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my first home

Honoring Bob and Betsy was child’s play

24MFH credit Pete Ryan

24MFH credit Pete Ryan

In 1999, my wife and I started looking for our first house. We quickly learned that houses in our price range were universally fixer-uppers. I had worked in the building trades, but my skills were a little rusty since I’d changed to a white-collar career several years earlier. And we had a 2-year-old daughter, which would have made it difficult to manage projects safely. Like the small Victorian with peeling paint — full of lead. Or the Cape with the unfinished bathroom, or rather, a “bath” room with brass plumbing, no fixtures, and questionable floorboards.

I spotted a listing for a raised ranch in Melrose at a price we could afford and pestered the listing agent to let us see the house right away, that day. “We have to be the first to see it,” I insisted.

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A faux white-brick exterior and overgrown yard framed the front door, which opened to a dark, paneled living room with purple carpet. The agent cheerily opened a closet door and exclaimed, “There’s hardwood floors, so you can rip out the carpet in the rooms!” The kitchen had great natural lighting that highlighted the sink, fridge, stovetop, and wall oven — all pink.

Our daughter was gleefully running around the main floor. It was obvious she was reveling in a space much, much larger than our cramped apartment. My wife and I looked at each other. We were buying this house. We made the first offer, and it was accepted.

At the closing, we learned that the owners, Bob and Betsy, had lived there since it was built. They never had children. The estate was selling the house, with the proceeds going to their sole nephew, the only child they could dote on. Our new neighbors to the right told us that Bob and Betsy had really wanted a house full of children.

We decided to have the carpets cleaned before we moved in, figuring it might be a while before we refinished the hardwood floors. My wife began tackling the overgrown yard. On weekends, I stripped wallpaper and paneling, painted, and repaired water-damaged tile walls in the bathroom.

We soon met our neighbors on the left, several families with three young girls, cousins, in a large house. The girls were giddy to have a neighbor their age. They visited constantly, and their laughter and squabbling were a constant. I found a pile of aged woodworking magazines in the cellar and figured out that Bob had crafted the inside of the house. He carved a fireplace mantel, installed the paneling and some trim, and finished the basement. His work was good.

I learned more about Bob and Betsy. He had worked for the electric company. Betsy stayed at home, cared for the dogs, and planted and tended perennials. The more I thought about them, the more determined I was to fill the house with children. Playdates were arranged with the girls next door and our daughter’s preschool classmates. We filled the house and yard with children on birthdays, holidays, and snow days. I would lead gangs of kids through the nearby trails at the Middlesex Fells Reservation and make snacks when we returned to the house.

Three years passed. Most of the projects were completed, and our realtor said we could easily sell for 50 percent more than what we had paid. It wasn’t our dream house, so we listed it and sold it right away.

We never did replace the purple carpet. But I think Bob and Betsy would have liked what we did.

Larry Bouchie is a senior public relations consultant near Boston. Send comments to Address@globe.com.
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