The Casa

Oh, stupid grad school. It appears to be sucking out much of my life-force. I’ll keep trying to write, but I hate to write crap, which is sort of limiting. Hmmm.  Maybe I need to change my standards.  The following is an example. Unpolished:

Let  me tell you a little story. One that’s sweet and happy.  There’s plenty of sad and mad stories to be had.

We have this rental house about a half a mile away. We have been through the emotional and financial roller coaster that is rental property. The bad tenants outnumber the good ones, but the good ones stay longer. Our latest tenants came a few years ago.  T and B were close to my parents’ age. Fifties and early sixties. He worked the night in the laundry of a local hospital, she had various part-time gigs, but kept herself busy in productive ways full time.

The lot next door had been used as a community garden before we bought the  property (we own both lots, the garden lot and the house for T and B).  We opted to keep allowing the neighborhood garden club to use the space when we bought it, but it had its own ups and downs. It was starting to be overgrown and not that well tended by the time B and T moved in.

B has a sort of free-spirit, flower-child charisma that captivates people.  She has a degree in horticulture and has kept bees. T went along affably with whatever she wanted. They had two dogs, one rottweiler, one pit bull. Together they formed what I liked to think of as a sort of hamburger factory. I pitied the fool who tried to take these two on. They liked me and my people, and I suspect they liked anyone B and T liked. In addition to the doggies, there are 3 cats, one with just one eye, who goes by the name of pirate. Living things loved this couple.

B took over coordinating the garden club and under her touch and inspiration, it flourished. She didn’t necessarily coordinate everything. She sure didn’t actually do it herself, but she made things happen. A local tree trimmer started bringing mulch, nurseries donated bushes and plants every year, people built raised beds, manure was donated and brought in.  I swear, animals came from far and wide to be near this woman.

T was a musician in his heart. We left our piano in the house and he played it almost every day. He had been kind of a rough character a while back, but had always been a good man with a good heart. He had settled into a rhythm of married life, if a slightly odd one. He slept late into the day so he could work his night shift.

T took care of B and he took care of her. She remembered things needed to get done, he made her dinner. They sweated it out in the garden every year. As the years passed, we kept their rent the same, although it didn’t quite cover the mortgage and certainly didn’t cover expenses. They were just so good for the neighborhood and were truly embedded in the house. They treated it as if it were their home. Because it was. It is.

Last summer we painted over a spot that had peeled, but didn’t get an exact match on the color. It made a dark blob on the back of the house. Within 3 days, B had traced it on paper and named it a “Carrot-nosed sprite dancing and playing the accordion” She sent the tracing along with the rent check. All of her rent checks came enclosed in a letter, maybe two pages, maybe three. Exclamation points, pictures, smiley faces and stars punctuated every letter. They detailed the wildlife that had come to their yard (turkeys, possums, crows, a white squirrel… Whatever cool thing happened, she kept us apprised of.  In addition to the letters with the rent, they always paid the rent a week or two early. I remember calling their last landlord when they applied to be renters and asked if they were good tenants. His answer didn’t make sense at the time. He sais, “They were great tenants. Almost too great. So great you might not believe it”

When T got sick early this spring, they thought it was his gallstones and diabetes, but it wasn’t. It was pancreatic cancer. I got the news from B in the alley as I was leaving from some repair work (Just so everyone knows working the night shift is a risk factor for pancreatic and a host of other cancers. Night shift work is bad for people, they should be aware of this and paid accordingly, whatever that means in a job market where any job is a blessing. )

In any case, T was going to die within months. I don’t think he even made it through his second round of chemo. They sent him home to consider his options.  B was bereft from the moment of the diagnosis. They had eked  out a life they really loved. Every time I saw them I heard how grateful they were to be living in a place where their animals could be with them, where they had a chance to help things live.

I got a call one day while T was sick. B was crying. People had been saying that she would have to find another place to live, that the house was too big for her, that she wouldn’t be able to pay the rent.  She was having trouble catching her breath, but she wanted me to know, no matter what people said, she didn’t want to move out. She’d figure out how to stay, but please, would I promise she wouldn’t have to move out when T died. Of course she wouldn’t have to move out. She assured me she had enough money to stay until the beginning of the year if rent stayed the same. We had discussed a small increase before T got sick. I assured her, she didn’t have to go anywhere, that she should take care of herself and her husband. I didn’t want to hear another thing about it until the end of the summer. At that time we’d reevaluate, and if they couldn’t afford it, we wouldn’t raise the rent.  We have a pretty open relationship. I trust she won’t try to rip me off, and she trusts me with the same thing. Somehow this works.

We put in a couple of new windows last fall and were trying to budget a time to replace a couple more, when the city fire inspection found other things to be m ore important.  One thing he wanted us to do was scrape and paint the exterior. This was on the plan for later in the summer anyway, but with the other repairs, it was looking less and less likely.  We power-washed and scraped so the house would pass inspection (no huge peeling chunks), but it looked so, so sad. The house was a monkey-shit color to begin with, but when it was power-washed and scraped it became monkey-shit with giant white and peach colored splotches.

Right before the inspector came, I got a call from one of the neighbors who was also a member of the garden club. He and the other gardeners had heard that we were cutting T and B a deal on the rent. I assume she told them. The members of the club wanted to know if I could buy paint let them volunteer to help get the house scraped and painted.  They wanted to do it for us because it would make B’s life better and they respected our willingness to flex with her.

T died about a week after that offer was made. People arrived on a Sunday morning to help work on the sad and lonely house.  I got goosebumps many times in the next few weeks. At one point we had 5 volunteers helping to scrape and paint. Gardeners who couldn’t help with painting brought us fried chicken and homemade desserts.  The house is mostly painted, except for the highest dormer.  We feel so very blessed to have been a part of this whole thing.

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