Assorted Stuff and a Hot Punch Bowl

I may never know the “rest of the story,” but I know that bowl holds memories. I carefully packed each piece, then marked FRAGILE on all sides of the box. The moving company would handle this. It was worth the extra money.

While Dale camped in our new home, I triaged through 35 years of stuff.  If I felt no connection to an item or I couldn’t remember where I got it or the story behind it, the item went to Goodwill, which thankfully took my piles and piles of junk. Good junk, though including White, Pfaff, and Viking sewing machines. Years earlier, I rescued the machines from defunct Home Ec classes, one per each daughter, but the machines sat silent in the garage, waiting for a young girl to create a masterpiece worthy of Project Runway, which of course never happened.

Goodwill attendants, God bless them, smiled as I handed them:

  • Boxes of empty mason jars—wide lids, small lids, half pints, pints, quarts, some Ball, some “real” Mason—during Christmas filled with Olallieberry jam, mixed berry jam, apricot or other apricot iterations, given to family and friends, then returned to be refilled with more deliciousness from our garden.
  • Boxes of 1970s college texts—both mine and Dales—and while many of our classes were the same, the texts and editions differed.
  • Pool toys and noodles and inflatables
  • Flower pots and vases
  • 4H memories of our kids’ animals—pairs of pig boots (each of our three girls raised pigs, each needed a pair of boots), pig feeder, a lamb box, lamb halter, lamb covers, sheers
  • Plastique—Tupperware I rarely used. The random lids and/or mismatched bottoms I tossed into the recycle bin, as well as my class notes from UCSD and UCLA, spirals upon spirals, folders upon folders of lesson plans I’d never use. Why did we hang on to this stuff for so long?

Then, there was the “Hot Punch Bowl”—

In 1990, our first year in Indian Springs, a sweet Romanian family lived across from us. Georgiana, the mother, and I became friends over recipes, her goulash for my Mexican torte or my carrot cake for her chocolate brownies. We commiserated over working parenting woes; she ran her own catering business and I taught high school. I learned a smattering of Romanian and she improved her nearly fluent English. We shared traditions; we celebrated Christmas, New Years, and other family parties together.  Their high school daughter became our go-to babysitter, and we encouraged Rosanna to speak Romanian to our small children.

Suddenly one Friday, we arrived home from work to find a large rental truck loading everything from their two-story home. Georgiana, the mother, said they needed to return quickly to Romania for family and personal reasons.  She seemed distraught and I told her I was sorry to see them go. Her parting gifts to me—a delicately embroidered tablecloth from her native country, and a punch bowl, and I gave her something, too, but I have no idea what it was. The house emptied quickly; by weekend’s end, Georgiana and her family gone. We exchanged a few Christmas cards and letters, eventually nothing.

For weeks, realtors poured in and out and hosted Open Houses; two months later, we had new neighbors. This newlywed couple eventually became our good friends, too, although we missed Claudius, Georgiana, Sergei, Florie, and Rosanna. Through the years, I thought of Georgiana and her family at each party, especially at Christmas or New Years, or whenever I pulled out the magnificent crystal punch bowl she gave me. A heavy, crystal mount, cut in the same intricate design, accompanied the fancy bowl, as well as dainty crystal cups and a ladle. Guests at our parties ooh’d and aah’d at the treasure. Somehow, it made the champagne punch on New Years or Sangria at summer parties taste much better.

It was nearly five years later, when Mike, our “new” neighbor, casually updated us on the people before them. I don’t recall how the conversation took such a turn, but I clearly remember the indictment he made of the previous owner, our friends, our “extended family.”

Mike—You heard about the people who owned this house, right?

Me—No, they haven’t written in a few years. I don’t know what happened to them. I only know they returned to Romania.

Mike smiled, which grew into a sort of chuckle, as he leaned over to prune their climbing roses. We often talked while gardening in the front yard—our house or theirs.

Mike—They’re on the lamb, they’re wanted.

Me—No, wait? What? No, seriously?

Mike—It was in the paper. Father’s wanted for embezzling, Mother’s wanted for stealing from her wealthy clients.

Me—

Actually, I don’t think I replied. Too stunned I suppose. Not these wonderful people, who escaped the regime in Romania for asylum in the United States. I reflected on their business, catering in a wealthy part of town, and the bowl bestowed on me. I may never know the “rest of the story,” but I know that bowl holds memories. I carefully packed each piece, then marked FRAGILE on all sides of the box. The moving company would handle this. It was worth the extra money.

Where to Begin

Between stripping, nailing, painting, and caulking, Dale “squeegeed” the garage of the torrents of water that flowed down our practically precipitous driveway, and just one more problem we faced.

Dale’s work on our mountain home—where to start—on a place that sat untouched for seven years? Seven seasons of uncontrolled plant growth, seven years of hurricane winds that stripped paint and battered siding, seven years of rodents and spiders who made a home in our home, seven seasons of neglect inside and out made for an extensive list.

Dale first tackled the inside painting. This, and the removal of the red, paisley flocked wallpaper a la 1960s, kept him busy while I prepped our Indian Springs home.  A golden knotty pine framed doors and windows of the entire house and our choice of “Open Arms”—a soft, mellow yellow, almost a butter color, blended deliciously. I was relieved when I received the picture, after the fact, of the finished vaulted ceiling and Dale in complete climbing gear, minus the helmet which he claimed he removed to take the picture.

Dale in climbing gear

Before we could enjoy this house, the basics, e.g. solar panels for electricity required priming. While workers installed a new inverter, Dale focused on the inside of the house. The showers and tubs drained slowly or not at all, so plumbers labored on that—basically, calcium and other mineral deposits clogged the house after years of disuse. A “water softener” guy worked on the water softener. A “propane” guy restored and refueled the gas tank. Our purchase of the deluxe home warranty paid off with the dishwasher and oven, two of the many appliances that hadn’t been tested or used in years, and needed fixing.

Finally, November can be an Indian summer of scorching temperatures and raging wildfires, or as happened last year, an El Nino of rains and floods. A flood, not one or two, more like five floods, soaked the boxes that survived the trek from Indian Springs to our mountain home. Between stripping, nailing, painting, and caulking, Dale “squeegeed” the garage of the torrents of water that flowed down our practically precipitous driveway, and just one more problem we faced.

 

 

Escrow Times Two

Once we decided to move, we packed with a mission—daily Goodwill donations of books we read or never will, “beloved junk” including vases from flowers long gone and Mason jars of assorted sizes delivered to neighbors, texts sold back to CSU Monterey Bay for much less than we paid. My arbitrary goal—packing four boxes/day quickly added to twenty boxes stacked high in the garage—making our house seem spacious and the garage like a hoarder’s.

We worked with two government agencies, Fannie Mae since the house we were buying was a foreclosure, and the Veteran’s Administration for Dale’s V.A . Loan and both followed strict time lines and rules. Of course, the timelines and rules applied only to us, the buyers, since we’d submit immediately then wait days for any response. Buying a foreclosure and pursuing a veterans’ loan are not for the faint of heart.  Piles of documents multiplied over our dining room table; weekly extensions meant the notary became like our extended family.

In the meantime, we listed our Indian Springs home with Kevin and Linda who scheduled a showing day for realtors. The professional photographer made our house look so good. Shoot, why were we moving? After one day on the Multiple Listing Service, a steady parade of “lookee-loos” or “wanna-buys” drove past our home. Exactly what we would have done had we been in Julian, but we were 600 miles away. Open Houses seem passé these days, since serious buyers shop the internet. Five days later, we received a full-price offer and spare back-up offers. A huge relief for us, two retired teachers–not  independently wealthy–but that’s being redundant. No sooner had escrow opened on our Indian Springs home, when a thief took advantage of the listing and stole our new swing from the front yard. We bought that swing three months earlier, with plans for a “little library” and the hope that neighbors would feel welcome to sit and read. I felt sad and the theft left a bitter taste for the broader community, not our neighbors, but for the outsiders who knew we were moving—such a sad, sad way to leave.

Escrow closed on our mountain home mid-November, and twelve hours later, Dale drove ten hours in a truck with tools, his bike, random pieces of furniture, the dog, and towing his car. We were doing this! I remained in Indian Springs to finish packing, while he painted our new/used house. First task was picking the color, which we did simultaneously at two different Ace Hardware Stores, he in Alpine, me in Salinas. “Open Arms”—the easy favorite for the interior walls and he scaled the three stories, wearing climbing gear to reach the vaulted ceiling.

Dale “glamped” at our five star mountain home on an inflatable mattress, with a lamp, a radio, no TV, no computer.  His nightly activity—watching stars or burning of Middle Peak.  The prescribed burn on Middle Peak gave Dale a taste, literally, of what the Cedar Fire must have been like, as our house faced the scorched facade of the mountain. Fire trucks from different agencies—Rancho Cuyamaca State Park, Julian Fire, and Cal Fire monitored what most of California needs, fire. Scrub vegetation thrives on a good burn every few years. The Native Americans knew this, and managed their lands, with burns to clean out underbrush and expose soils. As I told my biology students, California has four seasons: winter, spring, summer, fire.

 

Inheritance Part II–Chandelier Changes

For two months, we enjoyed the light fixtures in their new locations. Then, we called the electrician again—this time to remove and repack the lamps; we were moving to Julian. No way was I leaving these pieces behind.

Kristy helped me from the garage floor, and we stared at the box and the chandelier. Since the box had been tucked in a far corner of the garage, I guessed Dale placed it there to protect it. Thing is he forgot about it and I didn’t know about it. The chandelier sat for two decades, wrapped in bathroom rugs from my grandmother’s house. Now, despite a film of dust and spider webs, it cast dancing prisms everywhere we looked. I laughed and cried at the irony. Even if twenty years ago I’d known, we couldn’t have afforded to hang the chandelier.

I spent the rest of that day searching the internet for chandelier repair. Since the chandelier was over 50 years, it qualified as an antique, not your standard hanging lamp. I had few options. Next morning as soon as the store opened, I brought it to Lloyd’s of Monterey. The lighting technician checked over the chandelier, no longer wrapped in carpet, but in the same cardboard box. He hesitated. I imagined he didn’t want another project, especially this one.

“It’s going to cost you over $500, maybe more, to fix the broken arm, rewire and replace the plug, and for ‘dressing.'”

He paused and smiled, “You can buy another chandelier for the cost of repairing this one. Have you looked at Home Depot?” He was missing the point. I hoped he was joking, since Lloyd’s sells crystal chandeliers.

“This belonged to my grandmother. I don’t care about the cost. I want it fixed, so I can hang it in my house.”

He reached in to touch some of the crystals. “Okay, well, I’m not sure we’ll be able to fix that broken arm. What color wire do you want? You have choices.”

And the discussion continued. I learned about dressing or how the strands hang, grounds and wires, arms. “Well, when it’s finished it’ll be worth as much as some of our more expensive models in the store. It’s going to take a while. I can’t start on this right away, so if you find a replacement arm on the internet that should save us some time.”

I went to work on my assignment, delivering the replacement arm the following week. A month passed then two, then two and half. I was anxious to see the finished product. No matter that I had waited twenty years already. In the meantime, I mentioned nothing to Dale. I wanted this to be a surprise.

Finally, the day arrived. I had a vision. I would move the existing Italian-style chandelier above our dining table to the master bedroom above our bed. Nana’s crystal chandelier would hang in the dining room, as it should have, long ago. And I hoped the electrician, obviously not me, could finish before Dale returned from work.

For two months, we enjoyed the light fixtures in their new locations. Then, we called the electrician again—this time to remove and repack the lamps; we were moving to Julian. No way was I leaving these pieces behind.

 

 

Inheritance–Part I

The sun shown in the garage and scattered the prisms everywhere—floor, ceiling, walls. I sat down and cried. I had no idea. For 20 years, I assumed this cherished heirloom went to my aunt or cousins.

For my Grandmother Alice’s 40th wedding anniversary, my grandfather gifted her with a dazzling crystal chandelier. It hung above their small kitchen table, beside their galley kitchen in their tiny apartment–an exquisite touch of elegance in their modest home. Six strands of crystal necklaces linked six crystal sconces. From each sconce, dripped crystal tear drops, with a large crystal pendant in the center. When sun shone through their apartment windows, masses of crystals scattered prisms, rainbows of varying sizes on the ceiling, walls, and floor. Meals at my grandparents seemed like dining in a fancy restaurant beneath a chandelier and with her amazing recipes. Her legendary chef skills, such as curried chicken with apples, raisins and chutney, kept her family alive during the Great Depression, and every holiday after, family relished her specialties of apple pie, mince-pie, and pumpkin pie.

Years later, I was a harried mom of three young kids and working full-time, when my grandmother died. Her funeral was a family reunion of sorts, with my aunt and cousins flying in from Seattle, and we celebrated my Grandmother’s life over pasta and fine wine at her favorite restaurant. Everyone had a favorite Nana story and recipe to share, like comfort food for the whole family. The thing I missed most was our Sunday afternoon phone calls. Those weekly phone calls usually happened while I stirred a pot of stew or spaghetti and Nana dispelled cooking advice, among other things. That Christmas, a few weeks after her death, we received boxes of her belongings—a golden tea-pot (a gift from her wealthy friend), paintings of birds, bird statues, jackets, dresses, and pieces of costume jewelry. The massive cardboard boxes that held my inheritance provided hours of entertainment for our kids, who found an empty wardrobe box could be used in many ways. So much for Christmas gifts. Why did we spend so much, when empty boxes worked?

Fast forward, twenty years later. My parents passed and I received more inheritance boxes. This time, our adult children were gone, but our garage could hold only so much stuff. Time to purge—my first retirement task. I poured through boxes upon boxes stacked high in the garage. Most were toys and dolls, athletic trophies from swimming, volleyball, gymnastics, and their recent college texts. “Hey, Mom, I don’t need this right now, but might use it later. Can you hold on to it for a while?” So, we had boxes marked with Meghan, Sam, and Allie. I made four piles earmarked for trash, Goodwill, eBay, or for Kristy who wanted discards for her art classes.

After a solid week of purging, Kristy and I reached the far corner of the garage. A heavy unmarked box, tucked at an angle, rested precariously atop smaller boxes. Spider webs, by either black widow or brown recluse spiders (no doubt—did I mention I used to teach biology?) encased the entire box, so we stepped back as it crashed to the floor. Kristy watched as I carefully peeled back the top—ready to stomp on any arachnid. This job was not for the weak. Inside was a rolled carpet that I didn’t recognize, but beneath that was the chandelier. The sun shown in the garage and scattered the prisms everywhere—floor, ceiling, walls. I sat down and cried. I had no idea. For 20 years, I assumed this cherished heirloom went to my aunt or cousins.

 

Hiking the Paper Trail

Arriving home, we faced the daunting task of dismantling 26 years of living in the same house. I looked around—so many memories and started to cry.
Tell me again, why were we moving?

The ten-hour drive back to Monterey-Salinas provided ample time to talk and plan. If Dale and I were buying, we needed to act quickly. Julian Realtor Dennis F. explained we had 24 hours to decide on the house or risk losing it. The window of opportunity, per Fanny Mae rules on foreclosures, stipulated first bids went to buyers who would reside in the house, followed by bids of investors, who could use the property in other ways. Monday at noon was our deadline. The list price of $440,000 was tenable for us, and a perfect retirement place, i.e. no mortgage, but contingent on proceeds from the sale of our other home. We discussed this with Dennis. Thank goodness realtors work on weekends.
Us—“Do you know how many offers are in place?”
Dennis—“There is only one I know of.”
Us—“Should we bid over the list price?”
Dennis—“Depends on how much you want this place.”
Then Dennis recommended “bidding a little over,” yet in line with the price per square foot of homes in the area. I saw the look on Dale’s face and knew he was mentally calculating the cost. Neither of us are gamblers, but this time we would be. I proposed $10,000 over, Dale pushed for $20,000, we settled in the middle. We figured we had little to lose in this “bidding war.” No, actually, worst case would be we get the Julian house, don’t sell our other home, and have to carry two mortgages. That would suck. Did I mention we are retired high school teachers and not millionaires?
Next phone call en route to Salinas was to our friend and Coldwell Banker Realtor, Linda M. Linda and I shared pregnancies and babies 31 years earlier. Back then (and sadly, even now), there was no pregnancy leave, we accrued “sick leave.” So, while we strolled with our new babies, we explored options as new moms who needed additional income. Linda left banking to pursue real estate; I stayed in teaching. I knew Linda was successful; her smiling face appeared in papers and on grocery shopping carts. We agreed to meet at our house on Tues. In the meantime, I posted a picture of our house for sale by owner, and asked friends to share on Facebook and other social media. Since we bought and sold our last homes by ourselves, we figured we could do it again, and maybe, just maybe, we’d get an offer before we signed a contract with Linda.
Arriving home, we faced the daunting task of dismantling 26 years of living in the same house. I looked around—so many memories and started to cry.
Tell me again, why were we moving?

 

 

Sleepless Second Night

Is this house going to be too much work? After little sleep, we decided to go back and look at the house again.

We hardly slept that night, tossing and turning over our many questions. Should we bid on the house? What if we get the house? What if we don’t get the house? Are we moving too quickly? Should we sell our home after 26 years? Is Julian the right place to retire? Is this house going to be too much work? After little sleep, we decided to go back and look at the house again.

This time, we took a different route–Interstate 8 through Alpine and Descanso–and marveled at the near continuous Rancho Cuyamaca State Park. The side door to the house was unlocked, so we “broke in” as we did the day before. We noticed more things needing repair: peeling paint, broken cement fiberboard, ugly tile, overgrown trees and shrubs, and of course, the steep, steep–10% at least steep–driveway. I imagined driving in rain, sleet, or snow. Yikes. We’d need another car, four-wheel drive for sure. Then we saw the sun shining on Lake Cuyamaca.
In the sun room and living room, Dale practically swooned over the fans, decorated with antlers and a chain of dangling bear claws. What a guy. The house hollered “man-cave,” it screamed wilderness. I could live with antlers and bear claws, but the other fans not so much. On one bedroom ceiling hung a tropical fan with faux palm fronds, on another bedroom ceiling a modernist stainless steel model that resembled a UFO–both strange fixtures in a mountain cabin. Fans hung in every room, including the laundry room; we deduced the house must swelter in the summer. No air conditioning, but at 5400 feet, how hot can it possibly get? Then we watched planes taking off from the San Diego Airport and boats sailing in the harbor.
The living room’s fireplace of beautiful stone work and mantle was set with reddish grout. Not my choice of colors, until I realized the fireplace reflected the rocks and soil surrounding the house. I liked the open concept living room, dining room, and kitchen; I didn’t like the custom range hood coated in grease–more work to be done, while replacing it was a pricey option. Then we stared at the haze of Catalina and San Clemente Islands on the horizon.
The master bedroom with en suite master bath rivaled five-star hotel rooms–the super-sized shower supported by a multitude of jets, a whirlpool spa, walk in closet, and the “piece de resistance”– a fireplace that opened to both the master bedroom and bath. The tile around the fireplace needed replacing; the red flocked wallpaper needed stripping—both cosmetic. No vanities or medicine cabinets in any bathrooms–more expenses to add to the growing list. Then we saw Mt. Laguna to the east and Middle Peak of Rancho Cuyamaca State Park to the south from the bedroom windows.

We inspected the perimeter of the house, careful not to twist an ankle on the rocky path. How was this house ever constructed? It emerged from rocks and boulders that dotted the landscape. The piers supporting the wrap-around deck appeared in good condition; well, except for two or three, those piers and beams needed structural engineers, not us. Every ten feet or so, the blackened trunk of a burned conifer told the story of the Cedar Fire that blazed through this mountain. Other archeological remnants e.g. cement foundations, rebar, pottery fragments, painted the sad picture of that fire that destroyed lives and homes in 2003. We could only guess what happened here. Then we saw the expanse of the Cleveland National Forest and the Pacific Ocean beyond.
We were sold.