Awaiting a special someone

#226 in a series of true experiences in real estate
January 1998, Hills Newspapers

It’s a modest little house, nicely painted light green, with a dark pitched roof and pretty scalloped trim across the front. It was built in 1941, and its price today is $137,500.

There’s a covered porch with a mailbox built through to the living room. Hanging outside the box is a wicker basket in which to leave outgoing letters. At the front and corner of the house are divided wooden windows, nice ones, and if you stand in the right spot on the front lawn, you can just see the brick chimney on the north side.

Down at the end of the curving cul-de-sac (an easy car turnaround), there is a creek. Two blocks or so away are a well-stocked produce market, restaurants, video store, and bus stops.

Marge and Jessie and their friend Tat moved into this Oakland Laurel neighborhood in 1949 when they were all working as florists at Hogan & Evers on Telegraph. They bought the house from the original owners. They liked living together, and sharing housing costs made it possible for the three friends to travel to Europe together many times over the years.

Some years ago Tat died. Marge and Jessie, now in their 80s and 90s, reluctantly decided not long before last Christmas to move to Arizona to be closer to family. Once this difficult decision had been made, they proceeded with dispatch, allowing less than 6 weeks to pack up and go.

Probably everybody underestimates the reality of moving. On the surface, it seems not too bad. You pack up everything, it’s put on a truck, you transport yourselves there. Your things arrive and you unpack the boxes.

But when faced with the details, the actual doing, especially when owners have been in a house as long as Marge and Jessie had, moving is an enormous task. “Overwhelming,” Marge said.

Marge called the moving companies, selected one and set a date. She began to clean out closets, the basement, the laundry porch. She inquired about the cost of a dumpster, then decided against it. She packed books, set out things for donations to charity, and recycled an accumulation of glass and paper. She drove a carload of paint and thinner and charcoal lighter to the hazardous waste people.

She was beginning to pale about the time a neighbor offered to buy the house with everything she didn’t want left in it. This was a windfall. All the rolled-up, leftover screening, odd pieces of lumber, a large collection of plant stakes and terra cotta pots, garden sprays and the like would not have to be gone through, dealt with. The neighbor was also prepared to keep and care for Marge’s two outdoor cats, very important to Marge as the place where she and Jessie were going does not allow pets.

For a couple of weeks, precious weeks of the dwindling time left before moving day, it appeared that the sale to the neighbor would occur, but then it fell through. As we had grown quite fond, we told Marge, “There, there, it will be fine. You just concentrate on getting yourself and Jessie on that airplane.” And so she did.

They’d taken good care of things, made sure repairs were made and that the house was dry, free from rot and bugs. But after they’d gone, when the house was empty, the walls and ceilings were cobwebby, the carpet dirty. There were holes where pictures had been hanging and marks where furniture had stood. The house looked – no surprise – like recently-vacated houses do.

We called our friend Dana, hired her to clean, freshen, bring in some homey furniture, curtains, flowers. We had the old carpets removed to reveal beautiful hardwood floors needing only waxing and buffing. And we worked to clear out the basement, greenhouse and garage.

We pulled seemingly a thousand gift boxes, volumes of packing materials and dried flowers out from under the house. We sorted through screen doors, pipes and rug remnants. We vacuumed the fuzzies and hauled away a mountain of debris.

This last week I have been tickled, truly delighted by how the house looks. I can’t get over what cleaning and staging have accomplished. No matter how many times I have witnessed it, the result of deliberate attention to cosmetics strikes me as miraculous.

Dana washed every surface in the house, every wall, floor, tile, appliance and window – and it shows! Thoughtfully, with care, she dissolved old tape off surfaces, washed the insides of drawers and cupboards, vacuumed out the furnace.

The big kitchen with shiny white tile, red trim and white porcelain sink, the floor, stove and refrigerator all gleam. Sunshine pours into this friendly room where Dana has placed a gate-leg table and chairs topped with place-mats and red tulips in a vase.

The living and dining rooms look more spacious than they did before. Taking out the carpeting has added, it seems, several feet of width. Dana put a rocking chair and footstool near the traditional brick fireplace hearth, glass candlesticks on the painted wood mantel, books in the tall cases.

As I walk through the house and compliment Dana on her choice of crisp curtains, the sparkling tile bath, the lamps in the two bedrooms, I know that this house has always been full of good life, people of good spirit. Everyone who comes here will feel it.

The garden is a little overgrown; weeds have popped up during the rain. But there are irises blooming, hyacinth leaves are already several inches high, lavender-flowered tree dahlias nod on fifteen-foot stalks. The lawn is green and Marge left the lawn mower for the new owner.

We do not know who will be the third owner of the little house, perhaps someone who will like using Marge’s basement workshop or her garden, as all three of the ladies did. Marge and Jessie do extend their best wishes to whomever buys the house. We wish the same for Marge and Jessie. We miss them.

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