Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Finding home #3: Going South--When Life Doesn't Happen As Planned

In retrospect, the fact we decided to move to a place where we had never been, didn’t know anyone, and didn’t have jobs lined up probably wasn’t a good reflection of the wisdom we should have acquired at our age.

But as opposite in personality traits as my husband and I are, we share one thing in common—gumption to go with the big picture and not worry about the details. It’s not that we don’t have any idea of the details; they are there in a blurry sort of way, like the flowers and forms in an impressionistic painting.

 I suspect we both enjoy watching the unexpected unfold new pathways to consider. Maybe some of this derring-do comes from being a part of that seventy-eight- million strong boomer generation “full of the presumption of economic security, and possibility and promise” (Walker Smith and Ann Clurman describe in their book Generation Ageless).

The danger, of course, is there might be a day you go expecting to collect your Monet and find instead that Salvador Dali had gotten a hold of it.

A day when none of the lines makes sense.

My husband, full of confidence in his wife’s history of good judgment, suggested I go ahead alone and buy a house while he wrapped up his commitments at the church.  We knew what we wanted—a ranch, simple, one-story, private yard, no maintenance. Bob wanted a garage, and I wanted a swimming pool.  Armed with printouts of thirty choices, I flew to Greenville. The people at the real estate agency eyed my list warily. I had tried to forewarn them: “I’m a fast-moving northerner with three days to buy a house.” They handed me over to their youngest, most aggressive agent.

With ruthless decisiveness we swept through one house after another. Hopeful homeowners hadn’t gotten to the end of the block before we were out the door and onto the next house. By two o’clock the first day, we had eliminated my whole list.
Back in the office at the end of the second day, Jordan, my not-to-be-discouraged sidekick, booted up a new search. The office manager popped in and handed us a printout. “Did you see this one?” she asked.

I stared at the grainy image. The sloping sides of the hip roof and the unwieldy azaleas ringing the wrap-around porch intimated a Southern belle from times past. It certainly wasn’t a simple ranch, and I didn’t see any sign of a garage, but there, in the background, was the tip of a gazebo. I scanned the spec sheet— and an in-ground pool.

The sunlight playing off the Caribbean blue liner warmed my vitamin-D- deficient flesh, beguiled my senses, and befuddled my judgment.  Warnings unheeded, I ignored the cat-urine soaked carpeting and nicotine- stained wallpaper. I dismissed the yellow duct tape holding the back door trim together, and although I knew we said we were finished with renovations, my penchant for making ugly things beautiful, energized by thirty-six feet of a newly refurbished, dazzling pool in the back yard, overruled my usually sensible nature.

Most people looking to simplify their lives would have recognized a project of gargantuan proportions, but I envisioned dinners in the gazebo, midnight swims, and a writing career birthed at the side of the shimmering pool.

I flew back to Vermont.  It doesn’t actually have a garage,” I told Bob, “But the back porch is large and screened with plenty of room for your tools, and it has a walk-in crawl space. I’ve looked at thirty houses, and this is the only one I found we can afford that has character and a pool.”

Ah, daughter of Eve. Following in my distant mother’s footsteps, I handed Bob the offering of the lust of my eyes. “We are handy; a little remodeling and we can easily make it beautiful,” I promised.

All our possessions trailed behind in the Penske moving truck as we pulled into the yard on the day of the closing. Bob had seen only cell phone images. I watched him carefully. There was no turning back now.

The vinyl siding made a good first impression. It didn’t, however, prepare him for what lay beyond. Waves of pent up smells wafted past us as we forced open the front door. Bob’s face went still as his eyes shifted from one forlorn room to another.  I could tell he wasn’t seeing lazy afternoons with sweet tea by the pool.

His guardian angel was probably covering its face under its wing in unbearable sympathy as Bob tried to assess just which room, which small space we could actually live in while he tried to make some order in the place that he knew was about to suck our time, energy, and life savings into the void of its decrepit interior.

The part in our marriage vows where we promised to “have and to hold, for better or for worse,” came in pretty handy in the ensuing days. 

I felt terrible about the mess I had gotten us into and was thankful Bob never blamed me for it, although I suspected the thought had crossed his mind. We ripped out hundreds of feet of soiled carpeting only to discover the flooring underneath was rotten, and when we pulled down the smudgy drop-ceiling tiles, instead of baring lovely old ten-foot high plaster ceilings, we discovered warped and water-stained aqua-colored wainscoting.

Various trades people marched through, each gravely handing over their verdicts along with their bills. The pest control man was happy to see the old house being fixed up. He told us about all the animals he had removed from the junk-filled premises—even copperheads. I stared uneasily at the holes in my bedroom floor. 

The HVAC technician had a thick southern accent. She told me she couldn’t guarantee that the coals were any good. I squinted at the metal box.

Coals?”  I said, “I have coals in my air conditioning?”

Slowly, as though pronouncing a word phonetically for a child’s spelling test, she repeated, “Coils, I don’t know if your coils are any good.” 

Everyone who came through our door eyed the ancient bark clinging to the now exposed wall studs, the worn, rotted flooring and said the same three things, “Wow, you have a lot of work to do. But it’s going to be beautiful when you are through.” And then incredulously—“Are you living here?’

Yes, we said, we were.

Again, I appreciate your stopping by for this part of the journey, as once a week I tell our story of going South. Later in the week I will I post a more typical devotion topic. Please know, I pray for each one, unknown to me, but known to God, who lingers here.

Today, may you rest in trusting in the Lord with all your heart, even if you have no understanding of the situation or times.




  1. I'm a lingerer (and appreciative of your prayers). And I laughed out loud at coals-coils. Welcome to the South ;)

  2. Yes, I too,long to live where "moan-in' " is a time of day, not an utterance of pain. Looking forward to the day!

  3. Marcia:

    I just finished reading START by Jon Acuff. Subtitles: "Punch Fear in the Face", "Escape Average", "Do Work That Matters". All of these suit your situation precisely. And being a Baby Boomer, like myself, you will conquer. You will be deliberate and intentional and focused.
    I admire your courage and tenacity.


  4. Oh Marcia as one who has lived through many renovations, my heart goes out to you. Wish I had lived closer, I would have brought over my handy dandy tool box and joined you in the adventure. I do so hope you are living more comfortably now. :)

    Blessings to you!


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