Monday, May 26, 2014

Almost Mine Once; Could Be Again

Thirty-six years ago this month I gave my two-week notice at the recording studio where I worked in Des Moines and was packing up getting ready to move myself and three children 'back home'. The plan was to move over Memorial weekend. In the midst of what was already a stressful time, my Dad died suddenly (May 24) just after his 61st birthday. When I got back to the office after his funeral my boss said I didn't have to work until the end of the month, I was free to go immediately.

Part of my reason to move back to SW Iowa was to spend more time with my father who had been in ill health for several years. But the main reason was my desire to 'get out of the rat race' and return to a simpler way of living - raising my own food, living in the country. I was in no position financially to buy a house but was able to rent three different homes with some acreage during the six years between '78 and '84.

Then the summer of 1984 I heard that a nearby house with ten acres was for sale. The house was just what I had always dreamed of owning - a big old two story Victorian with a wrap-around front porch. It was about a half mile from where we were living. It was already empty. I went to look at it. The house wasn't locked so I was able to go through it. It was even better than I had imagined in terms of size; condition was another matter. There was a barn - even a hog house, so I could continue raising my pigs. I didn't know what I'd do with the ten acres but I imagined a pick your own strawberries business or an orchard, the possibilities bloomed in my mind.

I went to talk with my banker. He verbally gave me the go-ahead to make an offer on the place. I called the out-of-the-area owner and offered $10,000. and he accepted it. I was elated; ecstatic; beside myself with joy. That night I could not sleep. Around midnight I went over to the house. By the light of the moon and a flashlight, I wandered through the rooms making mental lists of what I would have to do first in order to live there. (Get the electricity turned on and the pump to the well working so I would have water to start cleaning!) At last I would have a dedicated room (office/den) where I could place the big old oak teacher's desk which was so important to me.

And there was what I am sure would be described as a pantry, but it was going to be my still room. Okay, so maybe I read too many historical novels, but hadn't I longed for a still room where I could hang herbs and flowers to dry? Finally try wine-making? Between the kitchen and my still room there was even a dumbwaiter that went all the way from the attic to the basement! A dumbwaiter! What other country home in the area had a dumbwaiter? The lady of the manor had arrived - at least in my mind.

For me it was a huge decision that summer to buy my own place. It meant staying in Southwest Iowa with my youngest son while my daughter lived with her father back in the big bad city during the school year. She had moved in with him the second semester of her freshman year in high school because she could not deal with the small town attitudes of her school mates any longer. (Oldest son had already graduated and begun his own life.)

As it turned out the decision was taken out of my hands by my banker when I went to sign the loan papers the next day. He had been out to the acreage to look it over and decided not to loan me the money - not because I was a poor loan risk - but because "the place needs too much work for a woman alone to handle. Now, if you were married......."  What a chauvinistic pig - to use one of that era's favorite terms. (Yes, I still harbor ill feelings toward him.) It was so hard to call the owner and back out of our deal. He was upset and so was I.

Saturday when we went to the cemeteries after leaving Lenox we went across country on the road I had driven so many times when we lived in 'the little house'. It took us right past my one time almost home. And look what I saw:

The four-car garage was still there. In the front yard was also a for sale sign. Thirty years after my deal fell through, the people who did buy it have listed it for sale. I could never have fixed the house up as much as the father of the guy who did buy the place was able to. He was a carpenter who put the house and building back to rights.

So now instead of a house in need of repair with a sagging front porch as it was when it was almost mine, it looks like this - like it looked when I was a young girl and Huntington's lived there - when we used to drive by and I dreamed of one day living in a big house like that.

This picture is of the back of the house. It is from the real estate listing. More of their pictures as well as description of the property can be seen here. The dumbwaiter is still there as well as hardwood floors and original woodwork. Also "a laundry shoot all the way to the basement". (I think they mean chute.)
There is a $70,000 difference in price from when I made an offer on it. Plus the several more thousands it would take to bring the septic system up to code.

It's too late for me to have that dream come true, but I can almost hear the wheels turning in youngest son Preston's head. His five-year goal is to move out of the city to an acreage in the country. A place like this near Des Moines would be at least three times the asking price of this one. How tempting this is going to seem to him. What if? What if the house he almost got to live in thirty years ago were to become his home after all?


  1. Wouldn't that be a funny almost-full circle? But P needed that big old place when he still had five kids at home--now that they're making their own homes, he and Shalea could downsize a bit.

    1. Ah, but consider how many grandchildren he might have - wouldn't they love "going to Grandpa's farm?

  2. Funny you should say that, Mom...I was thinking that exact thing just a moment ago...