We called it our “St. Pat’s pick.” We’d been circling ads, and on that March 17, we found it.
Colleagues had been telling David “look in Winchester, lots of Tufts people,” but we hadn’t seen anything we could afford. We were living in a tiny apartment over a garage in Medford for $90 a month, and tony Winchester seemed out of reach.
But this was a three-family house, which meant rents that would contribute to our mortgage.
The agent met us on a cold Sunday and no doubt thought she was wasting her time. We looked pretty ragtag. As we followed her to the property, our old Volkswagen Bug ran out of gas. David hopped out of the car to flag down the realtor, the long fringe on his brown suede jacket flowing. I was next, eight months pregnant, long hair in a hippie headband, struggling to get out of the bucket seat.
The house wasn’t pretty: worn gray asbestos-shingle siding, chipped maroon trim, and one of those drooping aluminum awnings. Parking was a challenge, too, one car behind another.
We bought it, though, and took the third floor. It was the smallest unit, but it was empty and we wanted the rent from the larger ones. The apartment was freezing. We had to move our daughter’s crib to the big warm bathroom, next to the claw-foot tub. When the steam radiators came on, they hissed comfortingly at first, like the shushing of the baby-noise machine not yet invented. But the hissing fast became loud pings, then even louder bangs, finally reaching a jump-upright-in-bed crescendo. (Ahh, maybe that’s why she’s never been a good sleeper.)
We learned to garden that first spring by watching our neighbor Angelo Bruno over the fence from our third-floor window. He never knew that we put our tomatoes in the ground on his schedule and made the same little hillocks for the zucchini. We planted four rows of corn and dutifully followed the recommendation of Mother Earth News to pick the ears only when we had the water boiling.
After a few years, we desperately wanted the large two-bedroom unit on the first floor, but even though the tenants, Melanie and Bill, nudged a new baby out the door seemingly every spring, they weren’t moving anytime soon. The economy was terrible.
Before packing all the kids up for the trip to Johnnie’s Foodmaster in their hook-over-the-seat back car seats, Melanie would yell up to me: “Pork chops 99 cents!” She really didn’t need to yell; you could hear everything in that house. That’s how we knew Bill was a Bruins fan. His “Arrrgh, ya bastids!” would roar up from their living room along the cavernous front stairwell whenever Boston lost.
But Bill and Melanie eventually did buy a home, and we moved downstairs, staying a few more years. We worked on all of the units, scraping off several layers of wallpaper, removing suspended panels that revealed amazing high ceilings, refinishing the oak floors, adding a furnace, and enlarging the parking area.
The ensuing increase in rent money helped us buy the single-family home in Winchester we saw listed one March — again around St Patrick’s Day.
We’ve been in it now for 40 years.