Monday, September 8, 2008
For years I dreamed of owning a big old house with a wrap porch and a huge yard that could accommodate a pool, a vegetable garden and lots of flowers. And maybe some chickens. This dream began a very long time ago, long before Tom and long before Mickey.
There were two big old houses in my childhood, one belonging to Grandma and Grandpa Foon, the other belonging to Grandma Stover. There was something soulful about those two houses. Everyone loved being in them, and everyone felt loved being in them. As un-fancy as both houses were, they meant so much to everyone. They were home to everyone, not only to the grandparents who lived there. Whatever the occasion, being there was something special. It wasn't just the houses, of course, but it wasn't just the grandparents in them either. It was both together that was special, as if the two were one. Even though the grandparents had to move from these big old houses, they took the houses with them somehow. Something about the soul of those houses, the connection always remained. Perhaps the soul of the houses came from their souls. Nonetheless, those houses remain very real members of our family.
Until somewhat recently, I had recurring dreams about living in an old house. Often, the house in my dream was Grandma Stover's old house at 12 North Boeke (what I find interesting is that both grandparents' homes were on Boeke, though blocks apart). The house in my dreams was usually a dream version with floors and rooms and porches and yard that existed only in the dreams. In these dreams the house was never mine, it was always occupied by someone else, but I always found myself looking for ways to enter the house and to look around. Once inside, I was never happy with the way the house was being cared for. Plots ensued to take possession of the house and do things my way. In my dreams the house never became mine, although I was sometimes successful in making changes. I'm sure Freud or Jung would have something to say about these dreams.
And then along came Tom, and then Mickey. When life was just Tom and me, the waking house dream was still there, but when Mickey came along the dream became more intense. Everyone said that once a child arrives, your priorities change and come into clear focus, and boy, did they. I didn't want to move from NYC and apartment living just for me, but for Mickey and Tom, too. Mickey is such an outdoor kid - except he's afraid of bugs - and I wanted him to be able to have a great big yard in which to run and play and kick and slug balls without worrying about the balls going over the fence into someone's yard. And I wanted Mickey to go grow up somewhere without the pressure of big city living and all the expectations and pressures that come along with it. I mean, I want the country schools to expect big things from him, and Tom and I will, too, but I find that so much pressure to overachieve exists living in and around the City that it's so difficult to be be yourself and to achieve what you're really meant to achieve. It can make you crazy. I want Mickey to be able to be a kid and to find his path without so much craziness and pushing.
So, sometime last fall moving from the city became imminent. We debated whether we should move to Delaware County, just north of the Catskills, or whether we should move to the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, where we had visited at least once a year for the past seven or eight years. We were leaning heavily toward Delaware County (my old boss has a beautiful farm there) and had actually fallen in love with a beautiful old farm house on 8 acres that had been completely and beautifully renovated. Then, in January, the brochures for Tanglewood, Jacob's Pillow and Berkshire Theater Festival started arriving and we looked at each other and said "What are we thinking?" And there the debate ended. Our new home would be in the Berkshires.
Meanwhile, we tortured ourselves with electrical updates and full scale painting in our NYC apartment to prepare for its eventual sale. We listed the apartment mid-March without a home to move to. I scoured the Berkshire real estate websites and multiple listing service. The available housing was quite different than what we were used to in Delaware county where great old houses for sale were plentiful. In the Berkshires there just wasn't much in the towns that interested us. Eventually, I spotted an old house in January, but the price was just a bit too high and I vowed not to fall in love with it until I knew we were actually closer to selling our apartment. My neurosis won out and I did fall in love and the house became the wallpaper for my computer at home and work and I even stored a photo of it on my Blackberry. Eventually, the price on the old house came down and soon after we began receiving offers on the apartment. By now I was not only in love, I was obessesd and we hadn't even set foot in the house! Once we had an accepted offer on the house we made an appointment to finally visit the house. We brought along our neighbor Nancy for another set of eyes and opinions. The broker we chose to work with showed us seven houses that I had chosen from various websites as possible contenders. Our tour started and ended with my obsession, and only one other house on the tour was a possible contender, but it was on a busy loud road and the lot was just too small.
Because of a "water condition" in the north yard and the overall condion of the house - it needs EVERYTHING - a lowball offer was submitted and the negotiations began. Eventually, a "meeting of the minds" was reached, to use a real estate phrase, and the house would be ours.
Our attorneys and brokers were great and everything fell into place. The movers came and moved us out of our apartment on Wednesday, August 20th. We closed on the sale of the apartment on Thursday, August 21st and on the house on Friday, August 22nd.
The house is great. It needs everything, but it is great. Just like my grandparent's old houses, the house has soul and it feels so good being here. I envision us living here for years and years to come.
There's so much to tell you about this old place, and I will get to it all eventually, but I'll start with the "water condition". When you walk out into the north yard, the ground at first feels very spongy, and as you venture deeper into the yard, your feet sink deeper into the ground and water bubbles up around your toes. We don't have a complete and official diagnosis, but what we know is that the water table around here is very high. Case in point, just down the street from us is Berkshire Mountain Spring Water, a water bottling company akin to Poland Spring or Evian. They essentially are bottling and selling the same water in which our yard is awash. If you venture up the the hill and through the wood behind our house, you find yourself slogging through even more soggy ground and trickling streams. We are learning that there are things called French swales, curtain drains and other means of remedy which will try this place out.
Many people give names to their country homes. Around here, some famous names are The Mount (Edith Warton's home), Blantyre, Cranwell and Bellafontaine, living its life now as Canyon Ranch. My friends Patricia and Karl called their home in New Preston, Connecticut "Lilac Hill". So we decided our little country estate needed a name as well. Once, when I was still hell bent on owning a bed and breakfast, Tom came up with a great name for our B&B as we drove past a cooking shop called "Two Good Cooks." We had just bought a rug for our apartment dining room that was festooned with roosters. "I think you should call your B&B Two Good Cocks," and, of course, I screamed! It was so perfect! So, we tinkered with names for our country house such as "Three Good Cocks" or "The Cock House". The house was built by Howard A. Cook, so there was a play on words going on there, but we really couldn't take our silliness seriously. Then, after watching water gush through our stone walled basement and seeing our north yard become even more swamp like, it hit me. We'll call our idyllic corner of the world "Soggy Bottom". At least for now. One day, hopefully, the yard will be bone dry. But until then, and at least for a catchy name for this blog, "Soggy Bottom" it will be.