If all continues to go well with my pending condominium purchase, this Thanksgiving will be my last in my house, the place that has been my home for 17 and a half years. I purchased this charming 1923 single-story, single-gable house in the spring of 2000. With its elevated front yard, small rock wall, fenced backyard, front porch, sidewalk, detached garage with the original stable doors, and three Dogwood trees in the planting strip, it had instant curb appeal. Nestled in the Roseway neighborhood of northeast Portland, it had instant livability appeal.
The Dogwoods were almost in bloom when I looked at the property in March and were in full flower with lovely pink blossoms when I was given the keys in May. I swept the fallen blossoms from the sidewalk when I moved in on Memorial Day weekend. I will likely leave here when the buds emerge from the Dogwoods’ twigs and their beautiful winter silhouette graces the neighborhood in January.
When I bought this house, I recognized the flowering Dogwoods for their spring display of pink and was pleased that they were part of the landscape. A couple years later, I learned from the arborist Dylan Gollehon that the showy part is actually the notched leaf-like bracts, not to be mistaken for petals, that grow under and around the tiny true flowers at their center. Within a few years, I learned the four seasons of the three Dogwoods—springtime’s stunning pink blossoms; summer’s dark green foliage; autumn’s orange, red, and scarlet leaves with clusters of dangling red berries; and winter’s button-shaped buds at the twig tips. I watched this gorgeous show all year long from my living room picture window.
Viewed from across the street, my house is like the Dogwood’s tiny flower, framed by the handsome giant Douglas Fir and Big Leaf Maple trees in the back, the large two-story houses on each side, and the Dogwoods in the front. Each tree and house is a bract-like presence and an exclamation around an inconspicuous, unassuming little house. My home.
In March of 2000, I had just left my seven-year job as the Executive Director of an environmental information and education center serving Southwest Washington for a new job as the community outreach specialist for the Bureau of Transportation serving the city of Portland, Oregon. Living in an apartment on Salmon Creek in Vancouver, Washington, where everyone in the local Fred Meyer market looked like they were related to each other and there were too many IT’S OKAY TO BE WHITE bumper stickers, I wanted to come home to Portland. Having accumulated hours and hours of unused sick leave and vacation leave with Washington State University, the official owner of my contract with the environmental center, I received a large cash payout for those balances and hoped the funds would help me with a down payment on a house.
My house search was short and sweet due to my friend Marilyn, who phoned me one day and pronounced with proud certainty, “I found your house! And mine is right next door!” Two houses were for sale on NE 68th Avenue; neighbors they were—one, a large two-story house with an expansive covered porch, and the other a much smaller house. The former was Marilyn’s dream house, one she had admired for a long time. The latter would soon be mine. Marilyn joked that although we could never live together, we’d be perfect neighbors, preferably a block apart she said. Anyway, she insisted I make myself ready and she’d pick me up to check out the houses. We drove by, grabbed flyers from the realtor boxes, studied them, and then drove away dejected that they were priced beyond both our means.
A few weeks later, ever on the lookout for me, Marilyn called with news that the seller of my house had dropped the price significantly. There was no open house that Sunday, but I stopped by nevertheless, saw a light on, knocked on the door, and introduced myself. Greeting me with a glass of red wine in her hand, Anna Owens warmly invited me inside and generously showed me around her house. I oohed and aahed at so many charming features—the clawfoot tub, wood burning fireplace, rounded kitchen ceiling, French doors, wood floors, ceiling lights, mostly finished basement, bird bath in the backyard, and more. Walking the perimeter of the house, Anna called out the name of every flowering shrub, climbing rose, herb, annual, and perennial she had planted and cared for. And I took notes. I was smitten. I loved this house.
Those were the days of a buyer’s market, unlike today when luxury homes in Portland are selling for tens of thousands of dollars above asking price. Back in 2000, I offered $1,000 above Anna’s asking price in a competitive bid with three other buyers. Even though another buyer had said they would make a higher offer if outbid, Anna accepted my offer because, according to her real estate agent, she liked me. Lucky me.
The sale went smoothly. I moved in over Memorial Day weekend and spent the next two weeks scrubbing every surface and painting every wall. I had had my fill of white and almond in rentals; I wanted to be surrounded by color, bold color. So, I painted the hallway Chamois Yellow, the bedroom a combination of White Honeysuckle and Desert Pink, the dining room Long John Red, the living room Grazing Field, the kitchen Honeydew, the bathroom Botticelli Blue, the music room Deep Space Blue with Folk Festival Lavender trim, and the closet I turned into a computer cubby Violet Dust. I covered every spectrum of the rainbow. It was glorious.
My condo will be less colorful. I feel more subdued at age 60. Besides, this sale includes a negotiation that the seller will paint all of the walls and ceilings, provided I select just one color. Only the finish can be different. Just one color—what a difficult decision that was! After painting several samples on the walls and soliciting the input of friends, one of whom was my very patient real estate agent, I decided on the color Light Pelican Grey. It seems to blend well with the flooring and carpet and looks nice with the natural light of the place. In time, I’ll probably paint a few accent walls.
Color swatches and all, this process has been anxiety-producing. Between August and September, I waffled about buying a condo. At that time, I just wanted out of my house. My grief with the loss of my beloved dog, Pasu, had drained the joy out of my home and heart. After having offers on two other condos rejected, I decided perhaps it wasn’t the right time for me to make a move, so I spent two months investing more care into my house and emerged from the darkness with newfound love for my home. Then wouldn’t you know it, my agent sent me another listing and asked if I was ready to try again. Resistant at first, I considered the information she gave me and decided not to let my fear obscure the opportunity. I submitted an offer, along with a much more personal note to the seller this time around. That note was actually the most honest I had been with myself.
I’m putting faith in this decision. I’m ready to downsize, simplify, reduce maintenance, and let go of some of the responsibility of house and land ownership. Managing repairs and making decisions by myself has gotten harder for me. While the condo is a big investment and means another mortgage, fees and responsibilities, it feels right. My anxiety will lessen after I sell my house, which I haven’t listed yet.
I can’t predict the future, and I may have to move again someday—or get a roommate perhaps. Who knows? But I’m looking forward to living a simpler and less isolated life, having a community of women friends close by, helping each other, enjoying more social and recreational activities right out my front door, knowing I’m in a safe and well-managed community, and then planning for a future free from full-time work someday. I will miss my Roseway neighborhood, my wonderful neighbors on 68th Avenue, the business owners and employees on Sandy Boulevard who know me by name and I them, the familiar sidewalks and routes, the Dogwood trees, and all that this old house holds for me, including Pasu’s paw prints. The walls breathe memories of my mother, sisters, brother, friends, sweethearts, choir mates, music makers, and four-leggeds who have blessed this house.
But without Pasu now, I believe this is the time for me to plant new seeds, put down new roots, and bravely branch out, before my options become more limited. I think the condo, like my house, will be the tiny flower at the center of the Dogwood blossom. It will be clustered in a community of friends and neighbors—safe, protected, uplifted, surrounded by beauty and everything else that makes up Glenwood Place Condominiums and the 55+ community of Summerplace, which has year-round, multi-seasonal appeal as well. On this Thanksgiving Day, I’m preparing to let my beloved house go with much thankfulness and create a new home ideally suited for me in the next season of my life.
Composed on November 23, 2017 – on Thanksgiving Day, during the process of purchasing a Glenwood Place condominium in the 55+ community of Summerplace in northeast Portland