Selling the house quickly was a mixed blessing. Since we were out of town when it happened, we were spared the obligatory cleaning every time the phone rang to report a showing had been scheduled. It also meant that we needed to find a new home quickly. So on the coldest weekend of the winter (it never got above zero degrees in Connecticut), Maureen brought the children north and we set out on our search. Any move can be hard on children but we are blessed with the kind of children who see things more as an adventure than a chore. It was not like they had a say in the matter, but I was grateful they found such joy in the journey.
The eldest child came armed with a notebook and pen and set about rating the kitchen, bedrooms, play area, and yard according to the specifications of any child in a family who had watched nearly every episode of Fixer Upper. Looking back, it would seem as though the shows our children enjoy, on the rare occasions they see television, had prepared us well for this move. Perhaps it was the Spirit that moved us to get the children hooked on shows like Fixer Upper and their other favorite Tiny House Nation. Both will come in handy.
The first house we visited was a bank-owned property and the previous owners had taken most of what was not nailed down – and some things that were. The kitchen and bedrooms rated poorly in the “house book” and so we moved on.
I had seen the second house on a visit north in January when the eight year old and a priest friend had traveled with me to deliver furniture to my new office at the Catholic Center. We all agreed it was a great house but the price was high, it needed work, and there was a pending offer on it so we would have to bid against an unknown number and roll the dice. So we got a lesson in a Hubbard Clause and moved on.
Now, three weeks later, we were back in the house with the family in tow. I could tell from Maureen’s reaction that this place was a strong contender, so I asked the agent to check on the offer. We had no interest in a bidding war. The agent returned from the bitter outside with a smile. The contingency had been just been removed. We could make a bid and not worry about having to beat an offer we could not see. We gathered the children, all of whom had already staked a claim on a bedroom, and moved on.
We saw six more houses that day – eight in total – and another four the following day. Only two compared to Old Oaks, aptly named by the eldest and her notebook.
Circling back to Old Oaks on day two, we had to wait outside for another family to finish their tour. Word had gotten out that the Hubbard Clause had been removed and I knew we had a winner when the youngest muttered, “Get those people out of our house.”
In the end, we returned home and got to work on making an offer. There were other interested buyers who submitted questions and considered making offers but since the sellers grew up a mile from where we now lived in Delaware, they chose to work with us. After some back and forth, we had bought a house.
We closed on Holy Thursday after a very long Wednesday of Holy Week, where movers who had sworn it would take about eight hours finally wrapped up the furniture-loading after almost 13 hours. Then a team of trusted friends and neighbors descended on the kitchen and packed a second truck with “the essentials” that would make the trip on closing day. (Note to self: next time we should pack a lamp, some pots and pans, and maybe a chair or two in the essential truck. Live and learn.)
The first night in the house we started taking down a ceiling on the sunroom and the next day we attacked the circa 1978 wallpaper in the dining room. Only Maureen, the eldest child, and I had made the trip, thanks to the ever willing Aunt Eileen and her generous care of the other children. Maureen took a train back to Baltimore on Holy Saturday and Molly and I finished the painting. As we stood admiring our work in the dusk of that holy night, a herd of deer walked by the window, paused as if to nod, “Welcome,” and moved on. As my Ace-Number-One leaned against me and we watched these impressive animals stroll through the yard, I knew it was a moment I would never forget.
Three weeks later I went to the bank to open a local account. It was near closing time and the man behind the desk seemed ready to leave. He asked questions about what I did and where I worked and why I would leave tax-free Delaware for tax-on-anything Connecticut, and finally, he asked for my address. I had only gotten the numbers out when he gripped the desk and went pale.
I knew as soon as I saw his face what had happened. I knew when he gripped the desk that he could not believe his dumb luck at having to wait on this customer. So I took a chance and said quietly, “It was you, wasn’t it?”
“Yes,” was all he said, and after a brief pause of trying to collect himself added, “For five and a half months, we tried to sell our condo to buy that house. We had to sell the condo to get the money for the deposit. Only last night did we finally put enough money aside for the twenty percent required. So we went on Zillow and found the house was gone.”
We talked for an hour.
He told me about about his plans for the house. I told him what we had already accomplished and what we planned to do when money was available. I told him about how the night the kids arrived and three families from the neighboring houses came out to welcome us – each with children the ages of ours. I told him about the deer. I told him about the kids running around the acre of property as if it were the Promised Land. I told him I was sorry it didn’t work out for him and his wife and their newborn. I told him I wished him luck as they continued to search. But I never told him that our offer included only a ten percent deposit.
As we finished our conversation in the parking lot, he turned and said, “Take care of that house. I still may buy it someday.”
“It’s not a house,” I thought to myself.
“It’s a home.”
Thank you, God, for all the ways you surprise us.