House Hunter


Grey Dove Lane

Our old house just got put back on the market again. We are crossing our fingers that it will be sold in the spring market.

“I’d be shocked if it hasn’t sold by the end of October,” our realtor said with reassuring confidence last August.

“I’m shocked that it hasn’t sold,” she told us at the end of October.

I too was shocked that our house wasn’t immediately snatched up by a nice family, who could see how obviously pretty it was…who could sense the happiness and serenity it held for us and would surely hold for them. I feel like a parent whose child tries out for a play only to get rejected. What?! Can’t you see how gorgeous she is? Can’t you see how talented she is?! Can’t you see how perfect she would be for the lead?!  My sadness is mixed with a heaping portion of guilt, because it was me who insisted that she try out in the first place.

Late last summer we finally found the house for which we (or mostly I) had been looking for years. In anticipation of our move, I had packed up dozens of boxes, which remained stacked against a wall in our basement for years as we fruitlessly searched. There was nothing wrong with our old house. We spent ten very happy years there. For that matter, there was nothing wrong with the house we lived in for seven years before we moved to that second house. People talk of the seven year itch in the context of marriage. Our first two houses were casualties of a seven year itch of a different sort.

I’m going to blame my itchy feet on my gypsy parents, who treated moving like an everyday nuisance – like having a cold, or a hangnail. We changed houses like people change clothes. Sometimes we would stay in a place for months rather than years.

“Tell your teachers this is your last week of school,” my parents would announce with infuriating nonchalance, “We’re moving to Florida next week.” (Or Texas, or Pennsylvania, or Virginia, or Korea).

They thought it prudent to hide from us the fact that we would be moving until the very last minute. I believe this was to forestall the inevitable annoyance of having to listen to the bitter complaints and protests that would spew forth like a raging river as soon as my sisters and brother and I got wind of yet another move in our very near future. My parents explain their unwillingness to share such momentous news with us as a way of insuring that the knowledge of an impending move would not lead us to slack off in our studies. At the age of eighty and seventy-eight, they are still tormenting us with their unsettled ways. In a couple of weeks, we will see them off as they move back to Korea, after they swore that they were finally settling down forever in Arlington. One minute they say they’ll be back for good in July. The next minute they say they’ll go back to Korea for the fall semester after spending a summer in Arlington. Who knows? If there’s one thing I’ve learned to count on after all these years, it is not to count on anything they say about where they intend to live and for how long.

By the time I left for college, I’d lived in at least seven houses. Once I got to college and graduate school, I never stayed in one place for very long. I moved from dorms to apartments every year or two. When my husband and I made the move to Charlottesville and bought our first home together, I imagined that my peregrinations were at last at an end. We would spend the rest of our lives in a classic brick colonial with a spacious yard. We renovated the house. I planted a garden. I planted trees.


Our first house

But then my husband got tenure, and it was definite. We WOULD spend the rest of our lives there. The immediate and wonderful sense of relief I felt once we first knew our future was secure was tainted with a creeping, inexplicable feeling of panic. I suddenly felt an unreasonable, overwhelming need for some sort of change of location. We’d already lived in the house for longer than I had ever lived anywhere. If we were going to live in Charlottesville for the rest of our lives, I needed to move.

My husband was born in Scotland and moved to England when he was twelve. Before he left to continue his graduate studies in the U.S., he’d lived in just two houses for his entire life. He still considers the move from Scotland to have been a painful rupture with the golden age of his childhood.


House in Scotland

He abhors change of any kind. He could not fathom why I felt the need to move. But long-suffering good egg that he is, he helped me find our next house, and we lived there for ten years. (He still, by the way, speaks longingly of that first house we lived in).

There were many reasons to love our last house. It’s in a lovely neighborhood carved out of an old apple orchard. The land was never subjected to the drastic clearcutting that so often strip bare subdivisions to make way for houses. There are trails that wind through many acres of common land: woods, craggy hills, and a pretty little lake. It’s a neighborhood where people walk in the evenings, nodding to each other as they pass, stopping to give dogs pats on the head, or to chat. Friends my daughter has known for almost her entire life lived just up the hill or down the road from us.

There were compelling reasons to move however. We tended to get snowed in, which is particularly dangerous for my daughter, who needs ready access to an ER even for minor illnesses that could be weathered at home by the rest of us. We needed more space. I wanted to be closer in to town. After four out of five members of our family were diagnosed at one time or another with Lyme Disease, I wanted to move out of the woods. And after all, well…we’d been there so long.

I’ve lost track of the number of houses we looked at in a search that lasted for years. There were a couple I plunged into hopeless infatuation with along the way. Sometimes the timing wasn’t right. Some houses my husband dismissed as unsuitable for one reason or other. We finally found a house we both loved. It’s quirky, creaky, impractical, and perfect. I can’t imagine ever wanting to leave this place…At least for another ten years.



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