I love my house. It’s big and it’s rambling and it’s taken us ten years to get it from the Graceland-Meets-The-Brady-Bunch mishmash of gold shag carpeting and avocado green appliances to what it is today: a comfortable and inviting place where we love to invite our friends. My bathtub is deep enough that I’m able to soak away the day’s stress by sitting in warm scented water up to my shoulders. My office has floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on a cluster of oak trees that were here before Madison was chartered as a city. And my sweetheart, in a Valentine’s gift he’ll never be able to top, transformed a seldom-used room next to our bedroom into a closet so large I feel like I’m shopping daily in a boutique where everything is just my size. Every moment here my eyes settle on something that conjures a memory. So why is there a For Sale sign in the middle of our yard?
It started about a month ago. My sweetheart took advantage of a lovely sunny day and drove his little red sports car out into the country while I stayed busy with a full slate of patients. He spotted a small cabin for sale on a charming lake about twenty miles east of Madison and, in a story too long to relate here, found a realtor who showed him around. I came home that night to his excited description and urges that I go take a look. When he told me it was 1,100 square feet I balked. I mean, I like the concept of downsizing as much as the next guy…but how did he expect two adults and two rambunctious pooches to cohabit happily in a third of the space we currently occupied? But you don’t get to be as happily married as I am without throwing a bone every now and then. I agreed to go see the place the next weekend. I figured I’d give the place a ten minute once over, let Sweetheart see the error of his ways, and then suggest he atone by buying me a hot fudge sundae.
Off we went on one of those days that makes you believe Wisconsin In Summer is a rough draft of heaven. We drove with the ragtop down through rolling hills of corn and soybeans gleaming delicious green against an electric blue sky. Our bodies eased into bliss as the sun warmed the muscles in our shoulders while Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty belted out their anthems to the spirit of the American prairie. Sweetheart slowed the car as we drove through the tiny village of Cambridge, past the house we purchased when we got our first real jobs after doctor school and thought it would be romantic to renovate a Victorian. (Don’t worry…we’ve snapped to our senses since THAT exercise in money burning.) He steered down a twisty country lane, came to a stop behind a small structure, and announced we were here. I smiled and headed to the front door, eager to get this over so I could dig in to my ice cream.
And then it happened. I cleared the side of the house and saw the front yard. An emerald carpet of soft lawn sloped down from large patio at the top of the hill on which I stood and ended at the water’s edge. Lake Ripley showed off her silver sparkles as the sun shimmered overhead. Tall pine trees punctuated the scene, seemingly placed in the exact spots that would deem them perfect. Children dove off docks and raced each other to floating platforms off shore. An elderly couple tooled by in a golf cart and threw us a friendly wave. Two bald eagles flew high above the maple trees surrounding the little cabin. A fire pit on the patio promised long starlit conversations while fireflies flittered by. I turned to my husband and said, “If this place has an inside, we’re buying it.”
Which explains the For Sale sign in our yard and the bane of my existence these days. We live for that sign. It dictates our days in a way children, doctor school, or even the laws of the land never could. When your house is on the market, you gotta live clean. And when I say “clean”, I mean “get it ready for a photo shoot and eliminate any trace that actual humans live here” clean. Did you just brush your teeth? Well, don’t think you’re done after the rinse-and-spit. Now you have to hide your toothbrush, scour the sink, and grab the Windex to give the entire counter a new shine. Is the dog enjoying a lazy nap on the sofa? Be sure you’re plumping up the pillows the moment he waddles off. Don’t just make your bed as you rush out in the morning. Pull and tug and smooth until any Marine drill instructor worth the stripes could bounce a quarter off the coverlet.
Meals are planned in honor of the For Sale sign. “No, we can’t have salmon tonight. There’s a showing tomorrow morning and we don’t want the house smelling like a fishing wharf. But how about I bake us a nice peach pie? That oughta smell the place up good.” Activities are planned within a ten mile radius so that we can get home fast for one last manic inspection should we get a call that somebody wants a tour. Ever do an open house when you two dogs live with you? We’re getting real friendly with every restaurant with an outdoor seating area and the pooches have eaten way too many hot dogs and burgers than is good for them.
Conversations between Sweetie and me have changed. We don’t talk about movies or books or politics these days. We talk marketing strategies, price-per-square-foot, and housing comps. I find myself pouring over the real estate section in the Sunday paper and wondering why our house has been on the market for nearly three weeks and we’ve only had one offer; an offer so far below our asking price we wondered if they were serious. Every potential buyer who’s toured has raved about our house…and yet no real offers…and the sign still runs our lives.
I choose to live in hope. “We only need one buyer” has become my mantra. I fight against the eagerness to dip my toes into Lake Ripley while sitting on our very own dock. It will happen, won’t it? It will, right?
But so far The Sign has no answers for me. It just stands there, urging me not to forget to dust my fingerprints off the computer when I’m done here.