“Funny, I’ve never heard of Brewster before,” Dean said, as we were once again on the Henry Hudson, driving north. It was a beautiful spring Sunday morning and the New York Times was on my nearly gone lap and a cup of Starbucks—decaf—was in my hand. All was right with the world.
“Didn’t you ever watch That Girl?” I asked. “That’s where Ann Marie’s parents lived,” I said, referring to a sitcom from the 1960s, and instantly realizing I was dating myself and had to stop doing that, damn it. Time to start lying about my age or at least being less forthright about it. Anyway, it was just Dean and he already married me, fool that he is.
We were on our way to meet with still another agent, this time a pleasant young woman—Dawn—who worked with properties on the eastern side of Putnam County, as well as Northern Westchester. Upon our arrival, Dawn greeted us, and handed us about nine or ten property spec sheets she had prepared, based on our telephone conversation. It’s clear that young Dawn had no qualms about spending her Sunday with us, and I appreciated this commitment. The other agents were harried and not nearly as generous with their time. I scanned the sheets and tossed out two or three. Then we all got into the Subaru, and off we went.
“The sheet says it’s a bright yellow house,” Dawn said, shuffling papers, as we drove down a busy road. “It . . . should . . . be . . . somewhere . . . around here.” As we zoomed by I spotted an orange house with a FOR SALE sign out front.
“I think we just passed it,” I said in a disgusted monotone, fat and uncomfortable in the back seat. “Turn around.” We have seen about six houses already and none have been even remotely suitable. What were we thinking anyway? I mean, Putnam County is just too far—it might as well be another country. I never even knew it existed until a few weeks before. Dean maneuvered the car deftly and we slowly cruised toward the house.
“Yep, that’s it,” Dawn said, tapping the sheet. “More of an orange than a yellow.”
Indeed. I looked at the house. It was painted a neon orange-yellow, the hue similar to the stripes on roads indicating two-way traffic, only more vibrant and way more orange. Despite the initial shock, though, it was possible to see beyond this color faux pas, to notice that it had potential. The architecture was appealing, built in 1927—a fantastic year for houses I've since learned. It had a robust stone foundation and a gorgeous Magnolia tree in front. We pulled into the long driveway, parked, and climbed the stairs to the back door, rapping on the door lightly. A voice responded, inviting us to come in.
A young couple was busily painting the kitchen cabinets a glossy white while an older man greeted us. He was Joe, the owner of the house, and his brother and brother’s girlfriend were the hired help. Joe told us to feel free to tour the house. As soon as I managed to get past the hideous “country” kitchen, I was enthralled. Sure, there was a dirty brown shag carpet in the living room and the walls were sloppily whitewashed with cheap flat paint, but there was no disguising the good bones of the house. The woodwork was gorgeous, and in fairly good shape. The ceilings were ten feet high, with unusual detail. It was an Arts & Crafts Colonial, possibly a Sears Roebuck kit. As with many homes built in the 1920s, it was rich with architectural features. Fortuitously, most were intact and I whispered a thank-you to the gods of good taste that, somehow, this house was mostly spared from bad remodeling. Mostly, because I was soon to learn that the bathroom succumbed to the avocado-adoring 70s, but this only presented a challenge to us, This Old House aficionados.
“Would you like to see the rear of the property?” the owner asked my husband.
“Sure,” replied Dean, grabbing Jackson’s hand to take him along. They walked outside and Dean was impressed with the landscaping, which included a rock garden, a flowering dogwood (at that point I called it the pink flower tree) and some awe-inspiring giant pines. Joe told them the entire parcel was just over a half-acre, and pointed out the boundaries, some having pretty stone walls to mark them. Then Dean casually inquired about the wee pub we noticed immediately next door to the house.
“In ten years I’ve only had to call the police once. They’re pretty quiet and good neighbors overall,” our new friend Joe assured him. Oh? Only had to call the police on the neighbors once, you say? I had to remember to add that to my list of good-neighbor qualities.
Meanwhile, back inside . . . I turned to Dawn and said, “This is definitely my kind of house.” She looked mildly astonished at this statement, which struck me as semi-hilarious and I suppressed a giggle. I suppose to her it was just a shabby old house on a busy road; to me it was screaming with potential and it was cheap.
We exited, meeting up with Dean and Jackson. Our tour finished, we thanked Joe and company and got back into the car. Once on the road, we told Dawn we were going to make an offer on this house. She seemed really happy—turned out it was her first sale. The price the seller wanted was twenty-five thousand dollars less than the Garrison house. We offered him ten percent less than the asking price. After negotiations, we agreed on an amount: $158, 500. We’ve saved $31,500 over the price of the first house that stole our hearts. Woohoo! We had found our home!
On May 4th Dean's magazine folded, on May 5th the contract for the house arrived, on May 6th I went into labor. By the 7th, we'd lost our only income source, bought a house and had a second child.
We closed on the house in June and spent the next two months sanding floors and painting walls and closets, commuting from the city. On a Friday in early August, we finally moved in. In the evening I began to make our first dinner in our new house, sipping a glass of Merlot and feeling content. My new son, Luca, slept gently in his infant seat and soft jazz was wafting in from the other room. Luca's big brother was settled comfortably by the television, playing with his rediscovered toys, previously packed and part of the wall of boxes. Dean was quietly organizing our things.
Suddenly, a loud motorcycle revved up, shattering the quiet. The baby woke up, throwing his tiny fists into the air in a startle response. The deafening noise sounded as if it were right in our living room, so obnoxiously loud was the engine. Then another one started up. And another. Dean and I looked at each other, mouths agape. We were just served notice that the quiet little pub next door turned into a happening biker bar at night. The fun never seems to stop.
Our other inauguration as homeowners consisted of Jackson locking himself in one of the bedrooms. Each of the three bedrooms had a slide lock on the inside—apparently Joe's tenants had untrustworthy roommates— and Jack had managed to lock one for some reason. It got stuck and he couldn’t slide it back to open the door. Holding Luca in my arms, I frantically called Dean on the phone. Frantically, for I was sure that while Jax was locked in the room a fire would break out and I’d have to get Luca and the animals out of the house and Jax would be trapped. Dean picked up on the second ring. I quickly told him what happened. Could he come home and help? Should I call the fire department? Here was his supportive response: “Let’s not announce our presence just yet. Okay? Get him a hammer and slide it under the door.”
“Uh, Dean, he’s four, you do realize that fact, don’t you?”
“Just give it a try.”
I raced downstairs with Luca on my hip and grabbed a small hammer that a friend made for me. I ran back up and slid it under, telling Jax what to do. He tried, and then asked me for a decent hammer—his exact words. Dean heard this comment over the phone and laughed. Annoyed at Dean and his supercilious attitude, I ran back downstairs and got a larger hammer and slid that under too. The next thing I heard after a quick bang was the lock sliding back and I flung open the door. Whew, what a relief. After hanging up on Dean and his smug satisfaction, I plopped Luca down on the rug and, without taking my eyes off either boy, I backed into the closet and retrieved a screwdriver. The locks came off the doors then and there.