“My dear,” said I this morning to the admiral, “we moved into this house on December 27, 1983. What is 2012 take away 1983?” “29.” We were in bed, in the dark and I couldn’t reach or use a calculator.
Dear friends and readers,
Having decided to remember publicly the really important anniversaries of my life (see 2 anniversaries: contra-Jane Eyre), I declare this house’s happy 29th anniversary. Twenty-nine years ago today we moved in: the Admiral, I (not yet Duchess, then 4 months pregnant) and Caroline, then aged nearly 6. And many boxes of books even then.
It was as cold and sharp that day as today, as windy, as dark, and we had had to give up our Christmas tree in the moving. I quickly discovered the ridiculous casement windows rattled and two were coming away from the wall. Alas one in Caroline’s room so we made it stay firmer with rubber bands. That the heat was lousy, and did not get to the back half of the house. So the Admiral ordered wood for our fireplace. (It took about a week to arrive in a big truck and then for the first time I saw rural men bring it and hurl it into a huge pile on our jungle of a back yard.) I was to learn that nonetheless the cost for heat (gas) was much higher than the Admiral had hoped for because much of it dissipated somehow or other. That there were mysterious piles of sawings in front of each of our four doors. The realtor’s representative was there, and offered me new keys, telling me what I later discovered was a total lie for the changing of these locks. (Now it was merely contradictory and did not make much sense). Stay tuned and I’ll tell this story soon too. In April when the house has another anniversary.
Caroline and I set about pulling down the old broken, dirty venetian blinds from all the windows and throwing them out. Our first throw out! Already an improvement. And the windows did sparkle, having just been cleaned. There was junk in the front screened porch and the realtor said I could pitch that too; later I discovered the attic had huge amounts of old stuff, and just before I bought said house (some 4 years later) was told by a woman whose husband was a lawyer that as a renter I had had the right to that space and could have demanded the realtor empty it out. I didn’t know that.
I probably would not have as I made it a sensible policy always to pay my rent on time or even a bit early (except when I think I’m about to be fleeced for my deposit) and never complain or ask the landlord to fix (except if the roof in a room is about to collapse). Why? They never do — fix. Why should they? Most people only fix when they are about to sell a house and then they have this tremendous respect for the money they think they will get from some gull of a buyer. The couple of times in my life as a renter when I did complain about something serious of this type it was never fixed. And a roof in a bathroom collapsed when we were out. My landlady (who I did get to know very well over the next four years through letters) came to regard me as a good tenant. Right. And when I came to buy the house, the realtor’s representative, Mrs Ryan (who became our good fairy) told me that was my trump card. Mrs O’Donnell lived in fear I was going to leave.
In fact I got to buy the house because the landlady sent this realtor with someone from across the street to look at the house to see if she wanted to buy it. I was told the landlady was in her rights. I knew that, but this made me insecure and it never happened in NYC where I had lived in either rent-control or rent-stabilized apartments. So I told the realtor to tell the landlady I was thinking of moving. I couldn’t take it. I couldn’t. and I wrote her and told her so. It was no ploy. I meant it. I had a baby then too (Yvette) who did not like the strangers coming in and out.
It was just after that the landlady offered to sell me the house on a balloon mortgage arrangement. She would (pretend to or by law) lend me the money to buy it you see, and I’d be paying her back monthly (rent would become pay back), but in 7 years I’d have to come up with the whole of it. I went for it — with much trepidation. At worse I would get to live in the house 7 more years. At best, I’d buy it dead cheap. Which in the event we did.
Our house and us that fall 1984: you see Yvette, a 6-month baby; Caroine, 6; me to one side, 38; and my mother-in-law, the admiral’s mother, the children’s grandmother Grace on the other. The admiral (not yet admiral) took the photo.
It’s not all that different from the outside today — nor even inside only different enough to be comfortable and pleasant.
But back to December 17, 1983. From the very beginning, gentle reader, I was very fond of this house. I now love it in my way. It was private, no management surveillance (which I’d never had in NYC but had come to know was omnipresent in Virgina where tenants had no rights.) On a quiet block. I loved the large rooms, high ceilings, large windows in all the outer walls, big yard. The wide sky overhead. I was glad it was in poor condition. That meant I would not have competition for it easily. I called it shabby elegant, for I knew it has a good look, had something unostentatious and right about it in the landscape, even if then I did not know (as I came to) this was a house with an architect (Joseph Beach) who was imitating Frank Lloyd Wright in the house’s shape, closets (ridiculously impractical until I took off the metal doors), central core of heating (and later air-conditioning) stuff around which the front living room, dining room, kitchen and one of the halls, and part of another still circle. As do we, every day of our lives.
This house has been lucky to have us, and we have been very very lucky to have found and lived in and taken care of it all these years. 29. And it is now part of our security. It’s worth I’m told serious money.
Happy anniversary, House. I probably ought to give you a name now. I shall go consult the Admiral, Caroline and Yvette.
A poem for today’s weather:
Winter: My secret
I tell my secret? No indeed, not I;
Perhaps some day, who knows?
But not today; it froze, and blows and snows,
And you’re too curious: fie!
You want to hear it? well:
Only, my secret’s mine, and I won’t tell.
Or, after all, perhaps there’s none:
Suppose there is no secret after all,
But only just my fun.
Today’s a nipping day, a biting day;
In which one wants a shawl,
A veil, a cloak, and other wraps:
I cannot ope to everyone who taps,
And let the draughts come whistling thro’ my hall;
Come bounding and surrounding me,
Come buffeting, astounding me,
Nipping and clipping thro’ my wraps and all.
I wear my mask for warmth: who ever shows
His nose to Russian snows
To be pecked at by every wind that blows?
You would not peck? I thank you for good will,
Believe, but leave the truth untested still.
Spring’s an expansive time: yet I don’t trust
March with its peck of dust,
Nor April with its rainbow-crowned brief showers,
Nor even May, whose flowers
One frost may wither thro’ the sunless hours.
Perhaps some languid summer day,
When drowsy birds sing less and less,
And golden fruit is ripening to excess,
If there’s not too much sun nor too much cloud,
And the warm wind is neither still nor loud,
Perhaps my secret I may say,
Or you may guess.
Dear house, never fear, I’ll never pull you down. so many memories here. You are safe with me.