Having lived for 32 years in the same small town in the same house and then moving 50 plus miles or so with my new family, it is hard not to think of what you are missing at “home”. You tend to mull over and over in your mind what people or events or stores you will never see again. Funny thing is as time passes these thoughts start to fade from your everyday thoughts. Then one day you realize, “home” has moved 50 miles right along with you.
Thirty years ago while working in rural upstate New York I was discussing with a co-worker the fact that my wife and I were looking for a new home. We had 2 children, a girl aged five and a boy aged two, and wanted to get away from what we saw as encroaching city life, drugs and the bad element it brings with it to our present home town. While reading the real estate ads, I saw an ad for what was described as a large center hall colonial on a lake on 2.5 acres and it was only $32000. Imagine that! Those days are long gone for sure unusual weed pipes. The fella I was with chuckled and said he knew the house as his wife’s uncle once lived there and did I want to see the house? The next day we took a ride together to see it.
The ride was perhaps a half hour away from work and the roads traveled were quite rural but were in fair condition and most of the areas were quite were heavily wooded. Since it was the middle of July of course trees were in full bloom, flowers were out and so on. We turned off the main road onto a partially paved road that at its widest point was about twelve feet wide. Passing another oncoming car was a trick but since the road was so rural, we never saw a single car. We drove two miles from the main road with the entire two miles being an uphill grade. No flat areas at all. Some sections had a gentle uphill slope, some parts were quite steep. Arriving at the house, my friend pulled to the side of the road and parked announcing “here we are”. I was to say the least dumbfounded at what I saw.
In front of me was this huge center hall colonial on a lot so overgrown with weeds and brush that access to house itself was next to impossible. The house was quite close to the road but the first strange thing I saw were metal fire escapes leading to the ground from the second floor on both ends of the house. Picking our way through the brush and thorns we saw that many of the myriad of windows were missing the storm windows and many had the glass smashed out of the sash. I was at a later date to count that the house had 59 full sized windows and several smaller accent windows. Several had stained glass in them. We could not gain access to the house which was obviously not lived in at the time as we had no tools to pry open doors and the like. Returning to the car we had a good laugh and said someone was going to have some job on their hands with this fixer-upper.
That evening upon returning home, I mentioned I had seen this “great” house that day and it even had lake frontage. I never saw the lake but the newspaper ad said it did have lake frontage. My wife asked if we could take a ride that next weekend to see the house. As a joke I said sure lets go see it. I called the Realtor and asked if we could enter the home to see it and they said sure no one lives there anyway. My wife, myself and my mother-in-law took the 65 plus mile ride to see this great house that next weekend. As I turned off the main road, I saw a little concern on their faces about being so out in the woods so to speak. Traveling two miles up the narrow partially paved road did not add to their confidence levels at all. However when I stopped the car in front of the house, my wife jumped from the car and yelled “We’ll take it!”. No lie. Just like that.
I have no idea what possessed me to bring tools with me but a little effort with a screwdriver and hammer and we managed to gain entry to the house. It was apparent no one had lived there for many years. Dust and dirt were everywhere but some great surprises were in store. Going from room to room we found not only were there three full floors in the house but there were 18 huge rooms in all. One bathroom was located on each floor but the biggest shock of all was everything was painted this horrible light and dark green. Walls, floors, ceilings, doors, cabinets, literally everything. One huge room had a full sized Hop Scotch field laid out in the middle of the room. Ceilings in some rooms had collapsed on the floor and evidence of animals living in the house was quite evident. Squirrels nests were pretty abundant. The kitchen had gutters, yes metal gutters, hanging from support wires under the pipes on the ceiling. The indoor plumbing had obviously been installed long after the house was built which gave some indication of the age of the house itself. The gutter lead to a huge stainless steel three bay sink in one corner of the room. Didn’t take much to figure out the gutters were carrying the dripping water from the leaking pipes to the open sink. Lovely. That is if there was water of course. With no electricity there was no way to tell if the water worked or not. Country home, private well. After a couple of hours of exploring, we took the long ride home but laughed about the house the whole time. The joke I was to find out later was on me.
Over the next couple of weeks my wife mentioned the house several times and asked if we could go back to see it again. I figured a real good look would cure her of any further interest so we planned a trip for that upcoming weekend. Myself and she, our two kids and both my in laws. I figured my father-in-law would be a good ally in saying “Are you Crazy?” That Saturday we packed everyone in the van and off we went to make a day of it. My wife packed a nice lunch and drinks as stores we were sure were at least hours away.