My first home was like an arranged marriage. I’d heard that when you walk into a house that’s meant for you, you’ll know it, but I didn’t.
The online listing reported five bedrooms but showed no photos, except for the outside. Other than bedrooms, I knew nothing about what my heart desired. All I knew was that we were, essentially, homeless — desperate for a new place. After 17 years in Bedford, the longest I’d lived anywhere, the home we rented burned down in an electrical fire. Friends offered us living space, and the community reached out with donations, while my three youngest finished high school and the older two attended college.
When I first saw the chestnut-brown Gambrel, snow blanketed the ground, presenting an air of mystery. It sat in a cul-de-sac, its loose shingles and driveway cracks giving it a tattered appearance. When I drove by one evening, I decided to see what it looked like inside.
On that first tour, I noticed no updated kitchen or bath. Inexperienced, I anxiously wondered, “Was the listing price a good deal?” While quickly viewing some “updated” homes in the area — I saw Excalibur in a glass cabinet built in the center of the living room of one home and a driveway that sloped deeply downward at another — thoughts persisted of the Gambrel, nestled into its grove of pines and located only 3 miles from my children’s school.
I set up a second “date.”
Even though the fireplace was damaged and the purple shag carpet had to go, I liked that this house had been lovingly cared for. The cabinets sported shiny new screws next to the dingy ones. Spare floor tiles, drywall, and foam-board insulation awaited the next repair in the finished basement. Comfort and stability began to envelop me like a well-worn quilt handed down through generations.
Taking in the dormers, closets, and bedrooms, I thought about how many times I’d said my greatest wish was for each child to have some privacy. As a single mother and teacher who spent all her extra money to survive an unfriendly divorce and now college-related expenses, I never expected to have a down payment.
As snow melted and vines thickened layers of evergreens, I realized something else: I wanted a forest. Our old home abutted a wildlife reserve. The more I gazed upon this Gambrel, the more I was committed to investing in her.
In “The Alchemist,” Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho says, “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” Upon moving in, each child selected a space without the typical teenage bickering. We tore out carpet and installed hardwood, and everyone painted their rooms the colors of their dreams — from sea-foam green to alternating red and black walls. The living room went from beige to Bryce Canyon cayenne. We replaced the broken windows as we repaired our broken lives.
The first house I ever owned quickly became a peaceful retreat. Its rock-lined fire pit, previously hidden under winter’s carpet, stayed where it should — outside.
After two years, I still wake up every morning, walk a loop around the first floor, and whisper a silent: “Thank you, Fire. At the lowest moment of my life, you offered me a cleansing.”
Like an arranged marriage, where love grows with time, the fire of love for this house burns within me.
Claudia A. Fox Tree, a middle school special education teacher, millefiori clay bead artisan, and writer, lives in Billerica. She is currently working on a memoir about experiencing a house fire in a small town through the eyes of a Native American. Send comments to email@example.com and a 550-word essay on your first home to Address@globe.com. Please note: We do not respond to submissions we won’t pursue.