The House Hunters
By Robin Jovanovich
One can’t go through life blaming everything on the weather, but that’s where our story begins.
“What’s wrong with the weather?” asked our 4-year-old grandson, who after a few days of beating us at board games, beating the batter for blueberry muffins, and beating around the bedtime bush, wanted to do something “ginormous”.
After cold and dismal day after day after February, March, April, and most of May, we all sought warmth, light, and a change of scenery.
Our grandson happened to tell his mother, after we made him sit through a strictly mediocre production of “Peter Pan” and forced him to listen to us sing “Let’s be quiet as a mouse and build a lovely little house…” that he’d like to build a house with “Mimi” who knew about these things. In fact, he informed his parents that he was going into construction no later than age 10 with “Mr. Chris”, the family contractor.
On the way to or from nursery school he’d ask his mother to STOP if he saw a house he liked, that he knew I’d like too.
When we were babysitting for him a few months back, in the depths of bleakness and the temperature unlikely to go above 12, we took him to look at the Milton House with the red-tile roof that was conveniently for sale that he’d taken a fancy to.
“This is the house,” he announced after we’d finally made it through the snow and the ice-covered lock box. He raced up to the third floor, where he expected to find a playroom like the one he had at his house or ours. While we were figuring out how we could afford to buy this grand dame and put off changing the violet walls in the kitchen, our grandson returned breathlessly. “Mimi, it has a scary attic — and there is no playroom.”
I held his hand and walked him back up two flights. He had a point. It was an enormous space, a series of rooms, where nothing was out of place and hadn’t been touched in a good half-century. (It reminded me of Miss Havisham’s house in “Great Expectations”.)
We told the agent we’d like to look at some of the 200 other homes on the market before making our decision. But then young Peter had a change of heart. “Does the bear stay in the house?” he asked admiring a big plush one in one of the countless bedrooms.
I tried explaining that everything is a negotiation when buying and selling a house — a concept totally foreign to a child who can charm you even when he’s having a meltdown.
But he must have understood part of what I was saying because later that day, after he’d raced around a number of houses — with “partial” water views and “generously-sized” bedrooms where you couldn’t make the bed without stepping out of the room — he told me that I’d have to buy more toys for the playroom in the Greenwich house if I wanted to find a buyer. (Is he learning this stuff in preschool, I wondered.) He recommended a Paw Patrol Sea Patrol that I know his parents had told him he couldn’t have under any conditions.
The house hunting continued — for months — and he was a willing companion. There was a brown house without a pool that his grandfather and I liked precisely because it didn’t have a pool and the bricks were in good condition. And it had the perfect driveway for scooters and creating houses in chalk. But he yawned and asked when we were going to Crisfield’s for mac ‘n’cheese, which he told me in confidence is why people move to Rye.
There I was just wanting to move back to Rye for the people, the community, Rye Town Park.
In the end, my husband and I, who is recovering from a back operation and hip replacement surgery, looked at 82 houses (in person, from the driveway or the woods). I have imagined life in just about every one of them and where I’d put the 2,500 books we can’t part with, the files for the memoir I’m hoping to write about life in a great American suburb, the folders containing 45 years of home design and architectural plans, the boxes of photographs that still need sorting and arranging in albums. The stuff of life.
We miraculously sold our home in Greenwich without having to buy that Paw Patrol Sea Patrol and I’ve got my eye on a house that has plenty of space for a playroom, which I’m going to design with a very promising young builder.