New owners for my mom’s house

#199 in a series of true experiences in real estate
June 1997, Hills Newspapers

The sale of my mother’s house closed this week. All things considered, it went wonderfully well.

It took me almost a year to clear out my mother’s things, make the house fresh and ready to sell, and to let go, to feel okay about having someone new live there — but it happened. It’s done and I feel good.

I’m glad I didn’t have to hurry. I needed the first six or eight months to gradually sort through my mother’s belongings, to “talk” to her about some things I found, to throw away and give away and to bring things home.

At first I could only go to the house for a few hours at a time. I still saw her there, missed her terribly. I didn’t like the feeling that came with changing her surroundings. It seemed wrong.

During the first week after she died, for example, I gave away my mom’s house plants, begonias and violets, also many of the flowers growing in pots on the patio. The house was empty without her; with her plants gone, it was not possible to think she’d be back.

She had been preparing for me. This surprised me and made me sad. She’d cleaned out and organized, even made up a new address book, written notes to me.

Knowing what I’m like when I get in a cleaning-out mode, on one note she wrote “Do not throw away until you think about it.” The list that followed included her cast iron frying pans, “some good pots with lids” and the Singer sewing machine, “good but needs the stitch length adjusted.”

Early on when I found it too hard to continue looking in closets and drawers anymore, I made a list of the books she kept close at hand and I mailed the list to her friends. This seemed like a good idea. Who wanted which one of my mother’s favorite reads? Pleased and happy, the friends called to say, “If no one else wants the pioneer trail books, I’d like to have them.”

The antique dealer came, telling me that the china teacups inherited by my mother would bring only six dollars a piece, no one wants milk glass these days, the Wedgewood is saleable, American Indian baskets are in demand.

I began to wear a few of my mother’s sweaters and this caused my children to say, “You look just like grandma. That was hers, wasn’t it?” Her ironed cotton shirts seemed too connected to her. I gave them away.

The quilting group women picked up boxes of fabric and threads and took a quilt top to finish someday. Boxes of yarn and felt scraps and children’s books were passed along to the after-school care teachers. Scrapbooks from trips to England, the canning kettle and the old angel food cake pan were set aside for grandchildren.

When I was pretty much down to dealing with the contents of the garage, the painters and cleaners and the floor waxer woman arrived. They made the little house on the hill clean and sweet. Anet and I added a green patio umbrella and pink pelargoniums in pots.

Floor length, filmy white curtains were hung in the main room and they emphasized the natural light. I could hear myself telling my mom how pretty I find them, hear her replying, “I’d rather have my draw drapes though, ones I can close at night. So I had her drapes cleaned and put them away for the new owners who may feel the same.

We ordered a termite report, went to the city to check the building permits, and got a written physical inspection report. Cracked windows were replaced, roofing compound was spread around roof vents and seams, and we were ready.

Maybe because my mother had lived alone in the house so happily for so many years, we guessed that the buyer would be a woman too. In the first couple of weeks after we held it open for the first time, two single women did make acceptable offers on the house. One changed her mind and the other lost her job and reluctantly withdrew.

I was disappointed but Anet said, as she can always be counted on to say, “It was not meant to be. The house is supposed to go to someone else.”

During the few days that I was in contract with the second buyer, a couple saw the house for the first time. They were quite interested in buying it and were disappointed to find that it was already “sold.” Nevertheless, they took the time to write Anet and me a letter congratulating us on our marketing materials (they especially liked having a measured floor plan), the appearance of the house, and our pricing.

Even before the letter had time to reach us, the house was again available and they were the new buyers. Their agent described Charles and Doris as simply wonderful people, buying their first house. They read our newspaper column regularly and were excited to discover that it was “Pat’s mom’s house.”

They love the light in the house, the warm side patio, the neighborhood, and maybe especially, that the first time they looked out to the backyard from the kitchen, a deer and her young faun were standing there staring silently back at them.

Anet was right. This was meant to be. We met Charles and Doris for the first time on the day we were moving out the last of the furniture. Charles greeted us, then turned to identify each of the different herbs in a bouquet kindly picked for us by his agent. He knows herbs because he’s the cook in the family. He is retired now, looks forward to living in El Cerrito, and plans to try his hand at gardening.

Pretty, silver-haired Doris, like my mom, sews. Anet and I, who are hard pressed to thread a needle, are greatly impressed that, among other things, she makes all of Charles’ shirts.

I feel wonderful about these people. They are shining and happy, they obviously love the house and will make it their own.

It probably sounds strange but I think maybe my mother somehow managed to hand pick Doris and Charles. I know she would have liked these people; I know I wouldn’t be feeling so good right now if it weren’t for them. I wish them the very best.

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