Climbing up on Solsbury Hill
I could see the city light
Wind was blowing, time stood still
Eagle flew out of the night
He was something to observe
Came in close, I heard a voice
Standing stretching every nerve
I had to listen had no choice
I did not believe the information
Just had to trust imagination
My heart going boom boom, boom
“Son,” he said, “Grab your things, I’ve come to take you home.”
— “Solsbury Hill”
This is the story of a husband, a wife and a baby. It’s an exciting tale of adventure, intrigue and interstate moves. And a squirrel.
Our tale begins in the year 2003, when the real estate market was like a freakin’ candy store on crack. Everybody was drinking the escrow Kool-Aid, trying not to think about how a person without a job and bad credit could possibly be approved for a $500,ooo mortgage loan. Amidst all of this, a husband and a wife bought a house.
The house was old. Very old. Like, built the year the wife’s mother was born old. But the wife had a fondness for old houses, and she fell hopelessly in love with this one. She loved the creaky hardwood floors, the crown moulding, the tee-tiny doorknobs. She loved the enormous trees surrounding it, and the way the evening light fell through its picture window. Never mind that it was painted battleship gray and had one air conditioning unit for 2,200 square feet. Never mind that it was built with a basement in an area where humidity reigns like a plague upon the land. To her, the house had a soul.
And the husband? Well, it was early in the marriage, and the husband was still being told what he liked.
So the husband and wife moved into their new home. They did some painting and some minor fixing and relaxed on their back deck, drinking beer and not believing that it was really all theirs. They were happy.
Soon, as it always does, reality came calling. Minor projects became major projects. Expensive projects. Endless, expensive projects. The house revealed itself to be very needy. It needed a new roof. It needed new floors. It needed a new HVAC unit. It needed and needed and needed until the husband and wife began to dislike the house. The wife especially disliked it. Her soulful house with its nostalgic charm had turned on her. It was now just decrepit.
One day, the husband and wife heard a dripping sound coming from the fireplace in the living room. Their cats had been crowding around it for days, which was never a good sign. They gingerly opened the flue and an unfortunate squirrel, covered in maggots and other disgustingness fell with a soggy thump into the grate, its face drawn up into a rictus of terror and death. This only confirmed for the wife something she had long suspected: the house was possessed by a demon that wanted to kill them all.
They decided to try and sell the demon house. Unfortunately, the crack-laced real estate market had now tanked, and the party was over. Well, it was over for most people. For those in high places, it was still very much going on, but that’s another story. Anyway, the house wouldn’t sell. Strangely, no one wanted to buy a decrepit 60-year-old house with a leaky basement when they could buy a half million dollar mansion for fifty cents. Although it disappointed them both, the husband and wife decided to admit defeat and stay where they were. The wife tried to find some consolation in one of her sisters’ living very close. Also, the neighborhood provided endless entertainment, including a man who mysteriously and constantly felt the need to burn stuff in his backyard, some derelict Hurricane Katrina displacees who eventually became targets of a sting operation by the local police and a poor soul whose only method of transportation due to many DUI’s was a motorized cart. It was like living inside a Faulkner novel.
A few years later, the husband and wife welcomed to the world a beautiful baby girl who changed every single thing in their lives. The husband, tired of dealing with the tyrannical yet inept management of his current employer decided to completely change careers. He went back to school, obtained the necessary certifications and began to look for a job. He was soon hired by an up and coming company who put him to work at the ground level with the technical support team. It was demanding work, but the husband was up to the task. He saw a future with this company.
The wife, after a very brief maternity leave, went back to work. Realizing she was also in need of a change, she quit her job with her current employer and went to work for a company and a boss who understood how difficult it can be to be a working mom. Yet even though her boss was sympathetic and her baby was left every day in the care of people who loved her like their own grandchild, the wife felt pulled in too many directions. Never having much interest in a career, she had always worked for the paycheck and to feed her addiction to office supplies. She longed for her baby and often thought of all the time she was missing with her while at work. She hated it.
After a year or so, things began really progressing for the husband. He was doing very well at work and being recognized for it. After being promoted out of the call center, he was taken under the wing of a lady who saw the husband’s potential. Finally, he was working at something that felt important. People listened to him and valued his opinion. His star was rising, and things could only get better.
Or worse. The first time he mentioned Florida to his wife, they were enjoying dinner out alone. After acquiring another software company in the Sunshine State, the company was moving their entire sales team there. They were talking about taking him along. It was an incredible opportunity to prove himself even more and continue to impress some very important people. If he went, he would surely become even more successful. If not, he would be pounding the pavement in an impossible job market. The wife looked down at her plate of boneless buffalo wings and realized she would have to make one of the hardest decisions of her life. She said she would think about it and ordered another margarita or five.
The wife was born in North Carolina and had lived there all her life. She never saw herself living anywhere else. The people, the places, the pine trees. The beaches, the mountains, Trader Joe’s. Changing seasons, drinking sweet tea, saying “y’all”. How could she give all that up to move to a place that was as far south as one could get geographically yet was not of the South? Not to mention the fact that they would be leaving every single person they knew and loved. Family and friends were so important, and she really hated to think that the baby wouldn’t grow up around them.
She told the husband all of this. She cried. He told her gently that he would do whatever she wanted to do. Yes, he loved his job, and it was very important to him, but her happiness was more important. He would leave the decision up to her but reminded her that she would be able to stay home with the baby, something she had always wanted. She swallowed hard. It was the only thing that would make such a monumental change worth it. They had to go.
They waited with bated breath for two months to see if the husband would be formally offered the job. As each day passed, the wife was alternately convinced of a new scenario playing out. She imagined both as she drove to work, cooked dinner, stared off into space at her desk: the company would offer him the job and a web of sadness would fall over her entire world as she was whisked away from everything that was familiar, safe and loved. Or the company wouldn’t, and she would have to see her husband’s expression as he delivered the news, knowing that everything he had worked so hard for was leaving without him. Imagining either scenario made her sick to her stomach. Nutella and reruns of Frasier provided a little comfort, but she was still a wreck.
Finally, the company told the husband their decision: they wanted him to go. He called the wife from a sales trip to tell her as she was leaving work. She backed into a car in the parking deck, and took it as a sign. Her husband asked her how she felt. She smiled and told him she was grateful for the tremendous gift he had given their family. To be a stay-at-home mom was what she had dreamed of but never thought possible. She thanked him for handing it to her on a silver platter. After putting the baby down that night, she poured a big glass of wine and sat down to watch The Blind Side. She felt numb and wondered what Sandra Bullock would do. After the movie was over, she grabbed her jar of Nutella and a spoon and went to bed.
For the first time in a long time, the wife woke up the next morning knowing what was coming. The cards were all on the table now. As was her way, she dealt with things by doing things. Remember the demon house? It now had to go. Had to. Being rid of it was a bright side. The husband and wife and their parents all banded together to fix the mother up. The battleship gray was replaced by a nice cream color. The crumbling back deck was patched up and re-stained. Various other structural things that the wife can’t remember now were done. And the wife cleaned like she had never cleaned before. A realtor’s sign went up in the front yard, and they waited.
The house was priced right, and it showed well. People seemed to like it. The wife could feel the frustrated rage of the demon. Surely it would sell this time. They came up with a timeline of six months. If it didn’t sell by then, they would rent it out. In the meantime, the company wanted the husband in Florida right away. Although it would be hard to be apart, the husband and wife knew the best thing financially was for the wife to keep working while the husband moved to the townhouse they had leased in Florida. Also, the wife was stalling. Big time.
Over the next six months, the wife developed a whole new appreciation for single moms. In the interest of total honesty, there were times when she wanted to get in the car after work and just keep on driving. Maybe she would get a job as a cocktail waitress in Vegas. Or, no, a blackjack dealer! Yeah! And she’d trade in the Civic for a little red convertible and live in the Bellagio with room service and laundry service and…and…God, she was tired. So tired. She’d pay someone $500 to unload the dishwasher and put the baby to bed.
Finally, they had an offer on the house. A real, solid offer. The husband and wife couldn’t believe it. No, they really couldn’t, and they wouldn’t until the new deed was recorded.
One evening about a week before they moved, the wife was standing on the front lawn, taking pictures of the demon house. Despite the animosity she felt towards it, she wanted the baby to have some memories of where she was born and spent the first three years of her life. She pointed her phone at the house and the setting sun shining through the pecan trees in the backyard, illuminating the house from behind in a soft twilight glow. A warm breeze blew, caressing her face with the scent of spring earth and grass. A neighbor’s dog barked in the distance and she heard a screen door slam. She paused for a moment to look at the house. She thought of the months of time they had spent there since putting it up for sale. She remembered all the last visits to the people and places she loved – the days and weeks she had had to prepare to leave.
Slowly, she began to understand. The house looked back at her and she heard it quietly say, “Thank you. Thank you for filling me with all of your love, laughter, hopes and dreams. Thank you for choosing me 8 years ago when so few would have. I’ve given you the only thing I could in return: time to say goodbye.”
The day came for she and her sister to make the trip to Florida. She packed up their little Honda Civic with plants, cleaning supplies and their very nervous cat, Sam. They had given Sam a large dose of Xanex to help the furriest member of their family chillax during the long ride. It hadn’t worked, and the wife considered it a waste of perfectly good Xanex. The husband and baby were to fly separately, as no one wanted to discover how well a 3-year-old would handle an 11-hour car ride. Incidentally, the house closing was scheduled for the same day. The husband and wife left it up to fate and their realtor.
About halfway through South Carolina, the wife received a call from their realtor’s office who informed her that the closing was over, and the deed was recorded. The new owners were in the process of moving in. The wife smiled and thought, “Good luck, old girl.” Then she looked her sister in the passenger seat and hollered, “Woohoo! I have squeegeed my last flooded basement!”
A week later, they were settled into their new Florida home. As the days passed, the wife began to realize that a whole new world was opening up to her housewise. Their pretty little townhouse needed no new siding, the kitchen floors weren’t sloped, and, check this out, it was very well insulated! One could lie on the couch and not feel hot or cold air pouring in from the windows above! Extraordinary! And their balcony overlooked a charming courtyard with a big, beautiful oak tree, tropical plants, Adirondack chairs and a bubbling fountain. And they didn’t have to maintain ANY of it! And, AND if something did go wrong, all they had to do was call the landlord. For example, there was a problem with the air conditioner, and the landlord sent someone to fix it the next day. And someone else paid for it! They had reached housing Nirvana.
The wife set about doing what she had alway dreamed of: decorating. Instead of purchasing paint and plywood at Home Depot, the wife and baby spent long, joyful hours at Bed, Bath and Beyond, Michael’s, Target and Steinmart, gathering many delightful things that would surround them in beauty and happiness. And the husband got to come home to a grinning wife who exclaimed, “Looky what I got today!” instead of weary wife who moaned, “The ice maker broke today, and the kitchen floor is covered in water. I hate this house!”
The city surrounding the townhouse wasn’t bad, either. In fact, it was pretty awesome. To paraphrase Carrie Fisher, “If you get the chance to move to Clearwater, Florida — DOOO IIIT!” Everywhere you looked there were waving palm trees, deep blue skies and sparkling waters. There was almost always a sea breeze, and, speaking of the sea, they were a five-minute drive away from it. In fact, they were close to everything. They could walk to several restaurants, including a cozy Irish pub and an Italian place with delicious pizza and homemade gelato. Very often they took evening strolls through the neighborhood across the street from their townhouse. Under huge trees hung with swaying Spanish moss they walked, trying to see inside the old houses, picking dandelions and dodging sprinklers. At the end of their walk was a public dock where they could gaze across the waterway at the twinkling lights that dotted the beach bridges and highrises and watch the boats sail lazily by. All of this was backlit by a spectacular setting sun, painting the sky in deep pinks, purples and blues. It was sort of an okay way to end the day.
One of the things they had worried about was how the baby would adjust to the move. After all, she had been totally uprooted from everything that was familiar to her and moved to a place and a routine that was entirely different. The wife dreaded the day when the baby looked up at her and tearfully said she wanted to go home. The baby did have moments of missing her friends and family. And there were tears. The husband and wife comforted her as best they could and tried to gently explain that she could make new friends in Florida and still go visit her old friends in North Carolina. The baby was skeptical at first, but soon learned they were right. She was making new friends. The wife had joined up with a mom’s group, which was invaluable in helping them meet lots of new people and learn about the abundance of fun things to do in the area. And there were lots of kids in her neighborhood with which to play. Soon, she started preschool where she got to revel in the organized educational activities which had always been so near and dear to her heart. Her family came from North Carolina to visit her often, and she enjoyed showing them all the fun things she liked to do in her new home. She was happy.
As for the wife, she was adjusting well, too. Very well. Her dream of becoming a stay-at-home mom had finally been made a reality, thanks to her wonderful, marvelous, fabulous husband, to whom she would remain eternally grateful. She kept waiting for the day when she realized that quitting work was a big mistake, but that day never came. She absolutely and without exception adored staying home, keeping house and taking care of her husband and baby. And she also discovered that moving to a new place was in fact a blessing in disguise. She was making her own way in her own way for the first time in her life. She felt excited, independent and like a grown up lady. One morning in the shower she realized that she was as happy as she had ever been. Her cup ranneth over.
So, that’s the story of the husband, the wife and the baby, who set out on a great adventure and learned that fear is temporary but regret is forever, that home is a feeling not a place and that you should always, always put a cap on your chimney.