A Clintonville writer and his family find the perfect home.
We knew as soon as the tree crashed through our back porch and onto our garage roof that we might be in trouble. The proximity to mature trees had been one of the loveliest things about living next to a ravine in Clintonville. It was secluded and there was so much great nature around us that you sometimes forgot you lived in the city.
That dual rural-city feel was also one of the reasons our real estate agent was so sure we would quickly sell the house. It was good that he was so confident because just a few weeks earlier we had put a non-contingent offer on a house that would suit our soon-to-be expanding family.
Families tend to find a way to fit into whatever living space they are in. When my wife (Emily) and I lived on Hard Road in an apartment with our dog (Barley) we took up every inch of that space. When we moved into a house in Clintonville in anticipation of starting a family we ended up with a cat (Captain), a daughter (Isabelle), a son (Thomas) and another dog (Mia). By the time the children were old enough to be out of the nursery, it seemed as though the frame of the house would heave at night when more than two of those bodies were snoring. We knew, even though we loved that house, that we would eventually need to move, and then just shy of our 10th wedding anniversary Emily told me she was pregnant.
So we found a real estate agent to help us sell our old house near the ravine, and we began to dream about our new house with our new baby in it. It was exciting. Everyone was enthusiastic about the prospect of a bigger house. Belle and Thomas were excited about getting their own rooms. Emily wanted to finally have enough space for all of us to sit comfortably together at the dinner table. I just wanted an office that wasn’t a corner in the basement.
We found one on the southern tip of Clintonville, near the school where Belle goes and which Thomas will eventually attend. It has four bedrooms. It has an upstairs office for me. It has a much larger kitchen and dining room. It has two-thirds of an acre that leads back to a creek, so we knew when we saw it that the dogs would be happy. The owners took our offer, which was slightly less than they wanted. However, they would not accept a contingency offer that would enable us to sell our house before completing the deal. It was risky, but we thought our house was going to sell so quickly that it didn’t really matter.
What followed was both a literal and figurative storm of events that nearly ruined everything. First, there was an actual storm. Dozens of large trees fell all over the neighborhood where our old house is located. Our largest tree took out the back deck and the garage. One street over, an even larger tree crashed directly through a recently purchased house, and almost leveled the whole thing. The power lines behind us caught fire and blew up, and we were without power for almost a week.
The insurance would cover most of the damage, but we still needed to pay for tree removal and other things while trying to save as much money as possible for the down payment on our new house. Only the children slept well over the next month. Our offer had been accepted and approved, and finally we were going to have the house that we had allowed ourselves to imagine our family living in for a long time. We still had to sell the old house, though.
Owning two houses sounds fancy, but it’s terrifying if you can’t afford to do it for very long. The season was changing; the flow of prospective buyers for our old house slowed with the cooling temperatures, and neither Emily nor I knew what would happen. One snowy night we found out there would be a showing, so Emily drove the kids to the library while the dogs and I went for a walk. It was a quick showing, but on the back porch I saw that someone had written “Hello” in the snow. He made an offer, and we accepted it not long before we closed on our new house.
This story does not yet end, though. We started to move into the new house the first week of December, but there was trouble with the boiler right away. It had been cast in the first decade or so of the 1900s, and it had limped along until we bought the house. Then it unceremoniously died.
And so we moved back into the old house—which we still owned—for three weeks while an entirely new heating and air-conditioning system was installed in the new one. We slept in the old house, including my very pregnant wife, on blow-up mattresses. This is where we lived as small as possible, with very few of our belongings, for a while. Soon, the old house was sold and when the money came in, we were able to pay for the new HVAC system.
The engineering of a dream into a reality is always daunting. The outcomes of dreams that rely on the proper sequencing of other people’s actions, on Ohio’s fickle weather and on delicate financial matters are nearly impossible to predict.
Regardless of the risks and difficulties we went through, my family and I are living in our dream home with the new baby (Kathryn), whom I suspect is a dreamer as well. When the children tell the story of our new house it’s simple and exciting for them, but while they tell it, Emily and I look at each other and take a few deep breaths. It’s sustaining when the strings of a plan that were untethered find themselves once again tied into knots that can hold real weight. It’s inelegant, but it’s joyous.