Those are the things I seem to be doing these days. And spending money; construction and decoration costs money.
Ten years ago, when I bought the house that Jerry and I now live in, I was getting divorced from my third husband and I didn’t have much money. I wanted a house on this island, so I drove around looking for “For Sale” signs. I thought this one looked small and not too expensive. It didn’t have a water view, but it nestled pleasantly in the woods and I reckoned I couldn’t afford a water view.
I called the agent. She said, “That’s a duplex, you know.” But the price was right. I looked at the house. It consisted of 2 apartments, each 800 square feet, each with two tiny bedrooms and 1 bath. Both sides were occupied.
The tenant in the front apartment was an obese woman with a teen age son. The decorating theme seemed to be angels. Angels were everywhere as ornaments and art, wall plates and decals. But the place looked well kept, if over full. A family of five lived in the back apartment. There were 3 children. The mother was playing solitaire the computer when I came to look. The floor was piled with cardboard boxes and the few pieces of furniture looked like Goodwill rejects. The kitchen was black with soot. I was told that there had recently been a fire in it, but that the owner would replace the stove and repair the damage and he had already asked the renters to move.
The agent said I could live in the back apartment and keep the tenant, who paid rent regularly, in the front. I thought about it, undecided. I wasn’t sure about being a landlord, but suddenly I heard myself say, “I’m going to make an offer on that house.”
I lived in the back apartment as it was (fire damage repaired) for about 3 years. But house remodeling and building are in my blood. I got an equity loan, hired a contractor and began an addition. The addition contains the kitchen,
a dining area
and a loft with a bathroom, which served as my bedroom.
I installed laminate flooring throughout and got a new propane heating stove instead of the old ugly industrial thing that had heated the house in the past. I added a window where the old stove had been.
When Jerry and I married he sold his house, which was on another island, San Juan, and moved here. He likes this island because it is small and rural. Friday Harbor, where his house was, had become congested.
We slept in the loft at first, but it was too small for 2 people. Jerry is a builder, I a building addict; we started another addition. We combined the 2 tiny bedrooms and added a big area for office and TV (which we hardly ever watch.) Now we are converting part of this new space into a fancy bathroom.
The bathroom is almost finished.
We have done about as much as we can to this side. It is twice as large as it was when I came. I am beginning to focus on the apartment. I have not had a tenant there for a couple of years. We use the apartment sometimes as a guest space, and I rent it sporadically in the summer on a nightly basis. This past summer we had almost no traffic, partly because I don’t advertise and partly because of the economy.
Daughter number 1 is staying with us at present. She and I began to talk about making the apartment (which she says I must refer to as “the Cottage”) more elegant and stylish. We agreed that to rip out the old stained carpet and install wood floors would be essential. She said she would do it.
She is doing it! It looks terrific!
We are planning painting, new cover for the futon, curtains, rugs and cushions. I will hang my own paintings of island scenes on the walls.
In the meantime, I have been recollecting old times and old friends. When my children were tiny I had some friends who lived in the same apartment complex that I did.
This is how I came to know them. One day there was a knock on my second floor apartment door. A tall, Irish-looking young man said, “My name is Ed and I live across the parking lot. I noticed the picture you have on your living room wall,” (it could be seen from the sidewalk below; it was a print of a Klee mask). He continued, “My wife, Helen, is at home with our baby, and she doesn’t know anyone here and is lonely. I thought you and she might have common interests.”
After that we were in constant contact for a few years. While we lived in the same apartment complex we saw each other almost daily. Pete, my husband, and I played bridge with Helen and Ed. In fact, they taught us to play. We cooked together, went on outings with the children and picnicked together. We talked about art and politics and families and books. Ed was a lawyer and worked for the government. Helen was an artist. He was, indeed, of Irish descent, she was Jewish. They had met in college and married against the wishes of both families.
Helen was my first really grown-up friend. I was only about 23 when we met, and I think a bit of a baby. I didn’t know much. She had a painting she had done on an old wooden ironing board hanging on the wall of her apartment. The image was of a woman bent double, her head at her feet. I admired this imaginative piece of art. Helen taught me a lot about cooking. She introduced me to lox and to salad as a first course.
All of us moved away from those apartments, but we still got together often for dinner or bridge. Then Helen and Ed left the Washington area and moved to Chicago. I visited them once there, but they moved again to upstate New York. Pete and I went to Burma, and subsequently broke up our household and got divorced. When I emerged on the other side of those life upheavals I had lost Helen and Ed’s address.
Now, almost 50 years later, I found a possible clue. I had been baby sitting their oldest child when their second child was born, in the backseat of a 1941 Cadillac convertible en route to the hospital. Later Ed told us he had pulled into a gas station to call the doctor as the baby was emerging.
“Oh Ed,” I said, “What did you do?”
“I caught it.” He replied.
I googled the name of this child, who is now in her 50’s. I had had no luck with the names of the rest of the family, since their last name was a common one. But this baby had an unusual name. I found a pretty good match with a picture that looked a lot like Helen. It was on Facebook, so I mustered my nerve (I get quite shy about approaching strangers) and sent a message.
To my delight, I got a positive reply. It is Helen and Ed’s daughter. She copied my message to her mother, and I have sent Helen an email. I am hoping for a reply. We have 50 years to catch up on. A lifetime.
I’ll keep you posted!