I was with Charles on the way to what seemed like the hundredth house we were going to look at. (Charles is one of my best friends, and a terrific contractor. He figures heavily in these narratives, so remember his name.) Glinda had gotten to the house a bit early and she phoned me to say she was there and looking around. She said it seemed like a nice place, a typical Chicago two-flat which, for anyone who doesn’t know, is a building with two apartments, what is known in some parts of the country as a “duplex.” She said she was going around to the back to look at the yard.
I heard the gate squeak and then I heard her say, “Oh, it’s cute!” Mind you, it was February, so the cuteness level had to have been pretty high to elicit that sort of response. But she was right, it was cute; really, it was more than cute, it was perfect. I think we both had that sense when we wandered through the apartments, and even when we made our way rather hesitantly through the awful basement which was like a rabbit warren filled with tiny rooms and corridors that led nowhere, and a bathroom so awful, I don’t think I’d have asked my worst enemy to pee there. It felt right. We both had that sense right from the get go.
More to the point, Charles couldn’t find anything wrong with it, and he’d put the kibosh on several of the other places, like the one with the stairs so steep they were nearly a ladder, the porch so rickety he was afraid to walk on it, and a dirt-floor basement so cramped he couldn’t stand upright without bumping his head on the ceiling. All Glinda and I saw was the porch swing, the rose bushes, and the big windows that let in a lot of light. Thank God for Charles, something I’ll probably be saying a lot on this blog. By the way if you’re wondering what Charles looks like, think a young Duke Ellington.
So how did we get to this point? Well, I’d just come off of a 15-year stint as a caregiver for my parents. I was left with a little money in the bank and a piece of property which turned out to be the last one in that particular stretch of city block that hadn’t been bought by a large business. In other words, it was the one they’d pay almost anything for. I made sure they did. The reasons for that are complex, and not entirely about money, so we’ll just move on for the time being. Though I might tell you the story someday. Glinda was living near Lincoln Square and had recently started working in insurance. While she was out of work, she was kind enough to come by and help me sort and sell/donate/gift the 80+ years of stuff my folks had collected. When I started talking about buying a new place, she listened politely to my plans, which were mostly just me thinking out loud, then she said, “Have you considered buying a two-flat?”
|Glinda and the bathtub of coffee|
I was thrilled. I’ve known Glinda since the 1980s and she’s one of my dearest friends, and also one of the funniest people I know. Many years earlier, when she was a building manager, she would call me up in the morning and read me the newspaper. For someone who had seriously been considering senior housing, the idea of sharing a place with a good friend was wonderful. There would always be someone close by who cared whether we lived or died, but we wouldn’t be all up in each other’s business all the time. And I knew we’d laugh a lot; with Glinda around there is no way I will be going gentle into that good-night. The other important thing was that we share similar values and aesthetics. We weren’t going to clash on how things would be done or what they looked like.
We started looking at housing listings, and amassed a huge lot of building profiles based on separate apartments and nothing too far off a bus or rail line. We hired a Realtor and began to look. And look. And look. Some of the stuff we saw… You can’t imagine, you just can’t. Watch House Hunters and then picture the places being looked at with garages that are falling down, floors that bounce, air ducts installed below the ceilings and basements turned into not one but several apartments with rooms the size of airplane lavatories. And those were only the structural issues. I’ll ask Glinda to tell you about some of the other stuff we encountered.
I was starting to think that we’d never find a suitable building and then we found this place. The inspection came up clean, my bid was accepted and I closed on the sale in mid-February. When I met the owners at the title office, I discovered that they were sisters who had inherited the building from their parents. One of them cried as we signed the papers and I knew how she felt. I hadn’t gone to the closing on my parents’ building; I couldn’t stand to. I told her that we both loved the house, that we felt it had been a happy one and she said that it had. I think she left there feeling better about the sale. I hope she did anyway.
At some point either just before or just after we moved in, at the beginning of March, we decided the house needed a name. All good houses need proper names after all We played with a lot of ideas, but the one that stuck was “Villa Allegra.” There’s one reason for that which I’m not going to share because it has to do with where we’re living, but the main reason is that it translates to “House of Happiness.” It’s what we wanted this place to be. We both suffer from depression and we truly needed the promise of this house to be a good one. So far so good.
The point of this blog is to talk about what it’s been like living here together. It’s about the house, the garden, our neighbors, our ambitions and our dreams. It’s about being women getting older in this society. It’s about the process of learning to live in new ways and in a new place. We hope you’ll enjoy it.
Okay, Glinda, it’s your turn.
|Me. Clearly Glinda and I love our coffee.|