11: Shared Dreams

11: Shared Dreams

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Home Sweet Home

Shared Dreams

Kind people are the best kind of people.

~Author Unknown

My husband, Glenn, and I needed more than just a house. We needed a home for the fifteen of us… our Malamute and wire-haired Terrier, five cats, two Hereford cows, their calves, my horse and a shaggy donkey named Augie. When we moved to Napa Valley in 1970, we had no idea how hard it would be to find a place to live with our animal family.

After Glenn graduated from University of California at Davis in veterinary medicine, he took a job that started immediately. We searched for rentals but their owners were leery when they heard about all our animals. Desperate, we were forced to rent a two-room house allowing no pets.

Dear friends offered to temporarily watch our cats and we kenneled our dogs as we continued to search. Our cows and horse roamed a family ranch and Augie stayed back in Davis.

We missed our pets. No dogs shadowed us as we walked through the house or yard; no cats snuggled up to us on the couch. And outside, only unbearable silence. We yearned for neighing, braying and mooing.

Then we encountered a new complication. Soon there would be sixteen of us. I was pregnant with our first child.

“What’ll we do?” I asked Glenn.

Ever the optimist, Glenn suggested that we buy a place. We, two new grads with school loans and a depleted bank account, had no business looking at houses for sale, but, we searched anyway. We wanted a cozy older home located on a rural lane surrounded by a couple of acres. Unfortunately, many prospective buyers wanted the same: the country life in a valley abundant with the beauty of vineyards, orchards, hay lands and horse ranches. But there remained a big difference between them and us: they had money and we only had dreams.

One day, our real estate agent drove us past a place on South Whitehall Lane. “This place will be on the market soon at double your price range, but it can’t hurt to look.”

The minute we saw the two-story house, huge barn, and six acres, our hearts beat faster. The owners waved us in to take a closer look at their home: a living room, fireplace, wood-paneled family room, three bedrooms, one wallpapered with tiny pink and white roses, perfect for a baby girl. I nudged Glenn in front of an upstairs window. “That view. Look at that view.” The dark pine-covered Mayacamas Mountains rose up closely to the west, and across the valley to the east lay the oak-studded grassland hills, and in between, all the red and orange leaf change of early autumn.

Glenn’s eyes widened when we stepped into an old dairy barn large enough to shelter both livestock and store hay. Mangers lined one side for feeding cattle and individual pens lined the other for isolating sick stock. Water from the “best well around” surged into sinks and troughs.

As we walked through the fenced fields, Glenn gave my hand a squeeze. “This is perfect.”

The owners, Bill and Neva, told us the place had been a dairy for decades. They bought it and later their daughter raised a small dairy herd for her Future Farmers of America project. After she had graduated from high school, she moved away. Soon Bill and Neva had difficulty with the upkeep, especially after Bill’s father took ill.

Bill told us, “Dad’s getting too frail to work his orchard. It’s an hour and a half commute there and back. We need to move in with him, help him.”

He pointed at the barn needing shingles, the milking shed with missing boards, the nursery trees at least seven feet high outgrowing their one-gallon pots. “We can’t manage both places.”

Neva lowered her eyes. “We’d planned on living out our years here.”

Glenn spent the rest of the afternoon at his desk, figuring and re-figuring, determining if we could manage it. “With my salary, we can make the monthly payments,” he told me, “but make a down payment… no way.”

I slid an arm around his slumped shoulders. “Something will turn up. Besides, our baby can sleep with us for a while.”

It didn’t look good. But worse yet, the real estate agent had been wrong; it did hurt to look at a place we couldn’t afford. I dreamt about it. I imagined rocking our baby in a chair next to a window watching my dark-haired husband filling the barn with hay, or watching our cats playing on the porch or our stock grazing in the lush pasture, or chickens pecking at bugs in the barnyard. I imagined riding Tinka bareback down the dirt road with our dogs running alongside me. I imagined everything that was not to be.

The next few days we couldn’t help ourselves. We drove by several times, just looking and dreaming.

A couple of weeks later the real estate agent called. “Bill and Neva like you two. They were wondering if you’re interested in buying their place.”

“Sorry,” we said. “We wish we could but we can’t make the down payment.”

Another week passed. Neva asked us to drop by. “This place needs to come alive again. It needs an energetic couple. Animals. Children. A young family to love it as much as we have,” she said, her eyes misting. “But maybe something as basic as ‘genuine love’ could count as part of the down payment. We need the money. That’s for sure, but if you really want to live here, love it as we have.… Tell you what we’ll do. We’ll lend you the money you’re short for the down plus take a second mortgage. You can pay us back monthly in addition to your bank note. Would that help?”

We knew they could see the excitement on our faces.

“But,” Neva said, “there is one condition.” Glancing at Bill, she hesitated before continuing. “Our furniture… there’s too much for Bill’s father’s house. Until we can add on a room, and since you have little furniture, we were wondering if you might store some for us. Our antique dining room set, it’s precious… a family heirloom. If we could leave it in the dining room for a while…” She touched me on the wrist. “And in the meantime, of course, you could use it as your own.”

“And,” said Bill, “if I could return later to clean out the outbuildings. That would help.”

So little to ask for offering so much — how could we answer with anything but “thank you.”

We submitted our meager offer, which was immediately taken.

On moving day, two crystal goblets and a bottle of champagne sat on the hand-carved oak table alongside a note wishing us the best.

That evening as we sat in two overstuffed rockers they’d also left for us, we toasted the kindness of Bill and Neva, grateful they gave us a chance to step into the heart of Napa Valley, the perfect place for us, our animals, and our children.

~Karen Baker

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