As I approached a milestone birthday I was a single woman living alone in Harvard Square. And after a very rough sailboat race from Bermuda to Newport, the man I aspired to run away to sea with left me for the race committee chair. I was longing for change, and when I heard of a house for sale in Wakefield, my hometown, I leaped.
The previous owner had died in the house, the woodwork was coated with silver radiator paint, and the electrical system was so unsafe I was turned down for the first mortgage I applied for — but all this was inconsequential. I wasn’t superstitious, silver wasn’t such a bad color, and my father, with whom I had an extremely distant relationship, was an electrician. Soon I was the very proud owner of a home that needed a lot of work.
My life was soon filled with father-daughter bonding moments, which included installing an electrical system that could have powered a small factory. This is when I met Peter, the man I would marry. Starting a new relationship while living in a construction zone near my strict Catholic parents was not easy. My mother’s commute took her right by my house — and his car in my driveway. I would wake Peter on weekends before 7 a.m. so he’d be dressed before my father showed up with his tools.
Dad, the son of Irish immigrants, thought Peter was hopelessly unconnected to reality. Peter, the son of two Oxford-educated physicists, didn’t know when St. Patrick’s Day was, but, somehow, all our relationships thrived.
Shortly after Peter proposed, my father was diagnosed with cancer and given just a few months to live. We optimistically set the date for nine months hence, wanting my father to walk me down the aisle but not wanting to face the message a hasty wedding would send.
It seemed the most logical thing in the world to have Peter move in after the wedding. He did not agree. He had chosen to live three hours away from his parents, and mine dropped in unannounced. My ceilings were so low he had to put his stereo speakers in storage. And this lovely man, who taught me to drive a stick shift so I could use his car, was too polite to say it, but my house was not our house.
I progressed through the five stages of home-selling grief but finally came to accept it. I made detailed lists of my must-haves. If I was going to be forced to move, it would be to a house a heck of a lot better than the home I loved. Peter’s list was simple: He wanted a modern “cool” house nowhere near my parents.
Our options seemed unlimited, but nothing was quite right. Peter saw a house on a pond and envisioned a family of kayaks, but all I could see was our future children falling into the water. One house, while in a great neighborhood, was designed by an “efficiency expert” whose wife had died; we were sure the layout had driven her to it. We were spending hours every week on the hunt, and I was planning a wedding and driving my father to chemotherapy. Fortunately, I got laid off, giving me an extra 40 hours per week.
Just weeks after my father proudly walked me down the aisle, Peter found the house. To my surprise, it was a center-entrance brick Colonial (Peter was compromising, too) with all my “must-haves.” For his benefit, it had a “cool” bomb shelter in the basement, complete with lead-lined doors. We signed the purchase and sales agreement the day my father died. He never saw the house, although considering the state of the electrical system, that was a good thing.
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