A few years ago… well, almost a decade now, I was a Realtor. I was a little past twenty, freshly divorced and still reeling from the death of dreams, and did fairly well the year before the bottom dropped out of the housing market. At least, I went from making $8K a year to $15K, and to me that was a grand success.
One day I received a call from a girl who said she wanted to go look at a house about 30 minutes out from the Indiana town I called home. She was visiting from Chicago, where she was attending college, and wanted to know if I could show her the house at 8:30 the next morning. Well, of course I agreed, despite the fact that mornings generally didn’t start until 11 a.m. and three cups of coffee later.
So the next morning I drove my old rickety Dodge Neon out of town, enjoying the frigid air and the chirping birds. Winter lasts forever in Indiana, so I made it a habit to blast my heater while the windows were rolled down. Voila, faux spring. I held my Mapquest directions in one hand and my coffee in another, guiding the steering wheel with my palms. Every time I felt like I was in the middle of nowhere, I took another left, until I was driving along a dirt road in hyper-rural Middle America and ended up at a very old farm. Complete with a couple of chickens.
They were already waiting for me when I arrived, and I wasn’t even late (for once). I tugged on my trying-too-hard-to-look-professional pink skirt suit and made my introductions, discovering that the girl’s companion was her father. She held on to him.
We circled the house as I read off the description of the property, noting the vegetable garden on the side and the chickens that came with the house. They nodded, pointing and whispering, smiling. I smiled too, pleased with myself for being such a fantastic house-shower.
Inside, the house was damp, old. It was still occupied, apparently, evidenced by a pair of dentures resting in an amber glass and fuzzy slippers on the bathroom floor. That didn’t phase the pair, who looked adoringly at every nook and cranny of the home.
“Is there an attic?” the father asked softly, his eyes wide. I glanced at my sheet of paper, seeing that yes, there was a finished attic in this old farm house. He asked to see it.
The door to the attic was behind the olive green sofa, and when I went to open it, it didn’t budge. Not even a little. I shrugged, suggesting that maybe they kept it locked. He shook his head.
“You just have to lift the door a little when you turn the knob,” he said. “The humidity makes it stick.”
He lifted, opened, poked his head inside and smiled. “I hoped that someone would finish it,” he said.
Thoroughly confused, I looked at his daughter. She blushed.
“We used to live here,” she said.
“Oh!” I said, not sure what else to say.
“I built this attic for my wife,” her father said. “Before the — before we — before the Divorce.”
He went up the stairs. The girl walked off toward the kitchen, looking out the back window.
“They did a lot to the place,” she said. “We used to eat by this window all the time. Looks like they refinished the cabinets. I think the counter might be new too.”
It did not look new to me.
It slowly dawned on me that this pair may not be interested in buying the house. But then she said, “I’m moving back home when I finish school. I had been living with my mom, after she got remarried. But —”
Her father came back down from the attic, his eyes red and puffy. But he was smiling.
“They did a good job,” he said, tapping the counter. “I’m glad somebody’s been enjoying the place. Oh, they re-did the kitchen!”
“They added a whole wing to the house, dad,” she said.
They talked about the new wing, describing what the place used to look like. It now had three bedrooms, two baths, an attic and a basement. It used to have one room and a kitchen. Which is why he built the attic. His wife was going crazy living in such a small house, but he did his best to make a little more money, build a little more space.
I went outside, giving them time to talk, look, reminisce. When they came back out, they both shook my hand, thanking me for taking the time to show them their old home. Both had tears in their eyes.
I walked back to my car, shuffling through my paperwork and taking a few notes before I headed back to the office. I overheard them as they gazed out over the cornfield behind the house.
“She would want you to come to the memorial service,” she said, holding on to him. He shook his head. And I remember this so clearly.
“No,” he said. “This was her memorial.”
A shock went through me as I realized the depth of what I had witnessed that cold Indiana morning. I drove off, pulled over and cried like a baby.