Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Yellow House

It’s a big yellow house. I don’t know why I was thinking it was small. Maybe because technically it really only has two bedrooms. The third bedroom is in the attic and you can barely stand up in the middle of it, but for our purposes—guest room—it’ll work. All the other rooms are big. “Rooms” makes me think of my mother. She called apartments “rooms.” We moved around a lot when I was a kid. Maybe that’s where I get it from. Whenever a better apartment became available, we’d move. Up the street. Around the block. Across the hall. My mother would say, “It’s four railroad rooms, make your own heat and hot water,” or “Alice got some really nice rooms on West Side and another one is open,” and the next thing you know, we were packing up.

Every move was an upgrade. We got better and better until we moved down-the-shore when I was in seventh grade, and then finally, bought our own house, a little cape cod on a dirt road where I got my first pony, in Port Monmouth. I thought, this is the country! Compared to Jersey City, where the only horses I saw were the ones the mounted policemen rode, it was the country.

This place, where Kurt and I got the yellow house, is the best of both worlds. It really is the country—I can see a silo out my kitchen window—but it’s still New Jersey. I’m close to everything. I’m ten minutes from town where there’s a supermarket, Rite-Aid, a real New Jersey diner, fast food (three pizza places and one who will deliver!), banks, doctors’ offices, a dollar store, antique shops, gift shops, and a corner bar literally called “The Corner Bar.” It’s got everything!

Best of all, it’s got horse stuff. You could literally walk to our new vet’s office; handy for emergencies and the pocketbook. There were five 4-H clubs alone that we had to choose from, all within ten minutes from the house, three western-wear stores and dozens of tack shops. There’s a Tractor Supply. And a rodeo—Cowtown Rodeo, the longest continuous running rodeo in America. It’s a real horse community! Luckily I didn’t know all this before we moved here or else I would have paid more for the house.

I also didn’t know how big it is. The two bedrooms threw me off. But the rest of the rooms are big. It’s got the biggest kitchen I’ve ever had. The table is right in the middle of it, not pushed up against the wall, just like I always wanted. When I’m cooking in the kitchen and I call Kelly in the living room, she can’t hear me. I have to walk there. I have to cross Texas to get there. My bedroom is so big that when we were painting Kelly’s room, we put all her furniture in our bedroom. I had eight dressers all around the perimeter of the room and I could have fit two more. Plus her bed was in there, my bed was in there, and you could still walk around the room. This is quite an upgrade from our little bedroom in Penhook where the only floor space was a path around the bed.

I also discovered a hidden room. One day while I was scrutinizing the house like a lover gazing into another lover’s eyes—look at the curve of wood over the porch! That’s a Dutch detail! Look at those windows! How tall! Is that wavy glass?! Honey, there’s wavy glass!—I noticed there’s a window up above my bedroom that doesn’t match any of the other windows inside the house. I ran upstairs and looked around. I discovered that there’s space up above my bedroom with no way to get to it. When I called the seller to ask about the room, he was unaware of it. Just what I was hoping. That means it must have been closed off since the original owners from 1925, the Apples, owned it. (What better name for the original owners of an old yellow farmhouse with a big country kitchen than the Apples?)

In the seller’s defense, it’s not that he is completely unobservant. His father bought the place in the eighties as an investment and never lived here. It’s been either vacant or rented out and they never stood outside making visual love to the windows like I have. All they wanted was to keep the roof from leaking so they could get their rent. Someday we’ll break through the wall and see what’s up there. That’s where the treasure is. I saw that on “If These Walls Could Talk.”

One time I did find a hidden room with treasure in it. This was in the Jackson house. We found old milk cans filled with coins (worth about five grand!), baskets, an oil lantern, and faded bills and tax receipts on brittle paper documenting the cost of the house which was less than the coins were worth.

Mrs. Apple would be happy that I’m here. I can tell that she loved it. But the house has been unloved for a long time now and it’s a bit of a fixer-upper—outdated and dirty with olive green counter tops, fluorescent lights, and broken cabinets sticky from the fingers of past tenants who didn’t wipe them before they opened a door.

The windows were so dirty Kelly wrote “Hi!” with her finger. Cracked panes were covered with blue painter’s tape like Band-Aids. There were clogged bathtubs, stained toilets, cobwebs, and the carcasses of insects in all the windowsills and on the baseboards. There’s a wallpaper border in the bathroom depicting a scene of foxhunters in England, torn and peeling.The linoleum floor is also torn and peeling. There are stains on the carpet. The tenants had animals. The molding around the doorways and the side door is gouged from teeth and claws. It smelled.

But it’s got potential! Every day we fix it up more and more and it’s blossoming. I think it’s because it’s getting love for the first time since Mrs. Apple had it because it’s certainly not due to our bank account. We had a few thousand dollars to play around with when we left Virginia and no jobs. We got down as low as three hundred dollars in the checking account before Kurt finally started working. It’s been hairy. But somehow we’re doing it.

I wish my mother could see it. She would come and help me. She would get out a razor blade and scrape the paint from the glass on the windows. But my father and sister have been here, and my niece, cousins, girlfriends… I’ve had more company figuratively scraping windows in the past couple of months than I’ve had the whole eight years I was away!

Maybe that’s why I’ve stopped crying about my mother. When I was in Virginia, I cried about her constantly. I couldn’t stop crying. I haven’t had a crying jag in a while now. I don’t know if it’s because I feel closer to her up here, or it’s the comfort from all my other loved ones around me. I do know that, like Mrs. Apple, she would be happy that I am here. She would say, “Debi, these are really nice rooms.”

Thursday, February 16, 2012

My Funeral

My girlfriend said I write about too many negative things. She said I should focus on the positive. She said if it wasn’t for Slow Bob, I wouldn’t be home. She’s right. So I’m writing about my funeral.

When we were leaving Virginia, I was surprised how many people were upset. I had no idea. I had no idea I was loved this much! Neighbors told me how much they’d miss me. Acquaintances—the woman who cut my hair, someone from the saddle club, the brothers Dewey and Fred—messaged me on Facebook. The bank ladies cried. Pearl and Eldon were so upset the last few weeks that we couldn’t even talk about it or else we’d all start crying. The night before we left they brought us hamburgers from Dairy Queen and bacon, egg, and cheese biscuits for breakfast the next morning. My friend Shelly sent her son and a couple of his friends to help us load the truck. Even our car mechanic, Mr. Walker, came over to say goodbye. He handed us a card. I told him I’d open it later because I wanted to read it and give its words my full attention. When we got up to Jersey and opened it, I found a $25 gift card inside. That really touched me because Mr. and Mrs. Walker probably don’t have a lot of money and they know they will never see me again. They didn’t give me that money because it’s good business and they hope I’ll call them the next time my car breaks down or because I’ll have to reciprocate when there’s some event in their life—the next wedding, a graduation... They gave it to me with literally no strings attached, no expectations, nothing. They just wanted to let me know how much they think of me. Even though they will never see me again. That was a truly altruistic move. And I have to admit, because most of you know I’m not a religious person, but that was some impressive Christian behavior.

But it was much more than twenty-five dollars that I received. It was the gift of finding out just how much I am loved. Some people go through their entire lives and never know this. I have gone to funerals that are packed with people and I wonder, did she know how much she was loved? I suspect most people have no idea. But I have been given that gift, a glimpse of my funeral. And the place is packed.

Monday, February 6, 2012

One Last Kick in the Ass Before We Left

One last thing before we left Virginia was Slow Bob extorted us. Three days before closing he said he’d just realized that he still had to pay rent in his rental house for every day he occupied the place (duh) and therefore he thought I should give him some things I was selling that he’d agreed to buy, for free. What does that have to do with me that he had to pay rent where he was living?

In our contract we had agreed that Kurt and I had two weeks to vacate the property after closing. I told everyone who I showed the place to before they even set foot on it that I needed a whole month to move out and Slow Bob agreed to that from the beginning. I actually had another offer floating around at the same time but those people would have had to take possession on closing day. Bob said, “No problem!” when I told him what the deal was. So we took his offer.

When I was drawing up the contract, I thought, ah, Bob’s going to be excited to get into his new place, we can probably do it in two weeks, and so I told him, “I’m putting in ‘two weeks’ instead of ‘month.’” That’s how nice I am! And yet, in the end, he still screwed me. This is what he said when I didn’t answer him right away when he told me he thought I should give him my stuff. I saved the e-mail.

“if you are not willing to give us the washer/dryer and patio furniture in exchange for you guys being able to stay for 2 more weeks, I WILL call off the sale, we can find somewhere else to move. I think this is being more than fair. I know you guys want to move to NJ, don't try me any further on this matter.”

I was in shock. All this time I’d been defending him to everyone about his inability to close and how this was dragging on for months. Kurt thought he was up to something because his stories about not being able to close on time were crazy! The bank was making him change jobs. His ex-wife filed her income taxes one day late. He needed to get a tattoo that said “Southern Mortgages Rock.” I’d say, “Nah, he’s just a laidback southerner. I don’t think he knows how to do this—this is probably only the second house he’s ever bought. He’s not up to something. He’s real nice.” But he wasn’t nice. And so I stopped feeling like being nice.

For example, I promised to leave them all the hay I had leftover. His girlfriend was very concerned about getting the hay because she knew it would be hard to move in and then have to hunt around for hay in the winter. I offered to let her buy whatever I had left for what I paid. Already hauled and stacked. It was really nice hay that I got for $2.75 a bale. Now I knew I couldn’t trust them and they weren’t going to pay me in the end so we took 60 bales up to New Jersey and we gave away the rest of it. Didn’t leave them a flake.

Then I was going to leave them a bunch of extras. I’d included in the sale all the kitchen appliances, the woodstove, the round pen (inclusions not always a given in Virginia, especially in this price range), but I was also going to leave them things that I didn’t put in the contract and didn’t have to leave legally or morally, but just felt like it out of the goodness of my heart—the box fans on the stalls, my halter hangers, the cross-ties, dog house, shelves, the brand new heaters I bought for the other buyer, extra hoses, the rocking chairs on the front porch, the curtains Slow Bob’s girlfriend loved, firewood…. Stuff that equaled out to way more than I was selling my washing and dryer and the deck furniture for. We took it all. We took everything we could. We even took the chains on the gates. They’re lucky we didn’t take the gates themselves. They’re lucky we didn’t take the roast beast!

We would have taken more if we could have fit it. But we ran out of room in the truck. As it was, we had to leave things. I gave away what I could rather than leave it for Slow Bob. I told all the neighbors to go into the garage and take whatever they wanted—the gardening stuff, the extra refrigerator, the shovels, the old bottles. I gave away all the leftover firewood. And I told them why I was doing it, how Slow Bob and his girlfriend extorted me and they should know they can’t be trusted. The neighbors were mad. The neighbors know what kind of people we are and they were not happy Bob pulled this.

I also left the place a mess. Not on purpose. And not bad. But I didn’t clean it up like I usually do. Normally when I move out of a place I do one last cleaning—clean the bathroom, sweep and wash the floors, vacuum…. But Slow Bob was pressuring us to get out as soon as possible even though we had contracted for the two weeks (he even went to the house while Kurt and I were in Jersey moving stuff and scared my daughters into letting him move things into the tractor shed and come inside the house—he huffed and puffed and told Jamie when she explained I said not to let anyone inside while I was away, “I own this house!”) So when the last thing went on the truck, we got in and hightailed it out of there without sweeping up one dust bunny.

Here is Kurt squeezing the last thing in the truck—the mattress we slept on the night before. We couldn’t have fit another teaspoon in there.

I also left things I didn’t mean to because he was rushing me so much. Don’t forget, we never knew until we were actually sitting at the closing table that we were really going to close because Slow Bob’s bank wouldn’t tell us. Therefore I couldn’t even pack. I had to keep the place staged so I could still show it just in case. In fact, I had someone coming over that Saturday to look at it because I thought, if they can’t close again, they’re never going to close. So I couldn’t get ready. I couldn’t pack a box. I couldn’t change an address. I couldn’t prepare and do any of the hundred things you have to do when moving because I never knew if we were really going to move! It’s hard enough moving a whole farm to a whole new state (it took four trips alone just moving the vehicles, eight hours each way) but I also had to do things that I normally would have been doing from the moment we had a ratified contract. Now I had to do it all in a two-week period. With Slow Bob suddenly in a big rush.

So I was frazzled. When I was cooking our first meal in the new place I realized we didn’t have any silverware. I’d left the whole silverware drawer! Luckily I remembered Kurt’s mother had given us a new set of silverware as a gift for some occasion a couple of months prior and I was saving it for our new house. We found the box that it was packed in and got out the forks. But I’m really mad I left my nana’s spaghetti spoon, sentimental because it always makes me think of her, and some things it takes time to accumulate like an expensive can opener that actually worked on the big coffee cans and my new potato grater that would shave the paint off woodwork if you needed it for that. Every time I go to do something, I realize some other tool was in that drawer and I can’t scoop out the soup. I can’t imagine what they thought when they opened my drawers and saw all my stuff in there. I was leaving their kitchen all set up?

They never contacted me to ask me if I meant to leave that stuff. The good part is, they rushed me so much I also took what I didn’t mean to. We just carried out the whole file cabinet to the moving truck and when I got to the new place and looked inside, I discovered I still had all the owner’s manuals, warranties and records to all the appliances, the heating system, the new well, the pool, the woodstove, etc. I also had the extra pair of house keys. I figure when they call me to see if I meant to leave my silverware, I’ll tell them as soon as they send me my stuff, I’ll send them theirs. But I’m not waiting much longer. If they don’t call soon, I’m throwing it all in the garbage. Those new knives cut really nice.