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    my first home

    ‘The finest Victorian on the North Shore.’ Or not.

    james kaczman for the boston globe

    “The finest Victorian on the North Shore” is how we remember the 1983 Globe ad that described a 20th-century, shingle-style house in Wakefield. Hyperbole aside, the price, features, and location were exactly what Jim and I were looking for in our first house. We made an appointment.

    From the foyer we could see the dining room with its leaded glass, built-in mahogany china cabinet, and fireplace. We were so smitten that we could almost ignore the room’s hideous foil wallpaper covered with bamboo trees. And so smitten that when the broker wouldn’t show us a locked room on the second floor, it wasn’t a deal breaker. The story went that the owner hid his collection of nude paintings in the room while the house was on the market. (After we passed papers we saw the room without any paintings, but with its ugly paneling, uglier carpet, and a ceiling with more cracks than the San Andreas Fault.)

    Our offer was accepted, and the bank appraiser came to look at this finest Victorian on the North Shore. Then his foot went through the floorboards on the backyard deck. Yet we still got our mortgage.


    Ah, the quiet suburbs. We looked forward to trading South End sirens for chirping birds, but soon found out that our corner was a shortcut to Route 128. One Easter morning we woke up and saw that a car had careened across our front lawn, landing under our bedroom window.

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    The house came with a handmade, cinder block, in-ground pool that one contractor called “a hole in the ground.” The pool at the finest Victorian on the North Shore attracted slugs, squirrels, and a barking dog that fell into the giant hole and couldn’t get out. We filled in the pool.

    In the winter, the kitchen became so cold we defrosted meat near the dining room radiator while we were at work. When Jim’s family visited for Christmas, his brother’s wife arrived with a portable heater, and Jim’s sister from Kentucky made a grand entrance down the stairs in her floor-length, warm, pink bathrobe . . . and pearls.

    We eventually had the house insulated by a contractor who made our original bead-board porch ceiling look like it had been riddled with bullet holes. His solution to our chill was to drill holes in the ceiling, blow in insulation, and plug the holes with wooden disks that took about 15 years to blend in. (Hello, small claims court.) The good news was that frozen meat — and relatives — no longer stayed frozen.

    We had many wonderful neighbors during our 27 years in Wakefield, but there were a few pips. I wouldn’t wish one couple on my worst enemy. This duo had the assumption that they knew what was best for their property, and for everyone else’s. They recommended a contractor for our bathroom renovation, and when we later mentioned the ensuing disaster, they casually admitted he was terrible. Years later, my husband noticed that a piece of granite from our property was used for our neighbor’s landscape project. He explained that the granite was originally part of his property, but he didn’t want it, so years ago he threw it onto what became our property. He was simply reclaiming it.


    The final encounter was a few years ago when we put our house and an attached buildable lot on the market. We voluntarily met with neighbors to show them a drawing of our proposed division (except the granite poachers, who declined). Except they showed up at the Board of Appeals meeting with a posse of folks and went on a tirade. The moderator explained to them that we didn’t need permission to sell the lot.

    Our finest Victorian on the North Shore is now home to a lovely family that is making it their finest. We wish them no rotten floorboards, no cold rooms, and lots of warm neighbors.

    June Wulff can be reached at