“You made a wrong turn; we’re heading that way,” I told my husband, Wistar, referencing the large map spread out on my lap. It was 1993, and I would never go anywhere without proper directions.
“Let’s just see where this takes us,” Wistar said. Unlike me, he loves to take the unbeaten path, hoping to find something new.
We were getting ready to leave our cozy Beacon Hill rental and buy our first home in the suburbs. Neither of us grew up in Boston, so we did not have family to steer our house-hunting search in a specific direction. We had no Internet service then, so we opened the Globe’s Real Estate section every Sunday and headed out to explore neighborhoods outside the city’s borders. Marblehead, Acton, Scituate, Lexington? Yes, yes, yes . . . we visited them all and more. We were adamant about finding a “distinct and historic” home (we’re in Boston after all), but nothing was “just right.” The Newton Victorian was too big, the Duxbury cottage was too far away, and the Wellesley Colonial we lost in a bidding war.
And then, that Sunday morning in 1993, we made a wrong turn off Route 128 and drove into Dedham’s quaint Precinct One. And there, right on the town common, was the perfect home. Not a Victorian or a cottage or a Colonial, it was a schoolhouse — a beautiful white-clapboard structure, complete with a bell steeple, a green 1848 historic plaque, and, as luck would have it, a “For Sale” sign out front. We drove through the neighborhood and loved what we saw. When the open house started, we were the first to arrive.
Although the Historical Society had protected the exterior, the Dexter School’s interior was bruised. Brown wall-to-wall carpeting, industrial-brown paint, dropped ceilings, and a missing school bell. But none of that mattered, we were in love. They accepted our offer, and the former schoolhouse became our first home.
Over the next few years, we learned so much in our schoolhouse: how to tear out yards of ugly carpeting, how to install and stain hardwood floors, how to paint rooms and pay taxes. We learned to dig out concrete where the school’s playground had been and how to sand and stain the stair’s original banister. I learned to shovel snow during the April 1 blizzard in 1997 (while I was six months pregnant and my husband was away). Both of our daughters were born while we lived in our schoolhouse, so we learned to change diapers, comfort nightmares, blow out birthday candles, and wake up to Santa’s surprises there.
Occasionally, former students would knock on our door and ask for a tour of their school. They showed us where large blackboards had hung and the headmaster’s office had been.
Eventually, we sold our first home, to buy a place that would accommodate our growing family. We now live a few towns away, but every time we pass Dedham’s town common, we remember all the things we learned in our schoolhouse.
And I must admit that my husband was right that day back in 1993. His wrong turn took us right where we were supposed to be.
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