I Wish I’d Written That

I’m just starting to read a book for book club, “The $64 Tomato” by William Alexander, and I have to say, I wish I’d written it. Heck, I could have written the first few chapters about buying a house in the country.

One of the first stories he tells about buying a 90-year-0ld house is the septic system. They discovered the antique clay pipe wasn’t connected to anything. The liquids were seeping into the ground, and the solids were… not. He has to call a plumber who redoes the piping and promises to come back later to redo the drain field. Unfortunately, they live on a clay-rich piece of land that defies Big Machinery’s attempts to move dirt.

This story made me think of our 100-year-old house and it’s sewer system or lack thereof. I’ve told that story here before, I believe. The toilet upstairs wasn’t flushing into any sewer system at all. A coffee can placed over the end of the pipe had rusted through, so it took some time before we realized the puddle in the side yard wasn’t rainfall.

The author also tells how everyone in this small town had a story about his Big Brown House. Everyone at some point had lived in it, worked on it, rented it or knew someone who had lived in it, worked on it or rented it. Our Big White House had similar stories. Let’s see how many I remember.

We’d bought the house from a couple who’d done some “remodeling” which is actually code for removing the architecturally interesting parts of the house to make way for his wheelchair. Much of the woodwork around the doors was scuffed from his chair. They’d removed the carpeting and revealed hardwood floors. We sanded and refinished those floors.

We were working on the house when a couple of women stopped by. It was Marlys and her daughter Val with a thermos of coffee and a plate of cookies. Marlys lived kitty-corner from us in an unrenovated house that still had all its French doors and stained glass windows. Ours had one window that had definitely been removed, because we found the stained glass window in the basement.

Marlys told us how her daughter was always hoping to buy this house, and I had to wonder why she didn’t. I thought we’d bought it for a steal. Apparently $25,000 was too much for a four-bedroom house in a little bitty town. I felt bad for about two seconds. If she really wanted the house, she had ample chance to buy it.

They told us some of the folklore around the house. It was one of two Tuskind houses in town where the Tuskind brothers (and their families) had lived. I checked the abstract and the house had been foreclosed upon twice. It had originally been built by a banker, and when the bank failed, that was the first foreclosure.

The Big White House also stood empty for a time, and the original foundation had crumbled by then. Wild animals were seen going in and out of the basement through a hole. That gives me the willies, but I shouldn’t be surprised. I found mice nesting between the joists of the floor overhead in the basement. The babies scrambled out when Mom didn’t come back, and I dispatched them with the end of a softball bat. Bleah.

At one point in its history, the Big White House was home to a family whose home had been destroyed by fire. The church ladies came in and cleaned it up for them as a temporary place to stay. They had a double-wide trailer brought in to their farmland and called it good. If it was up to me, I’d have stayed in the house.

Another time, the front room and bathroom had been rented out as an apartment to a teacher who worked at the little school in town. The bathroom apparently doubled as a kitchen. It was certainly large enough to use it in that fashion, and the doors were arranged so that someone could come in the front door and go directly to the front room. We used that room as an office/piano room.

The bathroom was so big that I sorted laundry in the bathroom. My sister had once told me that sitting on the toilet made her feel like she was sitting in the middle of a football field, and recommended a cubicle like they have in shopping mall bathrooms. It never happened. I’d had hopes of installing a jacuzzi tub at one point. That never happened either.

We gutted the kitchen. On one wall was a door to the basement, but we already had a door to the basement around the corner, so we boarded up the hole and made room for more cabinets — a definite improvement. We scooped up the old tile with a grain shovel. My dad installed electrical outlets every two feet and put a new window over the sink. It was the only window we could see out of. All of the other windows were float glass which was notoriously bad.

The Big White House was the house that children avoided. They probably had stories about it as the haunted house in town. All that changed when we started giving out full-size Crunch-n-Munch boxes for Halloween. We followed up the next year with full-size candy bars. HighGuy was in sales and had connections with the candy salesmen. What can I say? We loved it!