We bought our first home more than 25 years ago in the town of Reading, and we still live there.
In the spring of 1990, my fiancé, Bill, and I would spend Sunday afternoons looking at single-family houses for sale north of Boston. We were also planning a wedding that October, so our budget would allow only a fixer-upper.
One afternoon, we drove by a neglected gray Colonial with a broken awning, sad old wooden shutters, and a picket fence that had also seen better days. The lot was overgrown, and the dirt driveway was barely passable when we pulled in with our Isuzu Trooper. “It’s not for sale,” I told Bill, but he insisted we take a look, saying, “You never know.” We walked around the property while the neighbors across the street kept a concerned eye on us from their kitchen window.
It was obvious that this house was abandoned. There had to be a story behind those cedar shingles, and Bill was determined to learn more. That Monday morning he did some detective work and learned that the owner’s daughter, who lived in Maine, was paying the taxes. Bill wrote a heartfelt letter letting her know that we loved the property and would be interested in making an offer if she ever decided to sell.
We did not hear back, so we resumed our search. Somehow we always ended up back at “Our House,” as we began to call it. One Sunday, Bill was peeking in the cellar windows when the neighbor across the street called out.
“Can I help you?”
“We were just wondering if the owner of this house might be selling soon.”
Neighbor Tom wasn’t sure whether he liked us yet and cautiously answered our questions. We learned that the owner, William Jeffrey, was a centenarian living in a nursing home. It was clear that Tom was quite fond of him and had taken on the responsibility of keeping an eye on the property.
A few weeks later, we returned to the property; nothing else for sale in Reading evoked the same feelings as Our House. As we stood in the driveway imagining how much TLC the home would need, Tom approached us. After chatting a bit, I sensed he was beginning to like us. He said Mr. Jeffrey had passed away peacefully the prior week. A few days later, Mr. Jeffrey’s daughter called to tell us the house was for sale.
Our House took a lot more TLC than we ever imagined, but being young newlyweds, we never complained. Bill and I raised two children in this home, painted it three shades of green, and hosted many Thanksgiving dinners for extended family.
William Jeffrey built our house in 1913, and we feel lucky to be the second owners. We learned from the neighbors that he was a kind man who lost his wife in the ’70s and lived alone until it was no longer possible. I often think of him as the grandfather I never met. I know that he loved this house as much as we do.
I wonder who the third owner will be. I feel a strong responsibility to choose the right person.
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