In one of the pretty neighborhoods around Blue Hill, Maine, this derelict structure stands, cheek by jowl with some lovely, well-kept, carefully manicured New England homes. Its roof and front porch have been partially caved in by the fall of an enormous branch that has never been removed, its windows are boarded over, and its yard is choked with huge weeds.
Why? Our host said that no one in the neighborhood knows for sure — but something happened to make the house’s owner hate this house, and maybe the neighborhood, too. For 20 years, he said, she has let the house slowly decay, rejecting offers to buy it, paying the property tax bill in the nick of time, so that the decay could continue until the house looks like . . . this.
What could cause someone to let this once tidy wooden home slide into ruin, and maintain such strong feelings for decades? It’s a fascinating topic for conversation, of course, and maybe a Dickens novel or two. Whatever it was, this poor house is paying the price.
Last night, a “Coming Soon” sign went up in our front yard, announcing to the world that we will be listing our house for sale in a few days. We put it out just in time for the trick-or-treat block party, so we could let all of our neighbors know at the same time.
We’ve had 19 wonderful years on our little cul-de-sac in New Albany. They began when our kids were both little tow-headed tykes under 10, when most of the lots around us were unsold and undeveloped, and when the newly planted trees around our lot were scrawny little things. The years rolled by, the boys grew up, the empty lots around us filled with houses, and the houses filled with families. Now Richard and Russell are adults and our North of Woods development is a mature neighborhood with towering trees and the happy sounds of children playing. It’s hard to believe, but Kish and I have now spent one-third of our lives here. That’s longer than I’ve lived anywhere else.
Through it all, this frame house has been the dependable physical center of our family. We bought it when it was being built and we had the chance to add the features we wanted, and we’ve been the only family to live here. It’s never given us a single problem. As empty nesters, though, we don’t need a four-bedroom house any more, and we’ve concluded that it’s time to hand this happy home off to another family with young kids that is looking to become part of a terrific, family-friendly place with great neighbors.
As for Kish and me, we’re intrigued by the thought of returning to the more urban lifestyle we had when we lived on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. back in the 1980s, to a smaller place that better suits our two-person, two-dog group. After 19 years, we’re ready for a new adventure.
I believe in giving credit where credit’s due. I therefore want to thank the builders of our house, for building a sturdy, snug structure that has held up to this winter’s harshness.
Bad winters, like this one, can expose the problems with a house that isn’t well built. You can develop cracks in your basement from freezing and thawing, or feel the cold seeping through windows that aren’t properly framed. Or the weight of snow on the roof can buckle support beams that aren’t up to code. Most perilous of all, water pipes that aren’t correctly placed and insulated can freeze, and you come home to find water cascading down the stairwell or dripping through the kitchen ceiling.
We haven’t had any of those problems — knock wood — even though this has been one of the worst winters in years. Our houses are like our health — we tend to take them for granted until something bad happens, and only then do we appreciate what good health or a house that doesn’t require expensive and disruptive repairs truly means.
There are a lot of reasons why it would be fun to have a tropical home. One of them is being able to paint your house just about any color in the rainbow and not have your neighbors complain about it. Imagine — an ochre house, or a salmon one, or a fine mint green. No need to stick to the boring whites and off-whites and grays; your palette is limited only by your imagination.
When we were kids in the suburban wilds of Bath Township, Ohio, a family living nearby did something weird: they gave their standard-issue ’60s house a name. And not just any name, either. They called it “Don-Can-De-Mar,” the combination of the first few letters of the first names of each family member.
I was about 10, and I thought naming your house was the coolest idea ever. Why live in a plain, boring house, when you could live in a house with a name that sounded grand and exotic at the same time, like a foreign word?
It made me want to name our equally standard-issue ’60s suburban house, too. But the first name approach that led to the fabulous “Don-Can-De-Mar” wouldn’t work in our seven-member family. “Jim-Ag-Jim-Bob-Cat-Mar-Je” didn’t exactly roll easily off the tongue. So I tried to think of other approaches. We had an enormous rock in our front yard that Dad had tried to dig out but only managed to uncover, so I thought “Renbew Rock” might be a candidate. It had alliteration going for it, and a secret back story (with “Renbew” being Webner in reverse, of course). But it sounded too fake, like a name created using pig Latin, and I couldn’t think of anything else. Eventually I gave up, as kids usually do.
I don’t have any recollection of what “Don-Can-De-Mar” looked like, but I will never forget that near-mythical name. It’s a good example of the power of words.