Thursday, March 22, 2018

A Gift of Time and Chance: 50 Leroy Avenue

I'm reading my second book by Inglath Cooper, Good Guys Love Dogs. The story's hero, in a desperate attempt to rebuild his relationship with his teenage son, leaves New York City and buys a farm in Virginia. The descriptions of the old house remind me of our old house in Darien, Ct.

We had moved to Connecticut from Mission Viejo, California, leaving behind a freshly built yellow cape cod style home. We had hoped to buy in Connecticut, but in all our searching, we soon discovered that housing prices were sliding south. We decided to rent. The first house we rented sold a few months later. We wanted to stay in the same schools, but could only find a two bedroom. (We had three children.) We rented month to month, but after a short time, our landlord found someone willing to sign a two year lease. We had nowhere to go.

Larry stayed in New York while the kids and I went to stay with my dad in Washington. We came back two days before school started, but still didn't have a place to live. And then a miracle happened. A friend learned that the Pringle-Hopkins Manor house, a mansion on two acres in the center of town, was embroiled in a law suit. The city had bought it with the intent of renovating it and turning it into condos for low income housing. The historical society was suing. Fortunately for us, the house was sitting empty and the city agreed to rent it to us for a song.

The house had been added on to a number of times, but the original house had been there when the town of Darien was incorporated in 1820. (We know that's true because the house had plaque on its front pillar telling us so.) Once while working in the yard, my husband found a coin from the 1800s in the lawn. The fireplace had iron hooks for hanging pots. Many of the windows had wavy original glass. The two acres of lawn was maintained by the city's park and recreation crew. A Lutheran church sat on the street down the hill from us and church bells rang every hour. At five a.m. the bells chimed a hymn. During the Christmas holidays, it played carols. We could see the lights of the town Christmas tree from our windows.

I felt at home there, although I can't say for sure why. I remember telling my neighbors that I was from California and they refused to believe me. I think they thought every girl from California looked like Beach Barbie and spoke like a Valley Girl while I was a quiet housewife who spent a lot of time in the library.

Sometimes I think of buying an old house like our home in Connecticut, but I have to remind myself that even then we never could have afforded that house. The town had purchased it for 2.5 million dollars, and that was nearly 30 years ago. Our living there had been a fluke, a matter of being pathetic and in the right place at the right time. We happily lived there until we were transferred back to California. When we moved into our new home (again, freshly built) we were surprised to find the movers had taken the plaque off the house's pillar and packed it with our things. I still have it. (I had called and asked our landlord if they wanted it back, and they said no.)

We went back to 50 Leroy Avenue a few years ago. The town had successfully turned the property into a condo complex. The two acres where my children had played is now mostly a parking lot, but the original house with its two pillars still stands as does the old stone wall surrounding the property.

Solomon, known for his wisdom, wrote:


Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.
11I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all. Ecclesiastes 9:10-11

Our living at 50 Leroy was a gift of time and chance. I wish I knew how to create those rare bursts of good fortune, but I don't know how. It must be, as Solomon said, time and chance and (sometimes) out of our control.

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