“Ach! I’ve got to get rid of this albatross around my neck!” my husband Francis exclaimed recently, with plenty of overly-dramatic Italian gesturing with hairy arms.
“‘Albatross’? Don’t be so dramatic,” I retorted. “I love that house. Hayden will never forget his little blue room, Anna took her first steps in that cul-de-sac, Lilly was born there … and Zuzu is buried in the back yard for criminy’s sake!”
Last week, we put the house we’ve owned since 1998 on the market, and our emotions have been mixed.
After returning from a military tour of duty in England with a toddler and a newborn, we bought our first home in Virginia Beach, intending to stay a while. Even though “homesteading” was frowned upon, we didn’t care – our son had been diagnosed with developmental delays, and in order for his treatment to be effective, he needed stability. Lucky for us, Francis was offered competitive Navy orders to Second Fleet, Fleet Forces Command, and Joint Forces Command, enabling us to stay put without jeopardizing his career.
During the years we lived on our suburban cul-de-sac, the kids knew the shortcut to the local park. I planned the neighborhood Halloween Parade every year. We got our first puppy “Dinghy” after Zuzu the cat died. We went to the ice cream place down the street after Hayden’s flag football games. Lilly would toddle across the circle in nothing but a diaper to flirt with Jimmy, our 16-year-old neighbor. On Friday nights, we drank cold beer with our neighbors while sitting in lawn chairs on the driveway. And mornings, we could hear the Fairfield Elementary School announcements from our front porch.
In that happy little Dutch Colonial, I dabbled in home improvements, installing a new faucet, ceiling fans, lights, and built-in shelving in the playroom. Every spring, while the daffodils, azaleas, ferns and hostas pushed through the mulch, Francis and I argued about whether the lawn needed aerating. We added a screened porch, which became the site of many birthday dinners, afternoon coffee breaks, and Lilly’s first communion brunch. Anna broke her arm falling from our backyard playset, and the following year, Lilly got stitches in her head for the same reason.
Oblivious to the fact that the military would eventually force us to move from our sweet little family home, we meticulously scratched the height of each member of our growing brood, to include Dinghy the dog, into the pantry door.
Like I said, I loved that house.
When we got orders to Germany in 2008, we told ourselves, “We’ll definitely come back here one day.”
But we never did.
Now, before we have to face tricky capital gains taxes, we have decided to sell. Francis isn’t sad to see her go, because he is tired of the responsibilities and stresses of renting and maintaining a house from a distance. Unscrupulous property managers, surprise repairs, expensive maintenance, negligent renters, and those painful months between rentals when we had to pay our mortgage without receiving any rent checks, put Francis in the mood to sell.
I, on the other hand, feel the bittersweet pangs of melancholy as I prepare myself to sign away the deed to a decade of some of the most important years of our family’s life.
But it is time.
Time for another young family to grace her walls with baby photos. Time for another child to hang a swing from the branches of her big oak tree. Time for another husband to gripe about the leaves in her gutters, and for another wife to plant pansies in her front beds. Time for another pair of siblings to draw on her playroom walls with permanent marker. Time for another dog to sleep soundly in front of her fire-warmed hearth.
[According to the 2015 Census, about 64% of Americans own homes, but only 38% of military members buy houses. Some military families find home ownership too risky or simply not affordable. But there are special resources for military buyers and sellers. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development website (hud.gov) explains the provisions of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) which limits interest on mortgages and provides debt relief for eligible military members. Housing counselors are available at 1-888-995-HOPE. The Military Housing Assistance Fund (usmhaf.org) offers monetary “gifts” to qualified service members who need help paying closing costs. Makinghomeaffordable.gov has information on foreclosure alternatives available to struggling homeowners. And buyers can calculate their VA Loan eligibility at www.veteransunited.com.]