92: It’s Just a Starter House

92: It’s Just a Starter House

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Home Sweet Home

It’s Just a Starter House

My whinstone house my castle is, I have my own four walls.

~Thomas Carlyle

“Have you actually seen the house?” the bank officer asked me as she studied the appraiser’s photos.

“Yes, I’ve seen it.”

“And you still want to buy it?”

“It’s all we can afford,” I replied sheepishly.

“And you plan to occupy this dwelling?”

“As soon as we fix it up,” I said. “It’s just a starter house.”

My wife Christine and I were trying to purchase a small cape on the south shore of Long Island. We yearned for our young son Patrick to have a back yard to play in, rather than the confines of the sidewalk in front of our apartment building.

I understood the banker’s concern. The house was built in 1949 and had suffered years of neglect. To call it a “fixer-upper” would be an understatement. Nevertheless, the bank reluctantly approved our mortgage application.

We couldn’t even move in after the closing. We had to stay with family while we cleaned the house and made some of the most urgent repairs.

Christine enrolled Patrick in kindergarten at the local elementary school, with every intention he would graduate somewhere else. As soon as our finances permitted, we would move to a bigger house that could accommodate our plans for a larger family.

I continued to make inexpensive, cosmetic improvements to the house — not wanting to invest a lot of money in a place that was just a stop along the way to our permanent home.

During the next few years, my career advanced as we had hoped, so we put the house on the market. We were also expecting our second child. It was time to move on.

“The people we showed your house to yesterday made an offer,” my real estate agent had advised me at the time.

“Let me talk it over with my wife, and I’ll get back to you tomorrow.”

I hung up with my agent and called Christine.

“Oh, really? That’s great… I guess,” she said.

“What do you mean ‘you guess’?” I asked. “They came pretty close to our asking price.”

“I know.”

“Then, what’s the problem?”

“Well, we have made some really good friends here over the past couple of years, and so has Patrick. He loves his school.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean. But we decided moving to Connecticut was the best thing for the children. If we are going to do this, it’s better to do it while the kids are still young.”

“I guess so. We’ll talk about it some more when you get home.”

I was starting to share Christine’s trepidation, but I didn’t understand why. We had never planned on staying more than a few years.

Our doubts notwithstanding, I called the real estate agent the next day and accepted the offer.

“That’s great news,” my agent said. “I’ll contact the buyers and let them know.”

If this was such great news, why did I feel like I was going to throw up?

“The house is sold,” I said to Christine when I returned from work that evening.

“That’s great, honey,” she said. “I guess this is really happening.”

“I guess so.”

“By the way, I have a PTA meeting tomorrow night, and you have to take Patrick to his baseball game,” she reminded me. “And Eddie called. He wants to know if you can play softball on Sunday. It’s fine with me if you want to play, because I am going to drop Patrick at my mother’s and meet the girls for lunch.”

Before I could answer, the phone rang. It was the real estate agent.

“They want to do what?” I yelled into the phone. “We had a deal. Now, they want us to accept less?”

“No way,” Christine whispered. I nodded my head in agreement.

“I’m sorry, but we are sticking with the agreed upon price,” I told my agent. “We have already come down twenty thousand dollars.”

“They say it’s all they can afford, Mr. Geelan. Are you really going to let this deal fall through over ten thousand dollars?”

My agent could not have known what my wife and I had just realized when we looked in each other’s eyes. We wanted this deal to fall through. The community we were so anxious to flee had embraced us, and didn’t want us to leave. As it turned out, we didn’t want to go either.

“The deal is off,” I advised my agent, “and the house is officially off the market.”

Christine exhaled a sigh of relief, and the enormous weight I had been carrying around rapidly dissipated. We were so preoccupied planning where we wanted to live, that we almost overlooked the wonderful life unfolding before us.

We have been in our starter house over twelve years now. But we don’t call it that anymore. Now, we just call it home.

~Ron Geelan

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