Real estate

my first home

Two generations, four owners, one hope

James Steinberg 24MFH
James Steinberg 24MFH

She was a faded Victorian beauty with a huge backyard. The home was no grand painted lady, but the bay window and tiled fireplace in the front room, and especially the coffin niche at the top of the curved staircase, placed her firmly in that era.

The house had been converted into a two-family and was just what we were looking for. My husband-to-be and I would live on the top floor, my brother and grandmother on the first. “What do you young people want with an old lady like me?” she asked more than once before we finally passed papers. We assured her that we wanted her with us, not living alone 30 miles away in the city. My brother pleaded that he would starve if not for her fabulous cooking. And we all reminded her that she was an equal one-third partner in the ownership of this house. We must have convinced her, because after we moved in, such doubts were no longer expressed.

The four of us spent two wonderful years in that house. There were visits from our extended families, a big vegetable garden out back, and frequent stops by Mr. Murphy, on old-timer from two houses down who had known the previous owners. He had no shortage of unsolicited advice on yard care: “Keep after these maple seedlings along the fence or they’ll take over.” And car maintenance: “You’ve got a good machine here. Lift the hood. Let’s check the oil.”

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One fall day I took Nana out shopping, leaving my husband, Arek, home to replace a rickety back step. When we returned with our purchases a couple of hours later, we found a bright red ribbon hanging across the steps, tied to the rails. At first I thought it was meant as a warning not to use them, but then Arek emerged holding a small velvet cushion. Approaching us, he held it out to Nana. “Would you do the honors?” he asked ceremoniously. Smiling from ear to ear, she took the scissors and sliced the ribbon in two. If she’d been harboring doubts, this little act surely must have dispelled them for good.

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Of course, there were difficult times, too, in this first home of ours. My brother’s broken engagement was a shock and left him despondent for months. Worse was the ambulance ride with Nana during which the driver called in a “code 99” to the hospital. I later learned that it meant she had stopped breathing. Pneumonia. She slipped into a coma. Considering her advanced age, the doctor gave her less than a 1 percent chance of regaining consciousness. We rotated in and out of the intensive care unit, talking to her, massaging her hands, and praying. After seven days, she surprised us all, opening her eyes and, in a gravelly voice, asking for water. She would return home frail but nonetheless triumphant. Before long she was back to her usual activities, including baking her famous apple pie. It was truly a sweet victory.

All these years later, that lesson of holding on to hope against even crushing odds has stayed with us. So, too, have the memories of that unforgettable time in the home the four of us shared.

Lisa Loosigian is a freelance writer living in North Andover. Send comments and a 550-word essay about your first home to Address@globe.com. Please note: We do not respond to submissions we won’t pursue.