As I sit here confined to my current space, thanks to COVID-19, I think about all the past places I’ve lived as an adult. Most people go to college, get that first place, move in with someone, make it permanent somehow, maybe split up or sell, get a retirement home and then, well, go off into that permanent housing up into the wild blue yonder.
Nope. I somehow had that nomadic drive filtering within my DNA, pretty much on my father’s side.
You see, Dad’s family came over in the early 1800s and decided the East Coast, or more likely, what passed for states back then wasn’t good enough. They hooked up with explorers, roaming all over the unsettled West. When they finally chose somewhere to put down roots, it was Iowa. After that didn’t work for them, South Dakota seemed like a good enough place. When the Dust Bowl blew away their farm, off my Dad’s family went to upstate New York. Even that didn’t seem like a lasting prospect but the state seemed good enough, so they drifted over to the Catskills and ran a dairy farm. But after Dad joined the Army, he moved all over until he met Mom and settled in New Jersey. Even there, our lives were split between two houses. Dad, my grandfather and his brother had a business down the shore, so for six months out of the year we lived on two bodies of water: in a town on the Delaware, and for the other six month, the Atlantic.
When I grew up, I went to two different colleges in two different states. Then I moved to a generous one-bedroom in Queens. I had that place for eight years, but moved to a third floor walkup in a brownstone on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. It was a dreadfully tiny place. My bathroom had three walls, the bedroom was 6′ x 8′ (prison cells are larger), and the kitchen wasn’t much larger than a span of my arms. The living room had a lovely brick wall and fake fireplace, with giant 8′ high windows that saved the claustrophobic feel of the place. That lasted three years, when I decided that mice, broken pipes flooding my bedroom and a constant parade of cockroaches who wouldn’t chip in on the rent didn’t do it for me. So I gave that place up and took a shared sublet for three months, then moved in with two truly wonderful women for nine.
Then an amazing thing happened: the Manhattan real estate market crashed in the 1990s, and ordinary working stiffs like me could actually buy a place with very little down. I got myself a 500 square foot alcove studio in a doorman building across from a little park on the East Side on 35th Street, between First and Second Avenues. That’s Murray Hill to the outside world. And I loved it. I paid exactly $62,500 for it – you got that right – and with my mortgage and the maintenance I paid only $850 a month to live in this relatively spacious place. I felt like I arrived. I could walk to everything, even work if I wanted to. United Nations was a short hop away, so was the Empire State Building and the East River.
Then I met my husband, who decided he didn’t want to live in the City anymore, so we moved to Rockland County, NY. But our house was right behind the New York Thruway. When we bought it, we didn’t think it’d be a problem. Once summer day, a gorgeous one, we sat outside at the picnic table and I couldn’t hear a word he said, even though he sat exactly three feet away from me. The trucks downshifting erased our conversation.
So we found another place in Orange County, where it was nice and quiet. Too quiet. And far. It took my husband forever to get to work, and my job was in the same town. Eventually, I shifted jobs and then after my parents got sick, I couldn’t work. Had to drive to the Jersey Shore, from a house three hours away on a good day. After my husband left me and I wound up working for Phipp’s, I knew we had to sell the Orange County house and I had to downsize.
After a convergence of unfortunate events – both parents dying and us selling our formerly married life house – I found the little cottage you see in the picture above. With the money I received, I was able to buy it outright, no mortgage. Considering my finances weren’t great, it was a blessing. Of course, that charming little cottage came at a price. After three years, I’ve had to put in insulation (it had none whatsoever), a new waste pipe to the cesspool (yes – made of iron, too), a new furnace, two new doors, a gas fireplace (that was a luxury item – I didn’t want to deal with the wood burning fireplace it came with), painting the exterior, painting the interior, buying a new stove and dishwasher (it came with a new fridge), and landscaping, among other things.
But this place is mine, all mine, and no one can take it away from me.
Yet I wonder if it will be the last place I own. I’d really hate to move, don’t want to move, actually. This is a lovely town in a gorgeous neck of the woods, a valley surrounded by mountains with a huge lake. I’ve got the best neighbors and made wonderful friends here. I can walk to everything, and although it’s not the city, there are good restaurants and shops all within a a few blocks.
I’m not immune to looking on Zillow and seeing what else is out there. Part of it is seeing how well my little investment is faring, given that everyone from the city is emptying out and snapping up cute little places like mine for twice what I paid.
For now, though, I’d like to stay put and see what it’s like to put down a few roots. Vines travel far, but their roots grow out of one place. I’ve traveled a great deal living in so many homes, but for now, my roots are staying put, COVID or no COVID.
Besides, my friends and family are really tired of crossing out all of my addresses and changing them in their phones.