Making sense

Anne Lamott, on writing ...

"We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are. Sheep lice do not seem to share this longing, which is one reason why they write so little. But we do. We have so much we want to say and figure out.”

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Not just a house

Last night, scrolling through Facebook -- casually -- while watching another sad episode of Hoarders (where do they get these people?), there it was, on my husband's cousin's page: pictures of our old house, the one on Church Road,  the Louisville house, high on the hill -- thirty-five pictures of exterior and interior shots. It's on the market: $305K.
My heart immediately sank. Felt sick to my stomach.
That five-bedroom, 3,800-square foot, two-story house, with its dramatic loft and amazing laundry room (yes, laundry rooms can be amazing) and two-bedrooms-down-three-bedrooms-up-three-bath house is for sale. It sits, gloriously, like it's proud of itself, on three acres of fertile Nebraska farmland. Even though it was the house my husband and I poured blood, sweat, and tears into back in 1997 -- we nearly divorced trying to get the behemoth finished -- it's the sister-in-law that's selling it. My husband's sister, the one who looks just like him, only way prettier.
Their great-great-great-great (?) grandfather, along with his two brothers, left Germany in the mid-1850s to take advantage of America's Homestead Act. The Stander boys lay claim to several hundred acres and set up their new lives. Not knowing any English, they knew hard work and how to get crops to grow and within thirty years they were well-established farmers outside the Village of Louisville, which, currently, boasts a population of about a thousand.
My husband left the farm in 1977, a newly graduated senior, to serve in the United States Air Force. One of his brothers was already in Western Nebraska, married with a few children; two other brothers stayed in town. Not one of the boys chose farming. One sister took to nursing in Lincoln; the other married, had two boys and got a job as an LPN in a nearby small-town clinic. Their mom, sadly widowed at age 50, remained in a house on the original homestead. She never remarried.
My husband, whom I married in 1985, told me early on, when I asked, that there weren't enough acres to farm successfully -- the land had been parceled too many times to great-uncles and uncles -- and each time there was fighting and gnashing of teeth. That's not how it's going to be with me and my siblings, my husband said. All that fighting stops with us. And, apparently, it has. No one has fought over or is currently fighting to keep what remains of the original homestead.
His sister, who never married, is living in the gargantuan house we put there in 1997 -- she and my mother-in-law, who's now 84 and getting frailer and less mobile. That's why the SIL is selling the house. Neither she nor her mother, obviously, are in good enough physical condition to maintain the large home and the three acres it's sitting on. If you've never been to Nebraska, let me tell you now that the winters there are harsh -- lots of blizzards -- and the wind never seems to stop blowing, pick a month, any month, and it's windy as hell most days.
We had lived in the house (that nearly destroyed our marriage) only a year and a half when my husband got a job transfer back to Kansas City. To be frank, I was okay with the move. You can take a girl out of the city, but you cannot take the city out of a girl, and let's just say that I was not destined for rural life. One day I will write multiple essays about my failed prairie life existence. You will laugh a little (there was a bull with a ring in his nose that lived next door ... he hated me and tried to kill me on multiple occasions); you will cry a little (I missed my family; I missed grocery stores; I missed neighbors). One of the essays will feature a totally true telling of the Red-Eyed Locusts Outbreak of 1997. Scary shit.
What I did feel bad about was selling the house that sat on homesteaded land. Before the Stander boys put down their stakes, only Native Americans roamed that part of the prairie. For me, it was a Pretty Big Fucking Deal that the house stay within the Stander family. After much advocacy and a dangled financial carrot (we lost $40,000 on the transaction), we "sold" the property to my husband's sister. She and my husband's mother moved in together. And they stayed there for the next fifteen years.
Only now Catherine is officially old, and Mary Kay is no spring chicken AND she has bad knees and is looking at retirement (she's 63?) and wants a way smaller house, one she can manage, and to get that way smaller house, she's going to move into town. Louisville.
Which explains why the beautiful home sitting at 34410 Church Road in Louisville, Nebraska, is for sale.
What is not fully explained to me is why I care so much. I'm not the Stander. Yeah, I married one, but my (Irish-immigrant) McDowell blood still runs through my veins. I am a city girl through and through. I have zero desire to return to that house to live in it (nice to visit; wouldn't want to live there). Would be nice, I think, to keep it in the family ... if I had $305K lying around I'd buy the house and turn it into a writers retreat. There are private bedrooms with built-in desks and sweeping, panoramic views of the prairie. Sunsets are particularly gorgeous. A person could get a lot done staying in that house for a month, two months. There's no Starbucks, no nearby shopping Plaza to distract. There are several bars in town to get a drink-on, but that's to be expected. Small-town life generally features equal amounts of churches and bars.
So I'll play the lottery hard -- the old college try -- but I know it won't be long before a non-Stander comes buy and snatches it up. The property is certainly priced to sell, fast.
It really is a beautiful, expansive, spacious, comfortable house. One with 150-plus years of German immigrant history.
I wish it, and the next family to enjoy it, all the best.

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