Real estate


We bought a plumber’s house. Surely, at least the plumbing would be fine.


“I don’t want to live in a dirty-white house with rocks on it,” my 3-year-old fretted shortly after we moved into our first house, a rundown Shingle Style Victorian in Newton with fieldstone to the second floor.

It was 1971, and my husband, I suspected, shared her sentiment. I was the one who was enthusiastic about the Victorian. He would have preferred a house he could take care of himself, but a friend sold us on the idea of a Victorian with a third-floor apartment to help defray expenses. My parents rolled their eyes when they saw our place, aware, as we were not, of just how great those expenses would be.

We dismissed their concerns. After all, we had bought a plumber’s house. Surely, at least the plumbing would be fine. Our educations, which had run from ancient languages to rocket science, didn’t include any folk wisdom. We had never heard that the shoemaker’s children have no shoes. What the plumber’s children have to put up with we discovered when, just as our first dinner guests arrived, a pipe over the front door gave way.


The roof was as porous as the plumbing. Our long-suffering tenants had to put out buckets when it rained. The windows rattled, letting in icy blasts. My husband, while repairing the windows, saw that nails had been used to solve so many problems that he figured the house must now point to the magnetic north.

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Somehow the previous owner’s termite inspector hadn’t discovered the termites, nor had our housing inspector climbed through the trapdoor to the attic to note the fire damage.

I soon discovered that my husband wouldn’t paint no matter how often I urged him to, but wiring intrigued him. The walls remained dingy, but we had spotlights in the driveway that could be turned on and off from three places. I didn’t paint either but spent hours taking paint off windowsills and scraping it from ceilings, without bringing any surfaces to a paintable condition.

Our renovations slowed as our family expanded and our bank account dwindled. For a while, the stove was on the second floor, the rest of the kitchen on the first. Later there was a hole in the kitchen floor, which one of our kittens fell through.

But the house was no longer dirty white, although it still had rocks on it. That fieldstone exterior kept the house cool in summer and quiet all year. More and more we loved the house, with its large windows and curved spaces that brought the outside in. Sunlight played across the walls and through the stained-glass window. The flow of the downstairs rooms made the house a natural for parties. We had three working fireplaces and a spacious yard.


Forty-five years later, the renovations are not complete. The windows still rattle. There is linoleum on the floor of an upstairs room, where there used to be a kitchen. Some floors are yet to be sanded; a bathroom sink has rust stains. And the cellar floor, which my husband broke up in pursuit of termites, has never been patched.

But the plumbing pipes are new; the heating system state-of-the-art. There’s copper on the roof, plaster on the ceilings. And somewhere out there is another couple, a little naive, a little romantic, ready for a love affair.

Jane H. O’Connor, a member of the 57 Readers in Oak Square, lives in Newton. Send comments to and a 550-word essay on your first home to Please note: We do not respond to submissions we won’t pursue.