Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Trading Specters

Previously I mentioned something about chasing ghosts. We've all got them, stashed away somewhere, just waiting to pop up and haunt us again.

Lately, I've been having a lot of fights with dead relatives. You know what? They always win. They never have to listen to reason or take your feelings into account. Truthfully, they don't even have to say anything new. Just the memories of the old fights is enough to make them the victors.

I've been feeling particularly ganged up on, as dead relatives are about the only kind I have. I'm the stump of my family tree -- the last survivor in my line, with none to come after me. Sort of gives them an unfair advantage, don't you think? I mean, they're all gathered together, sitting in a cushy coffee shop on the other side, puffing away on unfiltered Camels and complaining about who made the last pot of joe.

Here I am, in the land of the Upright, dealing with things like finding a new grocery store (my closest store closed recently and it's really thrown me for a loop. I like my routines.) I'm still having to pay bills and keep a household together. They don't even have to mow the grass any more.

Gives them a lot more time for haunting. Mowing alone takes a couple of hours, when I get around to it.

I blame the ghosts for a bad real estate purchase I made a few years back. I was in my hometown quite often while my mother was ill and after her death. For years I had been having vivid memories about the house I grew up in, and one day while I was up there I saw that the old house was for sale.

There was an irresistable need for me to see that place. We had been renters -- my parents never owned a house while I was growing up. But this house was the place I considered my "childhood home." We lived here from the time I was in third grade until I was a junior in high school. There were a lot of memories and ghosts tied up in this place.

So I called the listing agent and asked to see it. I thought I would just take a look around and be able to put things to rest. Didn't happen. I complained about the fact that someone had removed the clawfoot bathtub that I loved so much. The agent said he had hauled a lot of those to the trash dump, never thinking anyone would ever want one.

Other things had changed as well. My bedroom was 8 1/2 feet by 9 1/2 feet and had two doors and four windows. I didn't have a closet. My clothes were hung from an ironing valet we shoved in a corner; it was always tipping over and dumping everything on the floor.

Now the door that connected to my parents' bedroom had been closed off and made into a closet. I was surprised what a difference it made. Even so, the room was entirely too small to imagine being functional, even with a closet. It would have been claustrophobic as an office.

Adding that closet also diminished the size of my parents' room and formed an odd niche. I suppose it would have made a great place for a built-in dresser. Funny how small that room looked too.

We never had carpet, but now the place was covered with nasty, smelly, stained carpet. We had had wood floors, and a floor furnace in the living room. Now that was covered, and there was an odd, open-flame gas heater on the wall. Talk about inviting disaster -- the thing looked lethal. The agent said there had once been a fire in the floor furnace so it had to be removed.

Outside, things looked mostly as I had expected. The carport looked about the same. The clotheslines were long gone, as were my favorite trees. But other trees had grown tall in different spots. Dad's red roses were nothing but a memory.

There was a second house, too, just across the driveway. The houses shared the carport. I suppose the little house, just a tiny one-bedroom place, started out as a mother-in-law home or something. I always loved the little house, although I had seen more than a few people moving out in the middle of the night, skipping out on the rent. I had a clear view from the windows in my tiny bedroom and saw a lot of things that probably would have shocked my parents, if they had known. Some people really should learn to pull the blinds.

The agent and I looked around the little house, rather stunned by the decorating style of the current renter. But all of her fou-fou faded away when I walked through the door.

All I could see was Kate and Calvin's stuff. They had been our best neighbors in my childhood. Calvin was a true, real-life old cowboy who had worked at the 101 Ranch "back in the olden days." They had a leather sofa, chair and ottoman with stitched designs of cowboy boots, hats and pistols. It smelled of their cigarette smoke -- Salems, different from the Camels my folks smoked.

We continued to look around the little house. I often had dreams of having a little house like this to go to on weekends just to write, without interruption. All I would need is a table for a laptop, a comfortable chair, and a twin bed to fall into when I was exhausted.

I had forgotten that this house had the world's tiniest bathroom. Seeing it again sucked the breath right out of me. It was impossible to sit on the toilet facing forward because the sink would be in your lap. There wasn't enough room to manuever around the tub to get it really clean, so there was always mildew in the corners. And to top it off, the water heater was in the space, too.

Somehow, once I finished my tour, I found myself asking about the price for the houses. They were listed at $35,000. Two houses. I thought about it for a minute, and shook my head. The ghosts made me ask how much they would be in a cash deal.

"You'd pay cash?" the agent said.

"Yeah, maybe. I think it could make some rental income."

"Well, for cash I know they'd come down to $28,000," he says.

Geez. I was sucker punched. We made the deal that afternoon -- he ran the papers across town for signatures.

It was only when he brought the papers back to me at my mother's house that he revealed that his wife was the owner of record. Yep, I was really sucker punched.

I put a lot of work and money into updating the houses. New electrical, major plumbing updates. New roofs.

And then, of course, I found the worst possible tenants who did the most possible damage and cost me every penny they could.

Oh well. Spilled milk, I guess. Bad investment. But it gave me a chance to chase some old ghosts. I was able to make the house better than it had been. I reclaimed something of my past. As small as it was, I left my mark, this time as an adult.

It's been hell trying to sell these places because the real estate market fell apart there. The big oil company merged with a competitor and the market was flooded with a lot of nice houses going for pennies on the dollar.

Eventually I did get an offer I accepted, on a lease-purchase plan. We're supposed to close in about a month, and at last I will be able to cut my ties with my hometown. I'll be able to tell the ghosts goodbye.


Teditor said...

God bless you, Trixie. I know it's been tough.

Trixie said...

Hey, welcome Teditor! Good of you to visit!