Thursday, June 2, 2011

"Get Real!" (The Mystical Story of Our House)

[Candid photo of my pump house built on three cistern tanks. Setting the ridge on a double hip roof all by myself was not easy. Wish I had removed the metal fence railing first...but oh well, that's what makes it candid. Also note the new (last year) septic cover. I decided against making custom chamber lids and used potted cacti instead.]

I do not consider myself to be a very mystical person, but here is somewhat of a mystical (and true) story.

In November of 1991 the family was driving to Mesa, Arizona to spend the night at Diane and Bill’s house for Thanksgiving. I was driving, Pam was in the passenger seat and the three kids were in the back. As we drove eastbound on Highway 8, everyone dozed off while I enjoyed looking at terrain that I had never before seen. Pam woke up to enjoy the drive through the rocky gorge on the border of San Diego and Imperial Counties. We descended 4000 feet to the low desert and wide-open desert sky. We were in a lonely and desolate part of the world. The landscape was sparsely dotted with creosote bushes, ocotillos, and other dead-looking shrubs as far as the eye could see.

After about 15 miles of driving in the flat desert, I suddenly saw deep-green, lazer-leveled fields. We drove another 10 miles through this greenness with very little sign of human life or development when suddenly I saw a house a quarter mile north of the freeway and I came out of my pensive stuppor and blurted out,
“Look!..There is a house!…I wonder what people do here…How would you like to live in a house like that? (Of course, I was kidding.)
Pam came out of her stuppor and bluntly said,
“Get real.”
We returned to our thoughts as we passed through the humble City of El Centro.


Fast forward to spring of 92.

I was looking at job opportunities in the state of California community college system and noticed a job announcement at Imperial Valley College. I had already taught part-time at Mira Costa College for two years and had formed the opinion that teaching at the community college was the best kept secret in all of education. I applied and got the job.

I started teaching at IVC in August 1992. At first I had to commute or spend nights at a friend's house (David Bates) while I looked for a house to buy or an apartment to rent.

I drove many miles around Imperial County and explored each of the dispersed communities. Soon I narrowed my search to west El Centro, then I began driving every street, including country streets, looking for For Sale signs. I saw an old country house for sale that I liked about a quarter mile north of the freeway, just west of town.

The house had been listed for only a week. I called Pam and described it to her and asked if she wanted me to go ahead and make an offer without her seeing the house first. (My sense was that this house would not last long.) She said she trusted my judgment and so I made the offer and we got the house.

The house was 80 years old, made of adobe, on three acres with the nearest neighbor a quarter mile away, in the direction of growth, in the district of the county’s best school, just outside the edge of the city limit, across the street from a fresh water canal, with quick back road access to CostoCo and WalMart, with no close-by dilapidated structures except our own.

After signing escrow papers and getting the keys, we entered the house as a family and walked around. Then I gathered the kids together and said, “let’s have a screaming contest.” Alison, the reigning champion, would go last. After each took a turn, Alison let out a scream that was about 50% louder than everyone else’s which made everyone laugh in amazement. Then we had a group scream…because we could. No more would we have neighbors who would ask us to keep our kids quiet.

Before I made very many improvements I overheard Erik tell one of his friends that "We live in a wrecked-out old house." I was a little sensitive to this critique and slowly I tried to improve the house as time and money would allow.

When Alison was about seven years old and we had our finances under control and our future looked easy, I remember one night walking out to the goat’s field under the clear desert sky and thinking that Pam and I could get old now and have no problems. Or we could have more kids. Though I didn’t bring it up to Pam, I thought that this was the kind of house in which to raise kids and we were the kind of people to do it. We had two more kids.

We were living in the Walden-equivalent of the desert, not for two years but for decades. (The book Walden by Henry David Thoreau is a favorite of mine.)

Now here is the mystical part. I have driven the freeway on the west side of El Centro looking at all the houses that are visible to the north (of which there are almost none) and wondering which was the house that roused me as we drove past on that Thanksgiving-Day drive in 1991. While trying to be as objective as possible, I have come to the conclusion that we did indeed buy the very same house.

We moved in during the Thanksgiving holiday 1992.

Since then I have continued looking for another house but have never found one and have never regretted buying our old home. Recently, since the housing bubble burst, I have looked to see what kind of bargains might be found.

Pam, sensing this, said,
“Remember, buying another house is a group decision and I like living here.”
And so we remain, happy in our way.

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