Real estate
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    The house next door

    Michelle Kondrich for The Boston Globe

    I found my first home while visiting a hospice patient. The street was more like a driveway, with six little houses lined up on one side, ending at a railroad berm that would later become part of the bicycle rail trail here in Northampton.

    My patient lived in the cutest house. That February day, I saw a “For Sale” sign sticking up from a snow pile against the half-buried gas meter next door. With wide aluminum siding more gray than white and a roof that hovered over the front door like a frowning unibrow, there was nothing that said “House of My Dreams.”

    I tiptoed on the top concrete step to peer through the glass panes on the hollow-wood front door. I saw a pass-through from the living room to the kitchen and a staircase on the back wall that disappeared into the ceiling. The floors were a dirty yellow pine, and the walls were bumpy plaster. I could see a screen porch through the back door. This house had character.


    On human service industry wages, my sweetie, Marianne, and I knew we could not afford a house in this college “town.” I called the agent anyway and begged my more practical mate to go look. Once she peered through that front door, she too was convinced this was our house. After two years on the market, this house needed us.

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    We made an offer and applied for a loan. We were crestfallen when not only was the offer refused but so was our loan application. The next week, Marianne got a 2 percent raise, which satisfied the bank and helped boost our bid a little, and the owner accepted our offer. We moved in while the city put in new water lines and the street was a muddy pit. When the water was hooked up, a copper pipe burst and pulsed water, showering our basement. A few weeks after that, a sudden spring storm flooded the street. The sump pump was a constant hum. None of that dampened our spirits, however. This house survived the Mill River Flood of 1874. What was a little rain?

    After we washed the walls of nicotine and ripped up carpet squares, Marianne and I carried a smoking smudge stick into every room. “May this bedroom be a place of love and rest.” “May this kitchen be a place of sustenance.” “May this bathroom be a place of cleanliness.” “May this living room host many happy gatherings.” With every swirl of the burning sage, the house’s weary energy was replaced with liveliness and hope.

    That summer, our neighbor, the hospice patient, wandered over. “I hope you’re not going to cut down that Canadian lilac,” she said, pointing to a barren bush barely 3 feet high. “It’ll put out blossoms after other lilacs are done.” (When she died the following winter, her teenaged sons moved, and her house seemed sad.)

    Sixteen years later, our house has a bright red-metal roof, a red cottage front door, and a split-rail fence embracing the perennial gardens. The hospice patient’s house is now filled with the buoyant energy of three boys, their mother, and their grandmother. The Canadian lilac towers over the 6-foot fence between their house and ours and bursts with blossoms every June, teeming with new life.

    Patricia Riggs, a hospice social worker and psychotherapist, lives in Northampton. Send comments to and an essay on your first home to Please note: We do not respond to submissions we won’t pursue.