and told him/her/them that we loved the house, that we were going to take good care of it, that we were more than happy to share this space with them, but they had to stop their visits because it was scaring me and the kids. I also promised not to remove anything that was left in a particular place in the house. That means that the 100 year old riding boots are still sitting on the same shelf in the library as when we moved in [they do get dusted]. It's been 8 years, and so far....... I dare not say anymore in case he/she/they are reading over my shoulder.

photos:
house - 1995 - see the wisteria?
library - picture given to us by the owners who lived here from 1938 - 1995
music room - taken the day we signed all the papers - moldy and damp walls
bathroom - salmon-pink walls
wine cellar - self explanatory
butler's hang-out - we gutted and then insulated, became the playroom when the kids were little, knocked out back wall to put in french doors.
master bath - updated from original in 2004
main hall - updated from original 2006

Quote of the Day: "Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind."- Dr. Seuss

3 comments:

Michael Rivers said...

What a great post! The house is gorgeous. Thanks for sharing the story!

Anonymous said...

It is a beautiful house now. You've worked magic on it.
Was any of the wine drinkable? :)

Bobbie's Babbles said...

No drinkable wine.... we tasted it... big mistake