“Mirror Image”

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In 2001, after living for 18 years in the previous house, having added a new husband in 1988, and having launched our combined three kids, we moved across the country. I had to work with a buyer’s agent by email before we came out to look for a home in Connecticut. We only had the weekend to look for and buy a house, so she and I had narrowed our choices a great deal before we came.

I wanted an ethnically diverse neighborhood with sidewalks, bus service, city water and city sewer.  That turned out to be asking quite a lot of the areas in central Connecticut. Our agent helpfully added that commuting west in the morning and east in the evening was beneficial to keeping bright sun out of our eyes.

We met Anna for the first time on a Saturday morning in January, and she first took us to see the house pictured above. I promptly burst into tears. It looked like a full size version of my dollhouse. The inside was lovely, with well proportioned specific rooms(I dislike the “open concept” idea of modern homes. I like slamming doors, or at least closing them behind me!) The water and sewer were provided by the town, as was garbage and leaf pickup in the fall. The sidewalks went to nearby stores. The bus stopped in front of the house. I told her we would buy it. She said, “You  can’t buy the first house you look at.”

She then dragged us around for two days looking at a lot of “raised ranch” houses which featured large garage doors in front. I don’t want to see a garage when I am looking at a house, though I had not thought to mention that. Finally, exhausted, we told her we were ready to make an offer on the first house she had shown us.

Six weeks later, we moved in and have stayed there happily since.

“A Home in Miniature”

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My great grandfather Theron Durham built this dollhouse around 1895 for my grandmother. She gave it to my mother and aunt to play with. I received it from my mother and gave it to my daughter. Now it belongs to my granddaughter. This is the front which serves as the back for the four rooms on the other side. Over the years it has been furnished by different little girls to suit their tastes. I overhauled it before it went to my granddaughter, actually taking a bit of the cream paint to a store to exactly match the original color.

The house is resting on what was the kitchen table from my grandparents’ house in Pike, which I wrote about a few weeks ago. It wobbles a bit, but forms an apt perch for my grandmother’s little house. The house itself has held up remarkably well since it has traveled from Buffalo to Portland to Connecticut without breaking. Though Theron was a lawyer, he seems to have known a little about building to last.

The dollhouse takes an important center role when I write tomorrow about the house I now live in. Stay tuned!

“Do it Myself”

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When I was young, one of my favorite stories was that of the “Little Red Hen.” She keeps asking her friends to help her and they all decline. So she replies each time,”then I’ll do it myself.” Needless to say, this has cost me some genuine help over the years, but it definitely strengthened my “get it done myself” muscles. When I moved into my house as a single mom with very limited income, my do it myself work ethic was very useful.

The house needed exterior painting. I knew absolutely nothing about exterior painting. But that certainly wasn’t going to stop me. I lived a few blocks from a large paint company, and I went in and asked them what kind of paint to buy and bought it. I  paid my nephew to pressure wash the house. This resulted in several large dents in the wood, but he enjoyed himself. Maybe too much! Then I set to work.

I had chosen a beige called “goat,”  reminiscent of my time in the country. The trim was “Crimson Red” after my alma mater. Fortunately “goat” covered white quite easily and so did “Crimson Red.” I used a paint brush and a step ladder and worked my way around the house. I drew considerable attention from the older men on the street. Not because of my dashing good looks in this outfit, but because they all had an idea of how I should be going at the job.

Thankfully, two of them were actually helpful. One came over and started painting, He couldn’t take looking out his front window at me painting any more without helping. The other neighbor actually built a scaffolding on the back side of the house. This sped up the work amazingly since I didn’t have to keep moving the step ladder.

I was completely pleased with myself after the work was done. It had taken the summer, but I had only had to pay for the paint, one brush and the pressure washer rental. I had, in fact, done it myself.

“A Whole Home of Our Own”

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In 1983 I began to search for a home to purchase. I loved our neighborhood and had very specific wishes for a house. There was a series of dead end streets that ran off the local road. That road had bus service to my job. The dead end streets were much safer for children than through ones. I also love light and so I wanted a south facing home. I didn’t have much money, but at the time the neighborhood was still pretty run down so I could afford a home. Ironically, the house above which I purchased for $65,000 is now valued at over $400,000. Needless to say, the area became gentrified!

When this house became available, I purchased it. It never was particularly a style I favored, but it was on a dead end street with a southern exposure with two nice bedrooms, one bath, a large back yard and a finished basement ideal for playing. We moved in and found that once again the new street was flush with small children.

It had been six years since I had been in a home I could call my own. It felt wonderful.

“Half a Home of Our Own”

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We were able to rent one half of a single story duplex back in the same neighborhood where I had lived as the manager of the smaller apartment building. In fact, this place was just a couple of blocks away. The other half(pictured here but greatly changed with the sliding glass doors)was rented by a mother and her daughter we had met at our previous apartment house.

There were many advantages to our move. We now had a big back yard and we put in a swing set. The neighborhood was much quieter and no homeless people slept out back. The whole neighborhood had once been settled by Italian truck farmers and still had many fruit trees scattered around. We could literally eat our way around the area, munching on figs, plums and apples.

There was an shuttered elementary school down the block, but the large playground remained. A woman had opened a day care, Pumpkin Patch, in the building, making life very convenient when I had to work in the summer. Kitty-corner from our house, across the school’s ball field there was Porcelli’s, a small full service(produce and meat included) old school market.

Best of all, we seem to have landed on a block with many little children. There were three boys and three other girls across the street, and our back yard was a gathering place for them all since we had the swing set. The duplex was small but adequate. I dreamed of buying a house of my own, but that would have to wait a few years.

“Changing Neighborhood”

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This recent picture of our apartment shows the steep staircase leading to the second floor from the first. Remember the bathroom was on the second floor and my child was two years old. Much to my friends’ amusement, I kept her potty chair in the downstairs closet. This greatly simplified my life so that I could cook dinner and not have to run upstairs with her. After a while, of course, she could navigate fine and the potty chair was retired.

We moved to a new neighborhood after a couple of years in this apartment. The neighborhood had gotten increasingly sketchy, and one day I found a homeless man asleep in the walkway behind our units. While Portland has an enormous problem with homeless people camping all over streets and sidewalks today. at the time it was a signal to move.

Amazingly, property values have soared in the intervening forty years for this apartment. At some point, it was converted to condominiums. The unit we had rented for $180 now rented for $2600 a month. Meanwhile, the units were for sale this year for over $400,000 a piece. Yes, they seem to have painted them, refinished the floor and crowded bigger appliances into the very tiny kitchen, but they haven’t made the unit any bigger. They have even now named the neighborhood “Nob Hill,” though I don’t remember any hill.

Meanwhile in 1979 we were on to our new home.

“Back in the City”

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I first stayed with my parents for a few weeks while I searched for an apartment I could afford. The Sunday newspaper had the apartment rental ads, and it came out on Saturday afternoon. One Saturday I bought the paper and saw that an apartment in an area I liked would be available for inspection at 9am Sunday morning. Knowing that affordable units were scarce, I drove to the unit and sat on the front steps with my daughter just before 9am. The actual unit is the door at the right center in the photo above. It was two storied with two bedrooms and bath up and a living room and kitchen down.

The place was filthy inside, but the manager assured me that it would be clean in two days. I rented it on the spot and it was mine once my check cleared. It would cost me over a half of my part time salary, but it would be ours. I would just have to figure out how to get by with the other half of my pay.

One great blessing of this unit was unknown to me at the time. Hot water was included in the rent, but I was to be responsible for heat. Miraculously enough, our apartment was over the hot water boiler for the whole complex. This meant our unit stayed toasty warm all winter and I had almost no heating expense. For some reason, it never was too hot in the summer either.

I missed the country, but I enjoyed the convenience of a small market around the corner and the company of other mothers and children nearby. The area was extremely walkable and we walked or I pushed a stroller contentedly to shops and restaurants. I breathed a sigh of relief. After a great deal of turmoil, our lives had settled down. We had found a new home and we were all right.