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(“Keeth Residence,” photographer unknown, ca. 1930. Courtesy of Special Collections, Pikes Peak Library District. Image Number: 001-5640.)
I am on the verge of buying a house for the third time in my life, and as I move all my beloved things to yet another house for the third time in four years, I’m ready to come to terms with a longstanding addiction.
Dear listener, I am a real estate junkie; a slave to the Multiple Listing Service; a closeted weekend surfer of For Sale sites on the Internet; a devoted believer that the right house will sedate my restless soul.
For over a decade I’ve wandered the continent through real estate listings, imagining myself living somewhere other than where I really lived. I rationalized and fantasized. I came to Colorado a transplant, after all, a foreigner in this rugged land of wind and dust and rocks and snow. The house I lived in here was fine, but I believed there was a better one, a perfect one in a gentler setting, out there waiting for me if I just looked hard enough for it.
A few times, I thought I’d found it.
One year, driving cross-ountry solo after dropping my daughter off at her Rhode Island college, I took back roads through North Carolina after exiting the Blue Ridge Parkway. Rounding a hairpin curve on a winding two-lane state highway, I slammed the brakes and nearly slid my car into a ditch as I beheld my dream house, right before my bleary eyes.
Set far back from the road, the farmhouse of my dreams was a white clapboard, two-story, L-shaped frame with tall, narrow windows and a covered front porch. I pictured the tin mailbox at the end of the dirt driveway painted white, my name in black. Goats, I would have goats, and a chicken coop, and a red linoleum floor in my warped antique kitchen. I could taste the summer’s evening iced tea on the back steps as I wiped my hands on a faded apron and stared at the setting sun, a glowing red ball backlighting the slope of my modest acreage.
The next day I actually called the real estate company’s number I had copied from the For Sale sign out front. The place was in bad shape, said the agent, barely habitable but a steal at $49,500.
I returned home to Colorado and my three young sons, begrudgingly settling for their home, our home. But my real estate habit intensified. I drove across southern Colorado and northern New Mexico, down through Texas to the Gulf Coast to visit family, my eye trained in every backwater town and on every hillside for the For Sale sign that would change my life.
One year, on spring break in Galveston with my sons, now teenagers, I found the house that I was sure I would live in forever, passing my days, months, and years in a century-old Victorian with black wooden shutters, breezy hallways, looming ceilings and, most certainly, ghosts. I insisted we tour the house. It was spectacular, despite the slightly seedy surrounding block, a cramped back yard, and the view from its elegant balcony of a falling down garage and a jungle of rotting, tangled vines. Deluded, I pictured cocktails with imaginary friends on this damp, ancient veranda. My sons looked at me as if I’d lost my marbles. The price was too steep for my budget and I reluctantly let go, though the dream of this place lingered and I drove past it hundreds of times in years to come on subsequent visits to Galveston Island.
In 2008, I drove down Post Office Street to 19th to check on the house following Hurricane Ike, and was shocked to find nothing but its charred black foundation and the crumbling remains of a brick chimney. It had burned throughout the night of the storm when the streets, buried in eight feet of seething salt water, weren’t passable for fire engines.
I tried to kick the real estate habit; I became a renter. I gave up scanning the Houses For Sale section of the Sunday classifieds and found my dream house in someone else’s back yard, a 600-square foot rented cottage that met all my needs.
Now, in less than a week, I will be signing the title to a house I never went looking for, a house that came to me through family ties and shared history, through tragedy and hope, a Colorado house with ill fitting windows and weathered charm, slanted ceilings and generous views of bare treetops. I’ve adjusted my dreams to fit it. No more For Sale signs for me. This real estate junkie is going cold turkey.
Kathryn Eastburn is the author of A Sacred Feaest: Reflections of Sacred Harp Singing and Dinner on the Ground, and Simon Says: A True Story of Boys and Murder in the Rocky Mountain West. You can comment and read or listen to this column again at The Big Something at KRCC.org. “The Middle Distance” is published every Friday on The Big Something and airs each Saturday at 1 p.m. right after This American Life.
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