LONSBERRY: THE DAY THE HOUSE SOLD

Today, in some lawyer’s office, papers will be signed and a key will be passed and my 32-year ownership and sometime tenancy at 39 Eagle Street will come to an end.

               We’re selling the house.

               We’re ending an era.

               We’re saying good bye.

               I had thought I would retire there, and live out my last days on familiar floors. But that didn’t work out, and it had to go, and I will miss it.

               We walked in the kitchen door on a summer’s day in 1988, my wife and I, and Betty Flynn. I was a soldier with three more months in the Army and a newspaper job waiting in the city, and we were a couple in our 20s with two small children. Our budget was small, and without the GI Bill it wouldn’t have worked, and a real estate lady in Brockport gave us a week-old catalog of homes across the Rochester region and wished us luck.

               That was because she understood what houses cost better than we did.

               And we kept driving until we got to something we could afford. That was 40 miles and we stood after a couple of days on a street in Mount Morris waiting for Betty Flynn and talking to a man who’d owned an electric shop and insisted on taking us into his house to look at the way he stored his socks and underwear.

               It was in impressive dresser system.

               When Betty Flynn got there she quickly dismissed the place we’d come to see and suggested we walk around the corner to look at a different property. The Browns had lived there. The man from the bank, and they had been very nice people.

               But he had been transferred and it had sat empty for a while and as we walked in the side door, into the kitchen, crossing from it into the living room, my wife and I were struck by how big it was. We couldn’t believe the room, the spaciousness, the room to live this place afforded.

               We were in awe.

               And also quite naïve.

               It actually was very humble, and very small, but our frame of reference was substandard military housing, a couple of rooms crammed onto a couple of rooms on the edge of a fort on the edge of a city.

               But Betty Flynn said it would work for us and I never knew Betty Flynn to be wrong. So she did the paperwork and over the coming weeks we tried to find money and documents and other necessaries. It was $27,500, I think, or maybe $37,500, one of those two. I can’t remember. But I do remember we barely scraped together the required cash-in-hand to make it ours.

               But we did make it ours. And we owned a home, an achievement that, from the standpoint of my economic background and lack of education, was stunning. It was more of a blessing than an achievement. We always thought it was a gift from God, a place of our own.

               And it quickly became what a place of your own is, a place apart, kind of dedicated and sanctified.

               From then to now is a blur of memories. Where the Christmas tree stood, where my mother and grandmother sat when they came for dinner, where the babies slept when they were brought home, standing next to their beds, singing a lyric I had written. Seven of my nine children came home from the hospital to that house, all of them had it as their childhood home.

               They grew and their mothers – yes, mothers, there would be a divorce and a new bride – made them a wonderful home. I was often working and distracted, but there was always the warmth and glow of children to call me back to reality.

               There were painful times there. I stood there as the answering machine told me my mother was dead, I stayed there when the divorce came around. I spent a summer there in the dark when I couldn’t afford to pay the electric bill, and I came home there to find the foreclosure sticker on the door.

               I sat at a desk in the living room and broadcast a radio show for years to an audience in Utah. I wrote a book one night in that same room. In the house next door, a friend wrote a book that would be a best seller.

               In the first year or two I planted with my son Lee a couple of apple trees that now tower over the house and drop unwanted apples into the neighbor’s driveway. For years there was a weeping willow beside the street which I had planted as a cutting from a tree that grew behind my grandmother’s house. A straggly cedar just inside the fenced back yard was transplanted from my uncle’s grave when the cemetery association said it couldn’t stay.

               It is a small place of uneven floors and flawed craftsmanship. 

               But every inch of it is home, and every inch of it is tied to moments and people, the dear things of my heart. My over-sentimental heart, tied too much to places and things from the past. I grew up craving stability, and found it in this little house, which has now been part of my life for more than half of my life.

               I saved it when we bought a bigger place, and failed at being a landlord, but kept it with the thought my children might need a place to start out. But nobody starts our around here anymore, at least nobody related to me, and my clinging to the little house became pathetic and burdensome. So it had to be sold.

               I haven’t lived in it for several years, but it will live in me forever.

               And today a new family will call it home. A young family, just starting out, not so unlike us those years ago.

               I rejoice at the blessing it will be to them, I rejoice at the blessing it has been to us.

               I mourn at the loss I will feel in my heart.

             Today, in some lawyer’s office, papers will be signed and a key will be passed and my 32-year ownership and sometime tenancy at 39 Eagle Street will come to an end.

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