What better place to start?
I am one of those otherwise sane people who look at a ramshackle house and see charm, what it could be rather than what it is. This is a disease I contacted from my husband. It certainly wasn’t genetic. My parents ran a tight ship. In our house, you mopped the kitchen floor every night after you did the dishes, and no faucet dripped nor did any toilet run for longer than 24 hours. It simply wasn’t permitted. I married a man who was far more creative than precise, and I loved him for it – still do, but I’ve had to do some adjusting. Isn’t that what marriage is about?
We entered the housing market at an early age with little money, two small children, and boundless optimism. The realtor assessed our situation and suggested a fixer-upper. For those who have not been there, “fixer-upper” is real estate for dilapidated.
The house he showed us was a small tudor, pink with bright green trim rather than the usual beige and brown, a little bit of Miami Beach in northern New Jersey. As we walked around the house, I counted twenty seven broken window panes in the first floor windows. The windows were six over one plus a bay. I did the math. Approximately half the panes were broken.
We entered cautiously, stepping around the rotten step on the front stoop. The front door opened directly into a living room with a huge fireplace, which we were assured worked just fine. The floors and interior woodwork were dark-stained, following the Tudor theme, but the walls leaned toward Miami Beach. All three bedrooms plus the living room and dining room were papered in a pastel wallpaper featuring metallic drips, gold drips on the mint green, silver on the pink, and copper on the blue. There must have been a sale.
Back in the realtor’s car, my husband turned to me. “What a great house, plenty of room.”
“It’s a mess,” I said. “Twenty-seven broken windows.”
“I know how to fix windows. We used to play baseball in the back yard, and sometimes a foul ball hit a window.”
I contemplated the vast differences in our upbringings. One broken window and I would have been playing ball somewhere else. “The window behind the stove looks frosted, but it’s grease.”
“I’ll replace the broken windows and you clean the dirty ones.”He gestured broadly. “Trees, sidewalks, tricycles and kids’ toys in the yards. This is a great neighborhood.”
I looked from my beaming husband to the realtor who was trying to keep a straight face. Great house, great neighborhood. Really? “Let’s go back inside,” I said. “I need to take another look.”