There are few places on earth I would rather be than at our house in the country. We have owned this house since before we were married. In fact it was the Thanksgiving after my father died which spawned the purchase of our first major piece of property. Not wanting to dwell on my father’s death the previous April, my small extended family of Bobbie and Ferd, my brother and his fiancé and Jim and I all decided we would find a neutral location to celebrate Thanksgiving. Becky, my soon-to-be sister in-law, and Don were coming from Massachusetts. Jim and I were in New York and Bobbie and Ferd were in Chicago. We decided to meet in Western Connecticut at the Boulders Inn in New Preston. They had a good restaurant, we could sightsee a bit around Connecticut and ignore the still sore loss of my father. It was a lovely, if bittersweet, weekend and reminded me completely of how much I loved Northampton and the area around Smith when I was in school. Jim and I returned from the Thanksgiving weekend and decided we needed a weekend retreat.
It was early December and I checked out the New England Tourist Bureau in Rock Center, not far from our offices. There were newsletters from a couple enterprising real estate agents there and I called one to inquire about weekend places for sale in northestern Connecticut. Being relatively oblivious to the economic state of the country at the time, I was pleasantly surprised that my calls were well-received. There was no fierce questioning of Jim’s and my potential ability to fund the purchase of a weekend place. The agent was only too happy to make plans to meet us Saturday morning for a round of look-sees at potential properties in northwest Connecticut.
The first house we visited was an old white house with black shutters on eight acres of property. The house was part Colonial with an addition dating from a later point in time. There were lots of very big and old trees, some of which were quite exotic. There was an amazing arched drive lined by giant, overgrown Arborvitae which led from behind the house to the property next door. The barn next door had once been part of the property we were looking at. The interior of the house was pretty bad. The current owners’ aesthetic ran to large plaster busts of Elvis and faux braided rug linoleum with the braid pattern running in straight lines. Holes had been cut in wainscoting on the walls to house large speakers. The whole place reeked of cigarette smoke and the walls were yellowed with nicotine stain. The owners were older and had raised their four children in the house. The man was dying of lung cancer and his wife didn’t look too healthy either.
The second property we toured was in Washington, CT., a pretty well-established second home market. This little house was recently renovated and clearly home to a young family with a brood of children. Toys spilled about the house and every surface was sticky. Not being parents, Jim and I had no idea that this perpetual stickiness is a foregone conclusion in all homes with young children. We, too, would one day proudly own a home smeared in goo. But at this time, it didn’t seem attractive and, more importantly, the renovated house was way too suburban for our tastes. The grounds were attractive, but this house was on a few acres and just didn’t resonate with us.
We moved on to the third property. It was a half-renovated 17th century farmhouse located in a pretty toney town. Of course, one issue with this home was that it was smack dab in the middle of town on a postage stamp piece of property. It wasn’t the pastoral retreat we had imagined. The other issue with the place was that the workman seemed to have laid down their hammers and tools and just walked out the door—quite some time ago. It looked like that half-done renovation was long gone.
Jim and I had begun murmuring when we hit the second house. As we walked its attractive grounds, I said, “Gee, I kind of liked that first place. What about you?” “Well, it had a lot of land.” “Yeah, I liked the way the house looked. It was hideous inside, but it had good character and it seemed like it needed to be cared for.” “Well, let’s keep it in mind.”
By the time we finished with the third house, our minds were made up. We had found our place. We liked the land, what we could see of it. We liked the house, except for the interior. Yes, it was perfect. We told the somewhat unbelieving realtor we would take it.
Driving home we were breathless with excitement and the pride of home ownership. This was it. Our dreams come true. A place of our own! I told Jim to pull over. I had to call my mom and tell her the totally astounding news. I threw quarter after quarter into the pay phone. My mom picked up. “Mom, guess what…Jim and I just bought a house in the country! It is white with black shutters and it has a pond on eight acres!! It is going to be our country house!” It must have been one of those calls parents dread. Oh, heavens, what have the kids done now, “You know, honey, you can get your money back. Let me talk to Ferd and we can help you…”
It was rough in the beginning. The house was truly a mess. The previous owner was a true “connecticut yankee.” This meant that he didn’t spend a penny he didn’t have to and he did all his own work. Need wiring done? Just a twist and a little tape and you’re all hooked up. Plumbing issues? Must be some old pipe out back we can use… The house was a nightmare of do-it-yourself projects over a span of twenty years.
Jim and I were in heaven. The carpets would make your skin crawl, but the moment we closed, we moved right in. We had a futon, a clamp lamp with an extended arm which was our all-purpose, handy dandy source of illumination, a pink milk crate and a small black and white television. We could pretty much deploy all of our possessions in any room in the house. It didn’t take much to move everything.
We closed on the house January 25th. We were married April 23rd. We drove a rental truck with some more furniture back from our wedding in Chicago. We spent our honeymoon with the workmen. They arrived every morning at 8 and off we went on a major renovation adventure. Twenty-seven and a half years later, we still continue to primp and improve and, as I started this perambulation, there is no place on earth I would rather be than in our sweet, cozy country house.